Which is Healthier: McDonald’s or KFC? (Our #1 Pick)

McDonald’s and KFC are great fast-food options when you’re on the run, but if you’re trying to improve your health and fitness then one of these fast-food restaurants is much better than the other.

Is McDonald’s or KFC healthier? McDonald’s is healthier than KFC because their burgers have lower calories, carbs, and fat than KFC sandwiches. Additionally, McDonald’s has more nutrient-dense options, like salads, than KFC. However, KFC’s chicken does have a higher protein and lower sodium content, making it a better option than McDonald’s chicken.

Calories, macronutrients (carbs, fat, and protein), sodium content, and the ability to customize are the most important elements to consider when deciding whether McDonald’s or KFC is healthier.

In this article, I’ll review how McDonald’s and KFC compare across these criteria so that you will know which is the healthier choice for your next meal out.  I’ll also share with you the healthiest meal options at each restaurant.

McDonald’s vs. KFC: Overview

McDonald’s

McDonald’s Overview

McDonald’s specializes in burgers with a wide selection of beef, chicken, fish, and even plant-based options. However, McDonald’s is also popular for their delicious Chicken McNuggets, French fries, and breakfast options.

You can start your day at McDonald’s with its breakfast sandwiches, bagels, muffins, donuts, and specialty coffees.  

They don’t skimp on dessert either, with a variety of dessert menu items like ice cream, shakes, and cookies.

McDonald’s is also starting to bring back some of its salads after they were temporarily removed because of product supply chain issues during the coronavirus pandemic.

McDonald’s average nutritional information is calculated using its 22 main burger/sandwich options (beef, chicken, and fish). 

The average nutritional information for the 22 main burger/sandwich options is 498 calories with 44g of carbs (2.9g fiber), 23.5g fat (7.5g saturated), 27.5g protein, and 1057mg of sodium. 

Key Takeaway: This is 41 fewer calories than the average sandwich from KFC. McDonald’s burgers are also lower in carbs (-6g) and fat (-4g) and higher in protein (+3g) than KFC’s sandwiches. However, the sodium content of KFC sandwiches beats McDonald’s burgers (-35mg).

McDonald’s  Pros vs Cons

Pros

  • Lower in calories
  • Lower carb content
  • Lower fat content
  • Higher protein content
  • More options for fruit and vegetables

Cons

  • Higher in sodium
  • Higher in saturated fat

KFC

KFC

Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) adopted “finger-lickin’ good” to describe its famous fried chicken pieces.  The chain expanded to include fried chicken sandwiches and side dishes such as fries, mashed potatoes, corn, potato salad, coleslaw, and macaroni salad.

They also have some dessert options available such as ice cream, cookies, and cheesecake. However, KFC doesn’t have a  breakfast menu like McDonald’s does, so there is less variety in their menu options.

KFC’s nutritional information for this review is calculated for its 16 main sandwiches to compare to McDonald’s burgers/sandwiches.  I also separately reviewed the nutrition information for chicken pieces.

The average nutritional information for the 16 sandwiches is 539 calories with 50g of carbs (3.8g fiber), 27.4g fat (3.8g saturated), 24.2g protein, and 1023mg of sodium.

Key Takeaway: KFC sandwiches are higher in calories (+41), carbs (+6g), fat (+4g), and lower in protein (-3g) than the average burger at McDonald’s. On the other hand, KFC sandwiches have only half the saturated fat compared to McDonald’s burgers, and the sodium content is slightly lower as well (-35mg).

KFC  Pros vs Cons

Pros

  • Lower in saturated fat
  • Lower in sodium

Cons

  • Higher in calories
  • Higher carb content
  • Higher fat content
  • Fewer nutrient-dense options

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Comparing McDonald’s & KFC: Which is Healthier?

Comparing McDonald’s and KFC Comparisons

I compared McDonald’s and KFC across the following six areas to decide which is healthier: 

  • Low-Calorie Options
  • Carbohydrate Content
  • Fat Content
  • Protein Content
  • Sodium Content
  • Variety of Nutrients

Low-Calorie Options

McDonald’s burgers are lower in calories with an average of 498 calories compared to the average sandwich at KFC which has 539 calories (+41 calories). However, when comparing chicken to chicken, KFC’s Original Recipe Chicken Tenders have fewer calories (-100 calories) than McDonald’s Chicken Selects Premium Breast Strips.

