Are Fast Food Salads a Healthy Choice?

Taco Bell Chicken Ranch Taco Salad
Taco Bell Chicken Ranch Taco Salad
I’ve fallen into this diet trap too many times. You know the one where you say, “I’ll just have a salad.” Some lettuce, tomato, maybe a little cheese sprinkled on top -- what’s the harm? But, as we all know by now, salads at restaurants can be some of the unhealthiest options on the menu.

Fast food salads are no exception. They can quickly gobble up your daily recommended allotment of calories, fat, and/or sodium before you even ask for that extra packet of salad dressing. A good rule of thumb (unless you’re on a restricted diet or working out a lot) is to aim for 2,000 calories, 50-70 grams of fat, and less than 1,500 mg of sodium per day.

Let’s see how some popular fast food salads stack up:


Taco Bell Chicken Ranch Taco Salad

  • 910 calories
  • 54 grams of fat
  • 1,660 mg of sodium

McDonald’s Premium Southwest Salad With Crispy Chicken and Ranch Dressing

  • 600 calories
  • 35 grams of fat
  • 1,450 mg of sodium

Wendy’s Chicken BLT Salad With Croutons and Honey Dijon Dressing

  • 790 calories
  • 53.5 grams of fat
  • 1,665 mg of sodium

Burger King’s Tendercrisp Garden Salad

  • 670 calories
  • 45 grams of fat
  • 1,740 mg of sodium

Yikes! The calories and fat don't really shock me, but the sodium in these salads ... just wow. I've never paid much attention to sodium totals, but you can betcha I'm going to start. I expect salt with my French fries, but not my salad.

All is not lost if you do still want to go the salad route -- with a little bit of customization and smart choices, fast food salads can still be reasonably healthy. A few tips ...

  1. Skip the croutons -- they may be tasty, but they add extra fat, calories, and sodium.
  2. Swap out the dressing for a light or fat-free alternative. But, beware, the light dressings often have high levels of sodium. (Something has to make it still taste good when you remove the fat.)
  3. Go for grilled chicken instead of crispy chicken. You’ll reduce the fat and calories in the salad, but not always the sodium.

Are you surprised by the nutritional info for these salads?

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