Photo credit: Flickr/pointnshoot.

The Big Mac. Two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions -- on a sesame-seed bun. While it might not be the best tasting burger in the world, at least in my opinion, it is the signature sandwich of McDonald's Corporation (NYSE:MCD). The company sells a lot of them. In fact, McDonald's estimates that it sells around 550 million Big Macs in the U.S. alone. Let's look at the impact of the Big Mac.

Walking the extra mile, or nine and a half
McDonald's stuffs a lot into each of its signature burgers. The 7.6-ounce serving size packs about 540 calories. That's greater than the average fast-food item, while the 45 grams of carbohydrates is about average. The Big Mac is also heavier on the sodium than most fast-food items, but it also packs a lot of protein, calcium, and iron.

The Big Mac is sure to fill up the hungriest of guests, though it might be a little too filling. Its calories have the energy equivalent of providing enough energy for the average person to walk for 167 minutes. We'd need to leave a lot of footprints just to burn off that one burger. But again, that's just that one burger. Add in the fries and splurge on a milk shake, and then we're up to 1,411 calories. That meal, according to nutritionists in the U.K., would require a nine-and-a-half-mile walk to burn off all of the calories.

Those physical footprints, however, aren't the only ones made by a McDonald's Big Mac.

Carbon footprints
The two 1.6-ounce all-beef patties have an identifiable carbon footprint -- or, should I say, hoof print -- according to the Meat Eater's Guide to Climate Change and Health. Cows produce a lot of greenhouse gases as part of their digestive process. That process, called enteric fermentation, produces methane, which is a greenhouse gas that's 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Beef products and cheese thus have a higher carbon footprint than most other foods we eat.  


Photo credit: Flickr/Jelle.

The Meat Eater's Guide puts the carbon footprint of the roughly 4 ounces of beef and cheese that are found in one Big Mac as the equivalent of driving a car more than 6 miles.That's just one Big Mac. Add up McDonald's total Big Mac sales in just the U.S., and we're talking about the carbon footprint equivalent of driving a car 3.3 billion miles. 

Food for thought
In weighing all of our food options, a Big Mac isn't the best choice we can make for our bodies or the environment. A chicken-based meal, on the other hand, is far healthier, while also producing half the emissions. This isn't to say we need to put an end to the Big Mac, or burgers in general. We just might want to walk an extra mile -- or 6 -- after consuming one.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.