In addition, the side salads from each restaurant have similar calorie content but the serving size for the salads at McDonald’s is much larger than the serving size of the salad at KFC.

The only “salad” at KFC that features vegetables is its coleslaw, which has 120 calories.  The potato “salad” and macaroni “salad” are not really salads for the purposes of this review because they do not provide leafy greens or other vegetables.

In contrast, McDonald’s has eleven vegetable-based salad options in total.  Looking at salads without chicken added, the average salad at McDonald’s is also 120 calories with the lowest-calorie option being a side garden salad with only 20 calories (without dressing which would add 40 calories).

So, while KFC coleslaw has the same average calorie count as McDonald’s salads without chicken, the serving size at McDonald’s is much bigger, meaning its salads would be much more filling and provide more micronutrients for the same calories.

The Winner: McDonald’s

The winner for the most low-calorie options is McDonald’s because their burgers and salad options are lower in calories than the menu items at KFC. However, when it comes to the lowest calorie chicken, KFC does have McDonald’s beat.

Carbohydrate Content

On average, McDonald’s burgers are lower in carbs with 44 grams of carbs compared to KFC sandwiches which have an average of 50 grams of carbs  However, getting Original Recipe fried chicken pieces at KFC is the lowest carb option for a meal.

When it comes to salads, KFC’s coleslaw has 13g of carbs for an individual serving including the dressing. McDonald’s side salad with dressing has only 11g of carbs.

Looking at chicken options, McDonald’s smallest offering is the 4-piece chicken McNuggets, which have 12g of carbs, and their other option the 3-piece Chicken Selects Premium Breast Strips have 23g of carbs.

At KFC, it is possible to order a single drumstick (2g of carbs), two pieces of Original Recipe fried chicken (10g of carbs), or 3-piece Original Recipe Chicken Tenders (15g of carbs).

The Winner: Tie

McDonald’s burgers and salads have lower carbs than KFC sandwiches and salads (-6g and -2g respectively), but KFC fried chicken options are lower in carbs than McDonald’s breaded chicken options. 

Fat Content

McDonald’s burgers have an average fat content of 23.5g, which is lower than the 27.4g average fat content in a KFC sandwich.  However, KFC sandwiches have only half the saturated fat of McDonald’s burgers. KFC fried chicken pieces are also lower in fat than McDonald’s breaded chicken.

The American Heart Association recommends that only 5-6% of calories come from saturated fat to lower the risk of heart disease.  Based on 2000 calories per day, this would be about 13g of saturated fat.  

McDonald’s burgers have an average of 7.5g of saturated fat, meaning more than half of the recommended daily intake in one item, whereas KFC sandwiches only have an average of 3.8g of saturated fat.

Therefore 32% of the total fat of McDonald’s burgers is from saturated fat, compared to KFC sandwiches which have 14% of their total fat from saturated fat.  

When it comes to chicken, McDonald’s 4-piece chicken McNuggets have 12g of fat (2g saturated) and the 3-piece Chicken Selects Premium Breast Strips to have 24g of fat (3.5g saturated).

KFC’s chicken options are a single drumstick with 9g of fat (1.5g saturated), two pieces of Original Recipe fried chicken with 21g of fat (3.6g saturated), and 3-piece Original Recipe Chicken Tenders with 15g of fat (1.5g saturated).

The Winner: KFC

McDonald’s burgers have lower total fat content (-3.9g), but KFC sandwiches have lower saturated fat (-3.7g) which makes KFC sandwiches a healthier option when it comes to their fat content. In addition, KFC’s fried chicken options are also lower in total fat and saturated fat than McDonald’s breaded chicken options.

Protein Content

McDonald’s burgers provide more protein on average than KFC sandwiches with 27.5 grams compared to 24.2 grams. However, KFC fried chicken is higher in protein than McDonald’s breaded chicken, and the KFC plant-based burger is higher in protein than the McPlant.  

