Alert reader and low carb adherant Nancy C. sent us a question the other day that we couldn’t really answer. Maybe someone else out there in Blogland can help with it or has some cogent thoughts on the subject; thus I thought I’d put it to the readership.

It seems that in her quest to be an astute and informed diner, who occasionally eats a bunless McDonald’s burger when pressed for time, Nancy discovered something disturbing on the McDonald’s official nutritional information website: the presence of 5 grams of carbohydrate per serving in what are billed as burger patties made of 100% beef, no additives, no fillers, no extenders.

Curious, eh?

She wrote to us to see if we could help her unravel their source.

We were as mystified as she and quite honestly couldn’t fathom where 5 grams of carbohydrate would be coming from, if Mickey Ds is on the up and up with the patties’ being made of 100% beef. We speculated a couple of possibilities:

1) the nutritoinal info posted by McDonalds is incorrect. Surely a possibility.

2) the 100% beef, no extenders, no fillers burger might have some sort of not-technically-additive, not-technically-filler, not-techincally-extender ‘flavor enhancing substance’ containing some carb of some sort, designed to make all the patties taste uniform throughout the world. Wouldn’t be the first time Mickey Ds adopted the Unified Flavor Theory of food preparation.

3) Maybe lot feeding cattle with corn, just as carb-loading humans with pasta, packs so much glycogen into the beef muscle that it raises the amount of ‘muscle starch’ to a level of 5 grams per quarter pound of meat.

Mike feels this possibility is a stretch, citing the fact that the liver, clearly the most intensive storer of glycogen in the body (true for ours and for a cow’s, I presume) contains only 400 grams of glycogen in the whole organ, so how could a mere quarter pound of muscle contain 5 grams? So, I put a pencil to it. If a typical human liver weighs 2 kg and it contains 400 g of glycogen if fully replete, that represents 20% of its weight as glycogen. Therefore, a quarter pound of liver (weighing about 113.4 grams) would contain 22.7 grams of glycogen. Doesn’t seem all that much of a stretch to me, that a quarter pound of carb-loaded muscle might contain a quarter of that amount, but maybe we could get a veternary biochemist to weigh in on the subject.

Here’s Nancy’s letter of January 4, 2007 to McDonald’s:

“For the past 3 years, I have adhered to a pretty strictly low-carb, high-protein diet, free of high fructose corn syrup, starches, and sugars of all kinds. Unlike many people, I do not fear saturated fat, and I don’t hold McDonalds accountable for American obesity and poor health. I think that one can eat healthily at McDonalds if one chooses carefully. When I eat at McDonalds (4-5 times per month), I choose burgers or breakfast sandwiches and remove the buns/breads.

My question: I just looked at the nutrition info on your website and was startled to see that the beef patty on a Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese (my favorite selection) is listed as having five grams of carbohydrate. Why? The ingredient list for the beef patty claims 100% beef, no additives, fillers, or extenders. Whence, then, come the carbs? 100% beef should contain only protein and fat, with no carb, should it not?

Please inform me of the source of the carbohydrate in the beef patty. Thank you.”

Here’s the response from McDonald’s on January 5, 2007 along with my [parenthetical] comments:

“Hello Nancy:
Thank you for taking the time to contact McDonald’s. We are always glad to hear from our valued customers.
The website currently shows that the Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese sandwich’s beef patties have 5 grams [my bold] of carbohydrates.
With the recent reanalysis, a different methodology was used to calculate the total fat content with a small decrease in total fat. [huh?] However, many foods also show a slight increase in the amount of carbohydrates.[Is this because they just subtract what’s not protein and fat and call it carb or something?] This might seem confusing for consumers, [and, if Mike and I are any indication, for physicians and nutritional experts, too] but we can assure you that there are no fillers added to the beef patties. The carbohydrates in the beef patty are more likely from indigestible fiber-like components in the meat [Puleese! What exactly is an indigestible fiber-like component and how could there be any in a 100% beef patty. I mean 100% is 100%, it doesn’t leave any room for any percentage of indigestible fiber-like components] that get counted in the carbohydrates’ category.
Again, thank you for contacting McDonald’s. We hope to have the opportunity of serving you again soon under the Golden Arches.
McDonald’s Customer Response Center”

Interestingly, I just went to the McDonald’s nutritional site to check the breakdown myself and found this page for the Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese. Oddly, the value for carbs in the 100% beef patties is now listed as 1, not 5.

Curiouser and curiouser.

As mysteriously as they appeared, so they seem to have disappeared. And we must assume they were there, since Tina of the McDonald’s Customer Response Center verified to Nancy that indeed the site showed 5 grams and then went on to provide the surreal explanation.

So the new question for all you mystery buffs and conspiracy theorists is: where did those mystery carbs come from and where did they go?

My advice, as imparted to Nancy, is to eat grassfed natural beef (which I realize isn’t always practical or possible) and then you don’t have to rely on Mickey’s math.


  1. Mickey D’s grilled chicken breast has 3 grams of carbs according to their nutritional info. I have heard that is because the chicken is soaked in sugar water before freezing and shipping. Their salad dressings are high in HFCS. Needless to say, I seldom go to Mickey D’s.

    COMMENT from MD EADES: Brining chicken in a sugar/salt bath makes some sense, though if that’s what Mickey D is doing, I’d just as soon they left out the sugar. But one doesn’t usually brine a beef patty, does one? Would that there were a national chain who would rise up to provide a good natural grassfed beef burger, from happy cows, humanely raised and carefully, cleanly, and humanely slaughtered. There are some local small groups, who at least use locally raised and slaughtered beef in their burgers, but none, to my knowledge, which is imperfect, at best, who only use organic grassfed beef and organic condiments and fixings. There’s a niche out there folks…any takers?

