With so many people opting to eliminate gluten from their diet, it would make sense that some famous fast food places are introducing new gluten-free items onto their menus. However, not all restaurants are putting in the effort to cater to the celiac and gluten-free crowd.

McDonald’s is one of the most popular fast food establishments around. Its fries may have inspired its famous Golden Arches, but are they safe for people who can’t eat gluten?

Are McDonald’s fries gluten free?

No, they are not gluten free. They contain a beef flavoring that is made with wheat derivatives, making them unsuitable for anyone who can’t or won’t eat gluten. 

Still have questions? Keep on reading to find out more about gluten in your favorite fast food restaurant’s dishes!

Why aren’t McDonald’s fries gluten free?

According to McDonald’s website, their fries contain…

Potatoes, Vegetable Oil (canola Oil, Corn Oil, Soybean Oil, Hydrogenated Soybean Oil, Natural Beef Flavor [wheat And Milk Derivatives]*), Dextrose, Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate (maintain Color), Salt. *natural Beef Flavor Contains Hydrolyzed Wheat And Hydrolyzed Milk As Starting Ingredients

McDonald’s Website

Unfortunately, the beef flavoring that McDonald’s adds to their fries contains a wheat ingredient. This is bad news for anyone sensitive to gluten, since nearly all other fast food fries are completely gluten free. The same is also true for McDonald’s hash browns, which contain the same beef flavoring. 

Is anything gluten-free at McDonald’s?

While nothing at McDonald’s is guaranteed to be gluten free due to the shared kitchen environment, there are several things you can order if cross contamination isn’t a huge issue. It also never hurts to notify the person taking your order that you need your food to be as gluten free as possible. They might not always be able to change much, but at least they know!

Let’s start off with all the things that you can remove the bun from (which is almost everything). Obviously breaded chicken sandwiches are out, as are nuggets. Thankfully, they now have grilled chicken filets which are perfect! They’re lower in calories, and of course not coated in wheat flour. 

First, you can order just about any hamburger or cheeseburger minus the bun. This will make them a little less portable, so you’ll need a fork and knife to eat them. However, they’re just as delicious, and feel free to add extra toppings (or even extra patties) to make up for the lost bun. 

Their Artisan chicken sandwich uses their grilled filet, so skip the bun to enjoy a pretty healthy meal of a chicken breast with lettuce and tomato. Again, toppings are key, so go all out if you want to! Nearly the entire menu is completely customizable, so mix and match to get your perfect meal on the go. 

Next we have their salads. While most come with some type of crouton, just ask for none and enjoy your meal. Double check that it doesn’t come with breaded chicken by default. If that’s the case, substitute grilled. 

You can have a really tasty and filling breakfast by ordering an Egg McMuffin, hold the muffin. The cheese and meat should be fine, so make your own little egg scramble bowl with either sausage, bacon, or ham. Bonus if you pair it with a McCafé beverage, none of which contain wheat products!

For a lighter meal, none of the McDonald’s smoothies contain gluten. Their yogurt parfait also doesn’t if you order it with no granola, but contamination may be an issue in that area of the restaurant. 

Which fast food fries are gluten free?

The good news is that most fast food fries are gluten free. McDonald’s seems to be the main offender when it comes to allergens in their fries, as they exclude vegetarians, vegans, the lactose intolerant, and gluten free people. 

The main issue with fries being gluten free is that they almost always share a fryer with something else on the menu that does contain gluten. This varies dramatically between restaurants, and even different stores in the same chain. Your best bet is always to politely ask. If they don’t know or can’t tell you, it’s best to pass. 

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What is gluten free at fast food restaurants?

Not all “gluten-free” items are created equally, and cross contamination is usually a major factor. For anyone with dietary restriction, eating anywhere besides your own house can be a huge source of frustration and anxiety. So which fast food places can you feel most comfortable eating at?

First, I would recommend Chick-Fil-A. Known for their over the top customer service, they have also gone all out on providing options for those with limited food prospects. They are one of the very few chains to have debuted their very own gluten free bun. It comes individually wrapped so you can feel safe that contamination has been kept to a minimum.

Chick-Fil-A also has a wide variety of grilled items on the menu. Okay, two items. But still, more than some! They offer both grilled filets and grilled nuggets that can go with their gluten free bun or variety of sauces. Their salad dressings are also safe to eat, and you can customize your salad to include the grilled chicken instead of regular (don’t forget no croutons). 

At basically any burger-oriented fast food place you can remove the bun from the sandwich to make it gluten free. I won’t bore you with listing off every single one, but if the sandwich has any special sauces on it (like the Big Mac sauce, which contains wheat) be sure to double check that they’re safe. 

Also, as mentioned above, fries are usually one of the safest bests. Just ask about what else goes in the fryer if cross contamination is an issue. 

What is healthiest at McDonald’s?

Most people aren’t trekking to McDonald’s in search of health foods, but if you find yourself there and don’t want to spoil your diet there are a few steps you can take to keep your food as “healthy” as possible.

First, removing the bun will eliminate a lot of the carbs in any of their sandwiches. This also goes for removing croutons and fatty dressings from the salads and opting for a vinaigrette instead. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that something must be healthy because it’s called a “salad”!

Obviously you’ll need to skip the soda if you want to keep things on the up-and-up, but diet soda is always an option if you need your fix. 

Related Questions:

Are McDonald’s fries dairy free?

Sadly, they are not. In the ingredients list above, we can see that the same pesky beef flavoring also contains a hydrolyzed milk. It is likely a trace amount, so those who are lactose intolerant can almost certainly get away with eating them just fine. It does pose more of an issue for vegans or those with a more serious dairy allergy. 

Do Chick-Fil-A’s fries contain peanuts?

Chick-fil-A fries all of their fried foods in refined peanut oil. Though they technically come into contact with “peanuts”, the FDA has even removed the allergen labeling requirement from refined peanut oil due to how the oil is made. During the refining process, all of the protein that could trigger a peanut allergy is removed. This makes Chick-Fil-A’s food safe for those with peanut allergies.