When comparing fast food options, many people wonder if the Filet-O-Fish sandwich at McDonald’s is healthier than a typical burger. Looking closely at the nutrition facts and ingredients can help determine which option may be better for your health.
Calories and Macronutrients
The calorie and macronutrient content of the Filet-O-Fish and burgers can vary depending on the restaurant, specific menu item, and size ordered. However, here is a general comparison of the nutrition facts:
Looking at the typical nutrition information, the Filet-O-Fish generally has more calories, fat, and sodium compared to most burgers. However, it tends to be lower in saturated fat and cholesterol. The amount of protein is fairly similar between the two options.
When comparing the Filet-O-Fish and burger ingredients, there are some key differences to consider:
- Fish patty (pollock or cod)
- Bun (enriched flour)
- Tartar sauce
- Processed cheese
- Beef patty
- Bun (enriched flour)
- Cheese (optional)
- Bacon (optional)
The Filet-O-Fish contains a fried fish patty rather than beef. Fish tends to be leaner than beef in terms of fat content. The Filet-O-Fish also contains tartar sauce, which is high in fat and calories. Burgers have more customization options with condiments and toppings that can quickly increase calories, fat, and sodium.
Both fish and beef provide high-quality protein. However, fish tends to contain lower amounts of saturated fat compared to beef. Here is a comparison of the protein content in 3 ounces of cooked cod, pollock, and 90% lean ground beef:
|Total Fat (g)
|Saturated Fat (g)
|90% lean ground beef
While both provide a good source of protein, beef contains more saturated fat. The American Heart Association recommends limiting saturated fat intake to reduce risk of heart disease.
The Filet-O-Fish contains 740mg of sodium, while burgers can range from 500-1200mg depending on size and toppings. The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend limiting sodium intake to less than 2,300mg per day.
Both the Filet-O-Fish and burgers contribute a significant amount of sodium in one serving. However, sodium content can quickly add up with the addition of cheese, bacon, sauces, and condiments on a burger. Those with high blood pressure, heart disease, or kidney disease may want to limit sodium intake to 1500mg or less per day.
Fish vs. Beef
Fish and beef both provide protein, vitamins, and minerals, but there are some nutritional differences between the two:
- High in omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA
- Low in saturated fat
- Rich in vitamins like B-vitamins, vitamin D, selenium
- Contains the antioxidant mineral zinc
- High in iron, zinc, and B-vitamins
- Significant source of protein
- Higher in saturated fat than fish
- Contains conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) – a healthy fat
While both provide nutritional benefits, fish is lower in saturated fat and a source of heart-healthy omega-3s. For those concerned about heart health or weight management, fish may be a better choice compared to higher fat meats like beef.
Ingredient and Additive Concerns
When it comes to ingredients, there are a few concerns to consider in the Filet-O-Fish and burgers:
- Fish raised through aquaculture may be higher in pollutants like PCBs, mercury, and antibiotics
- Tartar sauce is high in fat, added sugar, and preservatives
- Contains processed cheese with additives
- Fried fish patty is higher in unhealthy trans fats
- Beef patties may contain fillers, extenders, and additives
- Buns often contain high fructose corn syrup and preservatives
- Sodium content from seasonings, salt additions
- Some condiments contain added sugars
To avoid concerning ingredients, it’s best to prepare fish and burgers at home where you can control the quality of ingredients. When dining out, look for establishments using sustainably caught fish, antibiotic-free beef, and making an effort to limit heavily processed ingredients.
It’s important to consider portion sizes when comparing the Filet-O-Fish and burgers:
- A Filet-O-Fish sandwich contains around 380 calories
- A typical burger contains 300-700 calories
- Fast food burgers and sandwiches are often 2-3 times the recommended serving size of cooked fish (3 oz) or beef (3 oz)
- Large burgers and heavy use of condiments can quadruple the calories
It’s easy to overconsume calories, fat, and sodium with large fast food portions. Those wanting a lighter option can request a burger without cheese or bacon and add veggies instead of sugary condiments to reduce calories.
Here is an average cost comparison between the Filet-O-Fish and burgers at popular fast food chains in the United States as of November 2023:
|Burger King Hamburger
Among the major fast food chains, a basic hamburger tends to cost less than a Filet-O-Fish. However, prices can rise quickly once cheese, bacon, extra patties, and other toppings are added. Overall, hamburgers offer more versatility at lower price points compared to the Filet-O-Fish.
Preference for the Filet-O-Fish vs. burgers is subjective and comes down to individual tastes. Here are some factors that can influence taste preference:
- Enjoyment of the flavor of fish vs. beef
- Preference for tartar sauce vs. traditional burger condiments like ketchup and mustard
- Appreciation for the breading and frying method used for the fish patty
- Fondness for optional burger toppings like cheese, bacon, onions, etc.
- Prior experiences and childhood nostalgia for either menu item
Those who grew up enjoying the Filet-O-Fish or have an overall preference for fish may find it to be more desirable than a burger. For beef lovers, a juicy burger may be more satisfying. Taste is personal and best determined by trying both options.
Health and Dietary Needs
When choosing between the Filet-O-Fish and burgers, those with specific health or dietary needs should consider:
- Heart health: Fish is lower in saturated fat
- Weight management: A basic Filet-O-Fish has fewer calories than most burgers
- Diabetes: Fish has less of an impact on blood sugar levels
- Gluten-free: Most burger buns contain gluten while Filet-O-Fish buns may be fried in the same oil as gluten products
- Mercury: Those concerned with mercury may want to avoid frequent fish consumption
- Pregnancy: Fish intake should be limited to lower mercury varieties like cod and pollock
Consulting with a doctor or dietitian can help determine if fish or lean beef is better suited for your individual health needs.
There are some environmental considerations when comparing fish and beef:
- Fish farming can contribute to water pollution and antibotic overuse
- Overfishing of wild fish impacts marine ecosystem health
- Beef production utilizes more land and water resources
- Cattle farming generates more greenhouse gas emissions
Choosing sustainably caught wild fish helps reduce environmental impact of aquaculture and overfishing. Limiting beef intake to occasional portions also lessens resource use and emissions associated with cattle farming. Overall, fish tends to have less environmental impact compared to commercial beef production.
When comparing nutritional value, the Filet-O-Fish typically has more calories, total fat, and sodium compared to a basic hamburger. However, fish is lower in saturated fat and provides heart-healthy omega-3s. Hamburgers offer more versatility and typically cost less than the Filet-O-Fish. Taste preference will depend on an individual’s likes and childhood nostalgia. For those concerned with nutrition, fish is typically the healthier choice over beef burgers for heart health and weight management. However, burgers can also be nutritious in moderation with lean beef, whole grain buns, and ample vegetable toppings. Overall, the Filet-O-Fish sandwich appears to be a moderately healthier fast food option compared to burgers, but home-prepared seafood and burgers made with quality ingredients are optimal for nutrition and health.