Every nutritionist we spoke to maintained that protein is a priority because of its ability to keep you fuller longer. Dulan advises that getting at least 20 grams in a salad is the goal, and she recommends getting there with salmon, tuna or chicken in your salad. Feller says hard-boiled eggs are another smart add.
Keeping ingredients in mind, here are three popular fast-food chain salads that can do more harm than good if you don’t make some major swaps.
- Calories: 610
- Calories from fat: 297
- Fat: 41 grams
- Saturated fat: 12 grams
- Trans fat: 0 grams
- Carbohydrates: 18 grams
- Sodium: 1,660 milligrams
Note: Dressing is not included in this nutrition info.
Ingredients: romaine lettuce and radicchio, thick-cut smoked bacon, shredded cheddar cheese, tomatoes, breaded chicken, “buttery” garlic croutons
This Burger King salad is another example of not having much else going on aside from cheese, breaded chicken, croutons and bacon. If you find yourself at a Burger King and you’re set on a salad, think about which ingredients you wouldn’t mind going without.
“Sometimes the shredded cheddar cheese on a Burger King Salad is something you don’t even taste, so it’s easy to ditch,” Turoff said. To be healthier, you’ll want to swap the breaded chicken for grilled, but when it comes to the croutons and bacon, it’s OK to treat yourself just a little.
“People are scared of croutons, but I was looking at this Burger King salad and one packet of croutons is only 60 calories,” Turoff continued. “That’s not a lot and it adds flavor and crunch. It’s the same with bacon — the amount is just enough to add a ton of flavor but not a ton of calories. Part of losing weight is staying sane and enjoying food, so if croutons will make the salad, keep them. Just think, ‘What ingredient will I get the most out of?’”
“Part of losing weight is staying sane and enjoying food, so if croutons will make the salad, keep them.”
– REGISTERED DIETITIAN AND CERTIFIED PERSONAL TRAINER ALIX TUROFF
- Calories: 540
- Calories from fat: 360
- Fat: 40 grams
- Saturated fat: 12 grams
- Trans fat: 1 gram
- Carbohydrates: 15 grams
- Sodium: 1,290 milligrams
Ingredients: grilled all-white-meat chicken, Monterey cheddar cheese, bacon, greens, choice of dressing
This brings us to one topic that all the experts highlighted: dressing.
“Dressing makes or breaks a salad,” Turoff said. “This Subway salad wasn’t so bad as it was, and you can add unlimited veggies for fiber and volume. But if you get the exact same salads and get honey mustard dressing (instead of the ranch dressing for which the salad is named), it’s around 390 calories and 32 grams of protein, keeping carbs and fat pretty low, whereas this ranch dressing probably has 200 more calories.”
Feller, Ferreira and Dulan all stressed dressing as the culprit for ruining a salad’s health appeal, and advised getting it on the side and using about half.
- Calories: 520
- Calories from fat: 230
- Fat: 25 grams
- Saturated fat: 6 grams
- Trans fat: 0 grams
- Carbohydrates: 46 grams
- Sodium: 960 milligrams
Ingredients: buttermilk crispy chicken fillet, “salad blend” (greens), “Southwest vegetable blend” (corn and black beans), cilantro lime glaze, shredded Jack and cheddar cheeses, chili lime tortilla strips
Speaking of modifications, if an unhealthy salad has enough ingredients to play with, it can be easy to make healthy changes and still get that tempting flavor. In addition to dressing swaps and reductions, other tips include subbing grilled chicken or even a burger patty for fried chicken to get healthier protein, adding other proteins like hard-boiled eggs or beans, and choosing one or two good fats, like cheese or avocado.
But when the right modifications leave you with a salad that’s not filling enough or too dull to think about eating, remember that there might be other menu items that are actually better for you.
“Egg McMuffins are a great example,” Ferreira said. “I’d choose that over a salad any day. You have to think, ‘Is this going to give me energy?’ A salad can fall short and leave us to make poor choices later. You have protein from the egg, the cheese is for fat and satisfaction, the bun is giving you carbs for energy.”
The takeaway? These salads are bad news on paper, but you have two choices when fast food is your only option: Skip the salad altogether in favor of a grilled chicken sandwich or egg sandwich that will keep you fuller longer, or make smart modifications.
It’s even easier if you’re prepared. Turoff’s game-changing tip is to check the websites of fast-food chains you might order from since they list nutritional values for every item and you can play around with the ingredients you want to keep or ditch.