In the last few years, restaurants and food manufacturers have adjusted their menus and ingredient lists, catering to Americans who want simpler ingredients and healthier options. Papa John’s is spending $100 million a year to cut artificial ingredients, corn syrup and preservatives. General Mills plans to remove artificial colors and flavors from its cereals. Subway has said it would replace all artificial colors, flavors and preservatives with natural products. And Hershey has promised to remove GMOs and use simple ingredients in their chocolate.
In an effort to ride the healthier food wave, McDonald’s has been adapting its offerings, trying to alter the perception of its food as over-processed and unhealthy. This week, the fast food chain announced changes affecting nearly half the food on its menu.
The changes to McDonald’s menu include:
1. In a move to cook with “ingredients that sound more familiar to people,” the meat inside Chicken McNuggets will no longer contain chicken skin, safflower oil and citric acid; they will be replaced by pea starch, rice starch and powdered lemon juice. The meat will no longer contain food additives, but the breading will still include sodium phosphates, a food additive that keeps meat moist.
2. The oil used to cook Chicken McNuggets will no longer contain artificial preservatives.
3. Artificial preservatives will be removed from pork sausage patties and eggs, which are served in the omelet-style and scrambled eggs of McGriddles, Bagel and Biscuit breakfast sandwiches, as well as breakfast platters.
4. Sugar is replacing high-fructose corn syrup in the buns of Big Macs, Quarter Pounders, hamburgers, cheeseburgers, and Filet-O-Fish and McChicken sandwiches. (It’s worth noting that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is unaware of any differences in the safety of foods containing equal amounts of corn syrup and plain sugar.)
5. The chicken items are no longer made from chicken treated with the same kinds of antibiotics that are used on humans. Health experts are concerned that overuse of antibiotics in poultry could make those antibiotics less effective at fighting human disease. McDonald’s chicken farmers still use ionophores, a type of antibiotic that is not prescribed for people.
6. Real butter is now used in Egg McMuffins. McDonald’s director of culinary innovation said that in the past liquid margarine used in the dish was squirted out of a plastic bottle, and that the new ingredient of butter requires more careful handling.
7. The iceberg lettuce in McDonald’s premium salad blend has been replaced by fresh romaine, baby spinach, baby kale, Tuscan red leaf lettuce and ribbon-cut carrot curls.
8. Milk in low-fat milk jugs and yogurts is sourced from cows not treated with rbST, an artificial growth hormone. (McDonald’s press release states that there is no significant difference between milk from rbST-treated and non-rbST-treated cows.)
9. McDonald’s has committed to use 100 percent cage-free eggs by 2025 in the U.S. and Canada.
10. Regional variations in the McDonald’s menu will be encouraged, with lobster rolls in New England, Filet-O-Fish sandwiches in the Mid-Atlantic states, and Gilroy Garlic Fries returning in the San Francisco area.
McDonald’s says it will not raise prices for its healthier new food. Company president Mike Andres believes that talking more openly about the quality of the food will change consumer attitudes and ultimately win more customers for the chain.