  2. I have worked in school food service for the last ten years. At one time we used beef patties that had cherry juice added. It was added for flavor and color, not for “filler”. I’m not saying this is what McDonalds is doing, but it could explain those non-filler carbs.

    COMMENT from MD EADES: Yes, I’ve also heard of fruit purees’ being added to ‘hide’ a serving of fruit in a burger in school burgers, too. But you’d think if Mickey D was doing that they would disclose it on the site, since it would make the eat 5 fruits a day crowd happier.

  3. I vote that the carbs may come from “grill seasoning”, or whatever it is that they cook the burgers with on the grill (flavored, enhanced,carbified, Corny transfats perhaps?).

    Perhaps the carb count comes from corn in some other way. When Michael Pollan (Omnivore’s Dilemma) had his cheeseburger analyzed by a lab, it was found to be 52% corn. Granted, most of that would be from the bun and the HFCS ketchup- but surely, at least some of it may be in the patty itself. It does seem a stretch to me as well, but not impossible.

    As to the second question:
    “There’s a niche out there folks…any takers?”

    I can’t tell you how many times I’ve asked myself the same question.

    Wouldn’t it be wonderful to find a restaurant where we could bring our family for a quick meal, a healthy meal, a meal “out” (well deserved), and yet still practice the art of commensality without terrible guilt at what our children are eating?

    Real food is almost impossible to get. We can’t get real cured Italian meats, can’t get healthy cold cuts, can’t get animals raised the way nature intended, can’t get veggies that are not hopped up on industrial paradigms, can’t get good quality raw cheeses, yogurts, etc.

    I feel almost like a criminal- because I am seeking to illegally purchase raw, unhomogenized, unpasteurized, drug & hormone free milk; seeking happy cows, “chicken-y chickens”, and “pigerator” pigs. Please excuse all the “Salatin-isms”. But it’s crazy.

    Sorry for the rant! Love your blog. Karen

    COMMENT from MD EADES: The carbs could have come from the grill seasoning, but I’m coming down more now on option #1, that the info on the site was incorrect to start with. I suspect that they did their ‘new methodology’ to analyze fat in an effort to get a lower number to please the low fat crowd and then simply ‘subtracted’ the new fat and protein from the total and declared whatever was left as being carb. Else why would they have changed the carb count back to 1 within a few days of Nancy’s inquiry?

    As to the corn content in Michael Pollan’s book, I believe he was talking not about corn speciically, but of tracing the carbon atoms and of finding that 52% of them came from corn carbon. That’s a different matter from carb content for sure. Although my suggestion about the glycogen stores having been crammed full by fet lot ‘carb loading’ (which would indeed have come from corn carbons) might still be a viable explanation.

    At least in California, there’s In’n’Out Burger, which although not organic is at least locally raised beef, slaughtered in small local concerns, not in giant factory slaughterhouses. And for the low carb crowd, they were among the first to offer their delicious burgers ‘protein style’ wrapped in two large crunchy iceberg lettuce leaves. When we’re in Santa Barbara, we stop into the local In ‘n’ Out occasionally for a protein style double double.

  4. If you want to know if there is hidden sugar in something you can do what Dr. Bernstein says in his book “Diabetes Solutions”. Using the strips used to check ketosis, take a small portion of the thing your testing, chew it and mix it with your saliva then deposit it on the strip. If it changes color then you know there is sugar in it. You could probably check out the MickyD burger this way.

    COMMENT from MD EADES: Good thought; we should try it, but I really think it was that the Mickey D nutritional info site was wrong. They’ve changed it to 1 gram, which makes more sense.

  5. whats really in mcdonalds meat do u kno???

    COMMENT from MD EADES: According to them, meat. But since it’s from beeves fattened on pesticide laden grain on feed lots, dosed with hormones, antibiotics, and growth factors, and slaughtered in huge overworked factory slaughter houses, who knows what’s in it. Hormones? Pesticides? Growth Factors? Heavy metals, dioxins, PCBs, and other toxins? E coli O157H7?

  6. I have not done the Dr. Bernstein’s test, but I should have thought of it myself. Good one. I can tell you though, that micky d’s meat patty’s do indeed have carbs. as a type I diabetic I have my blood sugars down to a fine art, and I know that quarter pound patties increase my blood sugars–significantly. I would expect that the 5 carbs is the accurate measure, because that is about the impact I experience.
    On another note, I was told some years ago that 100% pure beef is the name of the company micky d’s uses and is not indicative of the content of the patty itself. Meaning simply that micky d buys 100% pure beef patties and does not add any fillers etc., but that the 100% pure beef company is the one who would know with certainty what is in the patty.
    I got here to your discussion, because I have continued to by mystified by my blood sugar increases when I am forced to grab a hamburger patty and salad from mickey d’s.
    Good luck to the low carbers!

    COMMENT from MD EADES: Thanks for the very helpful information about the effect of a Quarter Pounder patty on your blood sugar. Sure, it’s a study with an ‘n’ of 1, but it’s data nonetheless. I suspect if there are 5 grams of carb in the Micky D patty, it’s because of the glycogen crammed into the muscles of their corn fed, unexercised beeves at the feed lot. Also, Micky is so humongous that they can’t possibly get their beef from a single supplier, named 100% Beef company or otherwise. I suppose they could buy it from a dummy intermediary called 100% Beef Company, who buys from all the suppliers, but that seems the stuff of fantasy.

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