The highest protein burger at McDonald’s is the Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese with 48g of protein, which is nearly double the highest protein sandwich from KFC, the Double Tender Sandwich which has 27g of protein.

Additionally, McDonald’s salads with chicken are also higher in protein than the salad option from KFC (coleslaw), which doesn’t give you the option to add chicken. McDonald’s Premium Salads with Chicken (Grilled or Crispy) offer an average of 29g of protein.

On the other hand, KFC’s Plant-Based Sandwich has 26g of protein whereas McDonald’s McPlant burger has only 19g of protein. SO if you want the best plant-based option, then KFC is the winner here.

When you consider the chicken options, KFC is a higher protein option than McDonald’s because just two pieces of fried chicken from KFC offer 41g of protein; a serving of five Chicken Selects Premium Breast Strips from McDonald’s still has only 38g of protein.

The Winner: Tie

While McDonald’s has more protein in its burgers and salads, KFC provides more protein in its fried chicken pieces and its plant-based options, so I declare it a tie.

Sodium Content

KFC sandwiches have an average of 1023mg of sodium, which is slightly less than the 1057mg of sodium in McDonald’s burgers. 

The American Heart Association recommends no more than 2300mg of sodium per day, and ideally less than 1500mg for adults with high blood pressure.  

This means that an average burger from McDonald’s will give you around 46% of the upper limit for sodium in a single item and KFC sandwiches will give you an average of 44% of the upper limit. Both of these menu items are high in sodium, especially for those with high blood pressure.

Switching to chicken, the smallest serving and lowest sodium option is a single Original Recipe drumstick from KFC, which has 150mg of sodium. The Hot & Spicy and Extra Crispy versions of KFC chicken have higher sodium content with one Hot & Spicy Drumstick having 230mg of sodium and an Extra Crispy Drumstick having 320mg.

McDonald’s smallest serving and lowest sodium option is a 4-piece Chicken McNuggets with 360mg of sodium, which is more than double the sodium of KFC’s lowest-sodium chicken.

The Winner: KFC

The winner for the lowest sodium content for main menu items is KFC which has 34mg less sodium in their sandwiches than McDonald’s burgers. KFC also has the lowest sodium chicken option with its single drumstick.

Variety Of Nutrients

McDonald’s offers a wider variety of protein options compared to KFC which only has fried chicken and one plant-based sandwich. Additionally, McDonald’s has more salads, dressings, and fruit options.

The protein options at McDonald’s are beef, a variety of chicken, fish, and plant-based patties, but at KFC the only protein options are fried chicken and one plant-based source.

The fruit options at McDonald’s include apple slices, fruit salad, and a fruit & yogurt parfait. KFC does not have any fruit options other than juice which is so high in added sugar that it doesn’t count. 

McDonald’s also has a variety of salads to increase your nutrient intake, but at KFC the only source of vegetables is coleslaw

McDonald’s also has breakfast items that are available all day, wraps and salads that can all be combined to create balanced meals that include protein, starchy carbohydrates and vegetables, and/or fruit.   

The Winner: McDonald’s

McDonald’s has a much broader menu than KFC with a larger variety of nutrient-dense options for protein, vegetables, and fruit.

Similar Meals: Head-to-Head Comparison

Let’s now compare similar menu items across these fast food chains.

McDonald’s Chicken Selects Premium Breast Strips vs. KFC Original Recipe Chicken Tenders

McDonald’s Chicken Selects Premium Breast Strips vs. KFC Original Recipe Chicken Tenders
Nutrition InfoMcDonald’s Chicken Selects Premium Breast Strips (3 pc)KFC Original Recipe Chicken Tenders (3 pc)
Calories400300
Carbs23g15g
Fat24g15g
Protein23g30g
Sodium1010mg1050mg

The KFC Original Recipe Chicken Tenders are lower in calories, carbs, and fat and higher in protein than McDonald’s Chicken Selects Premium Breast Strips.  The McDonald’s Breast Strips are slightly lower in sodium, but the difference is negligible (40mg).

The Winner: KFC

Overall, the KFC Original Recipe Chicken Tenders are a healthier choice than the McDonald’s Chicken Selects Premium Breast Strips.

