There’s nothing quite as filling as a hot bowlful of steel cut or rolled oats in the morning.  You are filled up, sustained, and comforted by all that fibrous goodness.  Oatmeal starts your day off right.  When I read McDonald’s planned to offer oatmeal with fresh fruit, I was giddy that the mega-fast food giant was finally turning a health corner and doing the right thing.

Then, I read this in the New York Times, and my stomach turned:

Yet in typical McDonald’s fashion, the company is doing everything it can to turn oatmeal into yet another bad choice. (Not only that, they’ve made it more expensive than a double-cheeseburger: $2.38 per serving in New York.) “Cream” (which contains seven ingredients, two of them actual dairy) is automatically added; brown sugar is ostensibly optional, but it’s also added routinely unless a customer specifically requests otherwise. There are also diced apples, dried cranberries and raisins, the least processed of the ingredients (even the oatmeal contains seven ingredients, including “natural flavor”).

A more accurate description than “100 percent natural whole-grain oats,” “plump raisins,” “sweet cranberries” and “crisp fresh apples” would be “oats, sugar, sweetened dried fruit, cream and 11 weird ingredients you would never keep in your kitchen.” …

The aspect one cannot argue is nutrition: Incredibly, the McDonald’s product contains more sugar than a Snickers bar and only 10 fewer calories than a McDonald’s cheeseburger or Egg McMuffin. (Even without the brown sugar it has more calories than a McDonald’s hamburger.)

The bottom-line question is, “Why?” Why would McDonald’s, which appears every now and then to try to persuade us that it is adding “healthier” foods to its menu, take a venerable ingredient like oatmeal and turn it into expensive junk food? Why create a hideous concoction of 21 ingredients, many of them chemical and/or unnecessary? Why not try, for once, to keep it honest?

Here is the nutritional information on the McDonald’s website for their oatmeal.  The oatmeal has salt?  Really?  Why?


Here is the depressing list of ingredients for McDonald’s oatmeal:

Whole grain rolled oats, brown sugar, food starch-modified, salt, natural flavor (plant source), barley malt extract, caramel color.

Diced Apples
Apples, calcium ascorbate (a blend of calcium and vitamin C to maintain freshness and color).

Cranberry Raisin Blend
Dried sweetened cranberries (sugar, cranberries), California raisins, golden raisins, sunflower oil, sulfur dioxide (preservative).

Light Cream
Milk, cream, sodium phosphate, datem, sodium stearoyl lactylate, sodium citrate, carrageenan.

McDonald’s had a great opportunity to offer something exceptionally healthy, and out of character, and sell it at a good price.  Instead, they actively chose to overcharge for oatmeal and add all sorts of nefarious chemicals to make some sort of evil concoction that the unaware will think is actually good for them.

This sort of unhealthy feint by McDonald’s is precisely the sort of behavior that makes people cynical.  We hope for one thing, expect another, and in the end, we are brutalized by industry commerce for foolishly believing that goodness ever existed, at a fair price, in the first place.


  1. Starbucks blew it, and McDonald’s had no way of getting it right. How to get it right? Ingredient : steel-cut oats. Everything else can be added by the end user, whether it is real fruit (dried and sweetened as Craisins are) or otherwise. Offer pumps of extra virgin olive oil and shakers of salt alternatives like Mrs. Dash.

    1. Yes, it isn’t that hard, Gordon! Why add unnatural stuff to a pure and natural food? People want convenient oatmeal, not chemical oatmeal. Give them a cup and plain oatmeal, and let them add their own stuff just as you suggest!

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