The diet problem revisited: McDonald’s nutritional information in 2012

The so-called “diet problem” is familiar to many students of optimization. The idea is to select the cheapest set of items from a menu that meets certain dietary restrictions, such as the amount of calories, carbohydrates, protein, and so on. The AMPL book features a version of this problem based on the McDonald’s menu from some time back. The original data (which I am pretty sure dates back to a 1993 paper from Robert Bosch) is right here.

That got me thinking – has this information changed during the last 20 years? Yes, it has – and it appears for the worse. I retrieved updated information from the McDonald’s website and compared the items from the “diet1.dat” example.

In the table below I have listed the information from diet1.dat side-by-side with the 2012 information, for the menu items that appear in both. Places where the 2012 nutrition is worse are highlighted in red; green means better. I left carbs and protein alone since people have different views on what is “better”. As you can see, nearly all the items have more calories. To be fair, it’s not clear whether portion sizes are bigger – but my bet is that they are not (call me a cynic).

Calories Carbohydrates Protein Vitamin A Vitamin C Calcium Iron
Name 1993 2012 1993 2012 1993 2012 1993 2012 1993 2012 1993 2012 1993 2012
Quarter Pounder® with Cheese 510 520 34 42 28 30 15 10 6 2 30 30 20 25
Big Mac® 500 550 42 46 25 25 6 6 2 2 25 25 20 25
Filet-O-Fish® 370 380 38 39 14 16 2 2 0 0 15 15 10 15
McGrilled Chicken 400 350 42 42 31 28 8 4 15 8 15 15 8 20
Small French Fries 220 230 26 29 3 3 0 0 15 8 0 2 2 4
Sausage McMuffin® 345 370 27 29 15 14 4 6 0 2 20 25 15 15
1% Lowfat Milk 110 100 12 12 9 8 10 10 4 4 30 30 0 0
Orange Juice 80 95 20 19.5 1 1.5 2 0 120 90 2 2 2 0

 

I’ll share the complete data in a future post.

(Two notes: for “McGrilled Chicken” I used the 2012 information for “Premium Grilled Chicken Classic Sandwich”, and for Orange Juice the 1993 numbers were clearly for an 8 ounce serving so I divided 2012 numbers by two.)

Author: natebrix

Follow me on twitter at @natebrix.

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