McDonald’s Southern Style Crispy Chicken Sandwich vs. KFC Spicy Big Crunch

McDonald’s Southern Style Crispy Chicken Sandwich vs. KFC Spicy Big Crunch
Nutrition InfoMcDonald’s Southern Style Crispy Chicken SandwichKFC Spicy Big Crunch
Calories400620
Carbs39g57g
Fat17g34g
Protein24g25g
Sodium1030mg1062mg

McDonald’s Southern Style Crispy Chicken Sandwich is lower in calories, carbs, fat, and sodium than the KFC Spicy Big Crunch. The Spicy Big Crunch does have 1g more protein but 1 extra gram of protein isn’t significant.

The Winner: McDonald’s

Overall, the McDonald’s Southern Style Crispy Chicken Sandwich is a healthier option than the KFC Spicy Big Crunch.

McDonald’s Medium French Fries vs. KFC Medium French Fries

McDonald’s Medium French Fries vs. KFC Medium French Fries
Nutrition InfoMcDonald’s Medium French FriesKFC Medium French Fries
Calories380820
Carbs48g112g
Fat19g40g
Protein4g10g
Sodium270mg970mg

A medium order of french fries at McDonald’s is significantly lower in calories, carbs, fat, and sodium than a medium order of French fries at KFC.

The Winner: McDonald’s

Overall, McDonald’s Medium French Fries are a healthier choice than KFC Medium French Fries.

Healthy Meal Options At McDonald’s and KFC

The following are the healthiest meals at McDonald’s and KFC that I would recommend to my clients, with tips on how to order them to meet your nutrition goals.

Healthy Meal Options from McDonald’s

1. Premium Grilled Chicken Classic Sandwich + Side Salad with Low Fat Balsamic Vinaigrette

McDonald’s premium grilled chicken classic sandwich + side salad with low fat balsamic vinaigrette

One of the healthiest meals from McDonald’s is the grilled chicken sandwich paired with a side salad because it has a balance of protein, carbs, fats, and veggies. 

The burger itself has 41g of carbs, 27g of protein, and only 9g of fat for 360 calories, with 820mg of sodium. 

Opting for grilled chicken (vs. crispy chicken) at McDonald’s is a great way to get higher protein content with less fat and fewer carbs. 

Adding a garden side salad with low-fat dressing provides the missing micronutrients (vitamins & minerals) for a balanced meal.  The salad with the dressing adds 60 calories, 8g carbs, 1g protein, and 3g of fat.  

The dressing, however, does have 730mg of sodium so I recommend you can reduce or omit the dressing if you are trying to reduce your sodium intake.

The total meal is 420 calories with 49g of carbs, 28g of protein, and 12g of fat, with 1560mg of sodium.

2. Premium Southwest Salad with Grilled Chicken

McDonald’s premium southwest salad with grilled chicken

Another grilled chicken choice is The Premium Southwest Salad with Grilled Chicken, which has 320 calories, with 30g of carbs, 30g of protein, 9g of fat, and 960 mg of sodium without the dressing.

Newman’s Own Creamy Southwest Dressing adds 100 calories, with 11g of carbs, 1g of protein, and 6g of fat.  This is the lowest-sodium dressing choice with 340mg.

The high protein and fiber content of this meal is very helpful for keeping you feeling full for longer periods despite being lower in calories.

The overall meal with dressing included has 420 calories, with 41g of carbs, 31g of protein, 15g of fat, and 1300mg of sodium.

3. Hamburger + Small Fries + Side Salad with Low Fat Family Recipe Italian Dressing

McDonald’s hamburger + small fries + side salad with low fat family recipe italian dressing

A third healthy meal option from McDonald’s that I recommend is a hamburger paired with a small fry and a side salad which is a more balanced meal than the typical burger and fries.

Adding a salad to the classic combination of a burger and fries provides the missing micronutrients and fiber to balance out the higher fat and carb content from the burger and fries.

In total, the meal has 560 calories, with 82g of carbs, 17g of protein, and 22.5g of fat with 1420mg of sodium.  Omitting the salad dressing will reduce the sodium content by 730mg.

