Two fast-food chains are trying to add an aura of health to their food, but the efforts so far leave a lot to be desired.
Credit: Photos courtesy of McDonald's, Sonic restaurants.

McDonald's is now going to be putting fresh beef in all of their signature Quarter Pounders, and you might jump to the conclusion that a trip to the fast food behemoth will be healthier than it used to be. But don't.

Beyond how it might impact taste and flavor, which has many McDonald's fans buzzing, it's important to remember that these fresh(er) burgers will not be any healthier than they used to be.

The New York Times first covered McDonald's early flirtation with replacing frozen beef patties back in 2017. The company has since rolled out fresh beef Quarter Pounder patties to more than 3,500 restaurants across the nation.

But as the Times pointed out even then, the change "would not carry nutritional benefits." You're still ingesting 530 calories, 27g of fat (13 of which are saturated), and well over 1,000mg of sodium in one sitting.

What's more, the swap to fresh beef isn't necessarily the safest: the proposal was first met with resistance by those within McDonald's ranks because of the risk of contamination and foodborne illnesses that comes from storing and cooking fresh beef.

The Times noted that freezing beef is a proven way to kill bacteria like E.coli and prevent outbreaks like those that have damaged the reputation of Chipotle, the burrito chain that was previously linked to E.coli and norovirus outbreaks—that McDonald's was once a major investor in.

McDonald's has spent more than $60 million to update their kitchens for safe storage of fresh beef. CNBC reports that workers will now keep Quarter Pounder patties in a separate drawer at a different temperature, and they'll handle the meat with special blue plastic gloves to avoid any cross-contamination with other ingredients.

While news outlets have been running headlines focusing on fresh beef, let's be clear—this massive undertaking applies only to the Quarter Pounder and a few other sandwiches. Most other hamburgers will still be made with frozen beef.

Credit: Ramin Talaie

Another fast-food chain has developed a different strategy for making their burgers look slightly more healthy. Sonic, the drive-in chain, has launched a mushroom-infused cheeseburger available in all of their stores starting this week.

Sonic is calling it the "Signature Slinger," a burger patty that is made up of around 25 to 30 percent mushrooms that is being marketed as a win for your waistline at just 340 calories.  

Credit: Photo courtesy of Sonic.

The new burger also has fans in the environmental arena, as cutting back on beef even by 30 percent could drastically reduce the environmental footprint of a meal.

While Sonic's new burger could be the first step in reducing the overwhelming amount of resources that go into making up the typical American meal, Sonic's new burger isn't drastically different, nutritionally, from their other options. It's certainly not healthy enough to regularly order.

Using nutritional data acquired from Sonic's media relations team, we were able to break down the new mushroom-forward blended burger. While the meal does only contain 340 calories, it also has 21g of fat, 9 of which are saturated, 26g of carbohydrates, and 760mg of sodium.

The mushroom-infused patty alone is promising: With just 120 calories, 100mg of sodium, 1g of carbs and 10g of fat, but when you add bread, toppings, and condiments, the meal seriously adds up.

In comparison to a regular Sonic cheeseburger with ketchup, there's definitely a difference: You're cutting away nearly half of the 600 calories, slashing an eye-popping 1240mg of sodium, and reducing 54g of carbohydrates. But less unhealthy isn't the same as healthy.

Eye-catching headlines aside, fast food chains aren't breaking ground on how harmful many of their meals can be, and it would be a mistake to consume them on a regular basis.

Sonic's inventive use of mushroom is promising as an environmental trend—but they have a long way to go if their goal is to make something that's truly nutritious.