Is the McDonald’s Filet-O-Fish healthy?

The McDonald’s Filet-O-Fish is one of the most popular sandwiches on the McDonald’s menu. With its crispy fish fillet, tartar sauce, and melted cheese on a steamed bun, it provides a lighter alternative to burgers for customers looking for a non-beef option. However, despite its popularity, questions remain about just how healthy the Filet-O-Fish really is. In this 5000-word article, we’ll take an in-depth look at the Filet-O-Fish, analyzing its nutritional content and ingredients to determine whether it can be part of a balanced diet.

Nutritional Content

First, let’s examine the basic nutritional information for the Filet-O-Fish sandwich:

Nutrient Amount
Calories 380
Total Fat 17g
Saturated Fat 3.5g
Trans Fat 0g
Cholesterol 40mg
Sodium 830mg
Total Carbohydrates 38g
Dietary Fiber 2g
Sugar 3g
Protein 16g

At 380 calories, the Filet-O-Fish is lower in calories than many of McDonald’s burgers. However, it still provides nearly 20% of the recommended daily calorie intake for an average adult. The sandwich also contains 17g of total fat, which is over 25% of the recommended daily value. Most concerning is the high sodium content, with 830mg accounting for over one-third of the daily 2300mg limit.

On the positive side, the Filet-O-Fish is relatively low in sugar, providing only 3g. It also supplies 16g of protein from the fish fillet, making it more filling than other menu options. Overall, while not egregiously high in any one nutrient, the Filet-O-Fish does contain high levels of calories, fat, and sodium given its portion size.

How the Nutrition Compares to Other McDonald’s Sandwiches

To better evaluate the Filet-O-Fish’s nutritional value, it helps to compare it to some of McDonald’s other sandwich offerings:

Sandwich Calories Total Fat Sodium
Filet-O-Fish 380 17g 830mg
McChicken 360 16g 960mg
Bacon McDouble 440 23g 1280mg
Big Mac 540 28g 970mg

Compared to these other options, the Filet-O-Fish has mid-range levels of calories, fat, and sodium. The McChicken is very similar nutritionally, while sandwiches like the Bacon McDouble and Big Mac contain more calories, fat, and sodium across the board. So while the Filet-O-Fish may not be the most diet-friendly choice, it represents a marginally healthier alternative to McDonald’s more indulgent burgers.


Looking beyond just nutrients, the specific ingredients that make up the Filet-O-Fish also provide insight into its health profile:

Fish Fillets

The fish fillets used in the Filet-O-Fish are made from wild-caught Alaska Pollock. Alaska Pollock is a white fish that is low in fat and calories compared to many other fish. A 3-ounce cooked portion contains:

Nutrient Amount
Calories 90
Fat 1g
Cholesterol 45mg
Sodium 75mg
Protein 19g

The white fish provides lean protein and heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. While the Filet-O-Fish likely contains less than 3 ounces of fish, the Alaska Pollock fillet is a nutritious source of protein.


The Filet-O-Fish comes on a steamed bun made with enriched wheat flour. The bun contributes about 170 calories, 3g of fiber, and 400mg of sodium to the sandwich. While not as nutritious as a whole grain bun, it also does not substantially detract from the sandwich’s nutritional value.


One slice of processed pasteurized American cheese adds 50 calories, 4.5g of fat, and 270mg of sodium. The highly processed cheese is not the most natural choice but adds creaminess and flavor.

Tartar Sauce

The tangy tartar sauce contains ingredients like soybean oil, sweet relish, distilled vinegar, egg yolks, onion, and sugar. It accounts for 80 calories and 7g of fat in the Filet-O-Fish. Overall, while high in fat and sodium, the zesty tartar sauce is an integral part of the classic flavor.

Health Benefits of Ingredients

While not the pinnacle of healthy eating, some ingredients in the Filet-O-Fish do impart some benefits:

Protein from Fish

The Alaska Pollock fillet provides a good 16g dose of protein in each Filet-O-Fish. Protein promotes satiety or fullness and helps maintain and repair muscle tissue.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

All fish contain omega-3 fatty acids, which are linked to improved heart health, lower triglycerides, reduced inflammation, and other benefits. The Filet-O-Fish provides about 500mg of omega-3s.

Vitamin D

Many Americans fall short on vitamin D, but the Alaska Pollock contains this essential nutrient that aids calcium absorption and bone health. Each fillet has about 45IU vitamin D.

B Vitamins

The fish also supplies small amounts of energizing and essential B vitamins like niacin, vitamin B12, and vitamin B6.