If you prefer a slightly lower carb/lower fat meal than this while keeping your protein and nutrient content high, then skip the fry and order the burger and a side salad for 320 calories, 51g of carbs, 14g of protein, 11.5g of fat, and 1240mg of sodium.

Healthy Meal Options from KFC

1. Original Recipe Drumsticks (2) + Coleslaw + Mashed Potatoes & Gravy

KFC original recipe drumsticks (2) + coleslaw + mashed potatoes & gravy

A healthy meal from KFC that I would recommend is two of their drumsticks paired with coleslaw and mashed potatoes because it provides you with a decent source of protein, carbs, fats, and some micronutrients.

KFC’s 2-piece Original Recipe chicken drumsticks have 280 calories, 4g of carbs, 30g of protein, and 16g of fat with 300mg of sodium on their own.

Adding coleslaw is the only way to add vegetables to this meal to increase the number of nutrients in this meal. One individual serving of coleslaw is 120 calories, with 13g of carbs, 1g of protein, and 7g of fat with 140mg of sodium.

Lastly, KFC’s plain mashed potatoes are actually fat-free if you don’t add butter, and an individual serving of gravy is only 45 calories with 1g of fat.  Adding the potatoes and gravy increases the carbohydrate content of the meal to make it more balanced across the macronutrients.

The overall meal is 490 calories, with 34g of carbs, 33g of protein, 24g of fat, and 1060mg of sodium.  However, you can reduce the sodium content by 460mg by omitting the gravy.

2. Original Recipe Chicken Tenders (2) + Coleslaw + Original Recipe Corn

KFC original recipe chicken tenders (2) + coleslaw + original recipe corn

Another healthier option from KFC is their chicken tenders paired with coleslaw and corn because the chicken tenders are the lowest fat chicken option and the corn a coleslaw are some of the only menu items with a hint of micronutrients.

KFC’s 2-piece Chicken Tenders have 200 calories, 10g of carbs, 20g of protein, and 10g of fat with 700mg of sodium on their own.

I would once again recommend adding coleslaw because it’s really the only vegetable on the menu. Corn is technically a vegetable (as is a potato) but its starchy carbohydrate content makes it nutritionally much closer to a grain than a vegetable (think leafy greens).  

Corn is being used in this meal as a source of carbohydrates in addition to the breading that is on the chicken, however, the corn also provides a decent amount of fat because KFC adds a lot of fat to its Original Recipe Corn in the canola oil-based glaze.  

If you prefer a lower fat option to help meet your nutrition goals, then mashed potatoes will be a better option than corn, reducing your fat intake by 11 grams.

In total (with corn), the meal provides 470 calories, with 34g of carbs, 23g of protein, and 28g of fat.  The total sodium content is 1110mg.  

3. Individual Popcorn Chicken + Coleslaw

KFC individual popcorn chicken + coleslaw

The last menu item that I would recommend as a healthier option is KFC’s popcorn chicken paired with coleslaw, which isn’t quite high enough in protein for my liking but can easily be made up for in other meals of the day.

Popcorn Chicken at KFC provides more of its calories from fat than it does from protein, which doesn’t make it the best protein option. 

Normally I would recommend that you order low-fat milk to increase your protein content without further increasing your fat intake but it appears that KFC doesn’t have regular milk on their menu (only chocolate).  

To make up for the lack of protein in this meal, I recommend that you prioritize high-protein foods in your other meals so that you’re reaching your daily protein goals.

As you probably predicted, the popcorn chicken should be paired with coleslaw as a side to add a nutrient boost to this meal.

For this meal, you get 450 calories with 52g of carbs, 17g of protein, 19.5g of fat, and 720mg of sodium.

Final Thoughts

Overall, McDonald’s is a healthier fast food option than KFC due to the lower calorie, carb, and fat but higher protein content of its burgers. McDonald’s also has a much broader menu with more choices for types of protein, vegetables, and fruit.

Other Restaurant Comparisons:

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About The Author

Lauren Graham
LAUREN GRAHAM

Lauren Graham is a Precision Nutrition Level 1 certified nutrition coach. She focuses on helping busy professionals balance healthy eating and purposeful movement.  Lauren has a background in competitive swimming and is currently competing as a CrossFit athlete.  She has a passion for training, teaching, and writing.