Weight Watchers & McDonalds diet meals

Written by Catherine Saxelby on Tuesday, 23 March 2010.
Tagged: diet foods, diet meals, healthy eating, take-away, weight loss

Weight Watchers & McDonalds diet meals

Editor's note: This no longer exists but is retained for you information

In New Zealand you'll soon find the Weight Watchers logo on McDonald's menu boards and tray mats, a great irony considering the many warnings about the obesity-inducing effects of fast food in general with its greasy offerings that are notoriously high in saturated fat, high in salt and lacking vegetables or fibre.

You might have already read about the new partnership in New Zealand between fast food giant McDonald's and one of the world's most popular weight loss companies Weight Watchers in March. McDonald's have paid Weight Watchers an undisclosed amount and in return Weight Watchers have approved three of McDonald's meals and will promote McDonald's to dieters.

According to Emma Stirling, Weight Watchers Nutrition Advisor Australasia, this partnership does not conflict with the Weight Watchers philosophy which is that all food, when portions and frequency are controlled, can be part of a healthy, balanced diet. She believes that with this partnership both companies are attempting to guide people to make a healthier decision when eating out.

Three diet meals at Maccas

WW McD diet meals fillet fish downsizedThe three meals that are approved by Weight Watchers are the:

  • Filet-O-Fish
  • Chicken McNuggets 6-pack (including nugget sauce or ketchup)
  • Sweet Chilli Seared Chicken Wrap

The Filet-O-Fish and Chicken McNuggets are served with a Garden Side Salad and all the meals include a diet drink or water (see picture at right). Each meal is scored as six and a half POINTS® on the Weight Watchers points system. See table below:

NutrientFilet-O-Fish6 Pack
McNuggets
Wrap     

Garden
salad

Ketchup
sauce

Energy, kJ 1270 1160 1550 63 49
Protein, g 13.4 15.8 24.4 1.2 0.2
Fat total, g 13.1 17.9 11.0 0.1 < 0.1
Fat saturated, g 3.0 2.8 3.3 < 0.1 < 0.1
Carbs, g 31.4 13.5 39.8 1.5 2.5
Sugars, g 2.4 0.4 14.4 1.5 2.3
Sodium, mg 573 444 656 16 118 

Heart Foundation red Tick of approval

McDonald's has previously formed a partnership with the Heart Foundation in Australia (this did not happen in NZ) in an attempt to show that they are taking steps towards healthier meals, a move designed to improve its public image.

McDonald's has also actively made healthy changes which as a nutritionist is great to see and does win a nod of approval from me. How health-minded McDonald's really are is debatable as it appears that they only brought in the changes after the release of the popular Morgan Spurlock film Super Size Me in 2004.

That aside, to achieve the HF tick, McDonald's has had to reshape its whole ingredient profile. It got rid of the famous beef tallow that it boasted made its fries taste so wonderful and now uses a canola blend cooking oil which is low in saturated fat and high in healthy mono- and polyunsaturated fats.

The result, McDonald's claim, is a 60% drop in saturated fat in McDonald's fried foods. Other improvements were the introduction of salads, wraps with salad and fibre, seared (grilled) chicken instead of fried, reduced sugar level in the buns and lower sodium (salt) levels in some dipping sauces.

How do the Weight Watchers meals compare with other fast food options?

While these new fast food options are certainly lighter and healthier (and a step in the right direction), my advice is to approach them with caution.

Side by side with a cheeseburger and fries

When compared with a standard McDonald's cheeseburger and regular fries, the Weight Watchers meals are a significantly healthier choice. They have around half the kilojoules/calories, fat and saturated fat of the regular fare. But they're still more than the usual 10g fat limit for low-fat diet meals. See my comparison below:

Food

Fat count
grams per serve
:

Fries regular 19.8g
Cheeseburger 12.5g
Chicken McNuggets WW 17.9g
Filet-o-fish WW 13.1g
Seared chicken wrap WW 11.0

Side by side with Subway

Subway® claims it's a healthy fast food restaurant with its 'healthy' subs each containing less than 6 grams fat. When compared to the Weight Watchers endorsed McDonald's meals, both meals have comparable kilojoules counts but fat and saturated fat in the Subway's® is only about one-third. On the other hand, the sodium (salt) content is way higher at McDonalds. Compare 734 to 887mg sodium to 444 to 573mg for McDonald's.

FoodFat count
grams per serve:
Chicken McNuggets WW 17.9g
Filet-o-fish WW 13.1g
Seared chicken wrap WW 11.0g
Club sandwich sub 4.8g
Chicken teriyaki sub 4.7g
Ham sub 3.6

Not all good news

WW McD diet meals wrap downsizedOn the surface, this new partnership makes diet meals more accessible for people on the road or with little time to prepare their own (another problem in its own right which mirrors the woeful decline in cooking skills in young people). It's a positive step for overweight teens who can now eat with their pals at McDonald's - as long as they don't stray away from the set Weight Watchers meals. However four things worry me:

  1. Will consumers come to believe that ALL the menu items at McDonald's are healthy and OK if you're on a diet (they're not - see our comparisons).
  2. These new ‘diet meal deals' are no different to what's on the menu currently. You don't need Weight Watchers to tell you that a Filet-o-fish plus salad plus water is the lowest in fat and kilojoules on offer.
  3. They're still not ideal in nutrition and are highly-processed foods - these are not meals I'd want a dieter to eat every day. They are still low in fibre, high GI and have sodium counts that are way too high; which sets the scene for high blood pressure and heart disease later in life. All have sodium levels between 460 mg and 800 mg per serve, compared to the maximum daily intake of 2300mg (but ideally lower at 1600mg). So tuck into one and you have already consumed one-third of your recommended sodium for the day.
  4. Finally will those dieters who head into McDonald's with the intention of purchasing a Weight Watchers meal be tempted into adding a small fries on the side, a sundae, thickshake, cookies or other less healthy items from the menu? Will the Mum who now decides to go to Maccas for a diet meal also buy burgers and fries for the kids? So Mum's eating healthy but the kids are still filling up on junk? Coming to Australia? Weight Watchers Australia has indicated that there are no plans for Australia at the moment, but it has not ruled out a similar partnership in the future. Let's wait and see.

    Research and background by Marjolein Geurts, BHSc Nutrition and Dietetics.
    Note pictures shows Australian McDonald's products which may vary from the NZ ones.

Downloads / Fact Sheets

stack-burgerDownload our free Fact Sheet on the healthiest fast food out there.

Catherine Saxelby

About the Author

Catherine Saxelby has the answers! She is an accredited nutritionist, blogger and award-winning author. Her latest book Nutrition for Life  is a new update on all the things you've read or heard about. Think insects, collagen, vegan eating, Keto dieting, vitamin B12, fast food and cafe culture.  It has plenty of colour pictures and is easy to dip in and out of. Grab your copy NOW!