So while fast food should not be a dietary staple, the Filet-O-Fish does deliver some nutritional upside via its protein, omega-3s, and vitamin content.

Downsides of Ingredients

However, the Filet-O-Fish also contains less wholesome ingredients with some drawbacks:

High Sodium

The combination of the bun, tartar sauce, and processed cheese contributes most of the sandwich’s 830mg of sodium, which may negatively impact blood pressure.

Saturated Fat

Between the fish frying process and creamy cheese and tartar sauce, the Filet-O-Fish contains 3.5g of artery-clogging saturated fat.

Refined Carbohydrates

The enriched white flour bun offers quick-spiking carbohydrates without much fiber, vitamins, or minerals.

Artificial Ingredients

The tartar sauce contains added sugar and colors, while the pasteurized processed cheese includes emulsifiers, preservatives, and stabilizers.

Potential Allergens

With its fish, wheat, egg, and dairy ingredients, the Filet-O-Fish contains common food allergens.

The use of highly processed ingredients provides convenience and consistent flavor, but also detracts from the Filet-O-Fish’s nutritional properties.

How the Filet-O-Fish Fits Into a Balanced Diet

The Filet-O-Fish contains a mix of positive nutrition like protein, polyunsaturated fats, and vitamins, along with negatives like sodium, saturated fat, and refined carbs. Here is how it can reasonably fit into a balanced diet:

Occasional Meal Choice

When dining out, the Filet-O-Fish can serve as a lower-calorie, lean protein choice compared to burgers and fried chicken sandwiches. However, fast food should still only account for a small percentage of overall weekly calories.

Watch Sodium for the Day

The high sodium means other meal choices that day should be lower in salt to avoid going over the 2300mg daily limit.

Pair with Fruits and Vegetables

Pairing the Filet-O-Fish with salads, apples slices, or yogurt helps balance the meal with fiber, vitamins, and antioxidants.

Burn off Calories

Being active after eating the Filet-O-Fish can help burn off the 380 calories and prevent weight gain. Even a 30-minute walk makes a difference.

As an occasional change of pace from burgers or fried chicken, and when balanced out with smarter choices for other meals, the Filet-O-Fish can work as part of healthy lifestyle. But relying on it too frequently is not recommended due to high sodium, fat, and calories.

Healthier Modifications

Some simple modifications can enhance the nutritional value of the Filet-O-Fish:

Whole Grain Bun

Substituting a whole grain bun provides more fiber, vitamins, and minerals while keeping calories similar.

No Cheese

Skipping the cheese eliminates 4.5g of fat and 270mg sodium with just a modest reduction in protein.

Extra Tartar Sauce

Adding extra tartar sauce boosts the flavor while requiring less of the high-sodium processed cheese.

Side Salad

Pairing it with a side salad with vinaigrette dressing increases fiber intake.

Grilled Fish

Requesting the fillet grilled instead of fried reduces the fat and calorie count.

With some simple tweaks, the Filet-O-Fish can be tailored to be a bit healthier. But ultimately it still represents a processed fast food item that should not be over-consumed.

Children and the Filet-O-Fish

When it comes to children’s nutrition, the Filet-O-Fish has some advantages but also concern areas:

Pros Cons
Provides protein High in sodium
Contains vitamins like vitamin D Low in fiber
Appealing taste for picky eaters Refined carbohydrates
Lower in calories than a burger Potential allergens like fish, wheat, dairy
Omega-3 fatty acids benefits Minimal nutrients from sugary soda as the drink choice

In moderation, enjoying a Filet-O-Fish occasionally can be part of a balanced diet for children. But the high sodium levels make it unsuitable for regular consumption. Parents can enhance its nutritional quality by pairing it with yogurt, apple slices, and milk instead of fries and soda. Overall, while not the worst menu choice, relying too heavily on the Filet-O-Fish fails to instill healthy long-term eating habits in kids.


When analyzed as part of an overall diet, the McDonald’s Filet-O-Fish has both benefits and drawbacks. It provides protein, vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids, and a lower calorie alternative to burgers. But frequent consumption can lead to excessive intakes of sodium, fat, calories, and processed ingredients. Enjoyed responsibly in moderation, with sides and other meals focused on whole foods, the Filet-O-Fish can work as an occasional meal. However, relying on it as a dietary staple is not recommended, especially for children. With some small tweaks, the Filet-O-Fish can play a role in an overall healthy lifestyle. But it requires conscientious decisions to minimize its less wholesome aspects.

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