Best & Worst Fast Food Salads

Don’t Be Deceived

Not all salads are healthy. And their nutritional value can vary dramatically depending on portion size and the toppings included. But there are ways to identify which salads are likely the best and worst for you without counting calories and ruining your appetite. ShopSmart, a Consumer Reports publication, recently put together a list of some of the best and worst restaurant chain salads and tricks that make salads, at restaurants and at home, diet-friendly but still delicious. Photo Credit: evelynishere

Salad Winner: On the Border Citrus Chipotle Chicken Salad

On the Border’s Citrus Chipotle Chicken Salad with Mango Citrus Vinaigrette was one of two winners in ShopSmart’s review, which looked at several chain restaurant salads from 8 different establishments. Sprinkled with vinaigrette and spices, this lean On the Border salad has a kick, plus a healthy 11 grams of fiber. Fat: 3.5 grams Calories: 290 calories Price: About $9.24 Photo Credit: Ezra S F

Salad Winner: Panera Bread BBQ Chopped Chicken Salad

According to ShopSmart, this salad is so good already with its corn, black beans and tortilla strips that you don’t even need the ranch dressing it comes with. Avoiding the extra dressing saves you 12 grams of fat and 150 calories. Fat: 10 grams Calories: 350 without the dressing Price: About $7.59 Photo Credit:

Great Salad: Panera Asian Sesame Chicken Salad

Almonds and fried wonton strips are also added to this sweet and sour salad, giving it a nice crunch. Fat: 20 grams with a generous drizzle of dressing Calories: 410 calories Price: About $7.19 Photo Credit: The Marmot

Great Salad: Wendy’s Chicken Caesar Salad With Chicken Fillet (Without the Dressing)

The chicken on this Wendy's (Stock Quote:WEN) salad may be served warm, and if you really must add some dressing, ShopSmart says you don’t need the whole packet. Parmesan cheese adds an extra bit of fat and sodium. Fat: 7 grams without dressing Calories: 240 calories without dressing Price: About $5.38 Photo Credit: VirtualErn

Great Salad: Panera Fuji Apple Chicken Salad

This salad doesn’t even need the apple cider dressing it comes with, thanks to dried apples, crumbled gorgonzola cheese, pecans, red onion and tomato, according to ShopSmart. Fat: 19 grams Calories: 370 calories Price: About $7.19 Photo Credit: Laurel Fan

Good Salad: Olive Garden Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad (Without the Dressing)

Not surprisingly, if you use all the Caesar dressing that comes with this salad, you’ll be packing in the calories. Plus, you’ll get 1880 milligrams of sodium, more than half the maximum you should get in one day. Fat: 19 grams without the dressing, 64 grams with it Calories: 420 calories without the dressing, 850 with it Price: About $8.25 Photo Credit: stevendepolo

Good Salad: McDonald’s Premium Southwest Salad With Grilled Chicken (Without the Dressing)

This McDonald's (Stock Quote: MCD) salad packs a healthy dose of protein, with 30 grams. But a creamy dressing on this salad also inflates the fat content and calories in this dish. Fat: 9 grams without the dressing, 15 grams with it Calories: 320 calories without the dressing, 420 with it Price: About $4.29 Photo Credit: phototram

Good Salad: Burger King Tendergrill Chicken Garden Salad (Without the Dressing)

This Burger King salad comes topped with three kinds of cheese, according to Burger King’s nutrition facts. Adding ranch dressing to that triples the fat content of this salad. Fat: 9 grams without the dressing, 29 grams with it Calories: 270 grams without the dressing, 460 with it Price: About $6.59 Photo Credit:

Good Salad: Sonic Santa Fe Grilled Chicken Salad (Without the Dressing)

The fat content of this salad nearly triples with the addition of ranch dressing, making it fairly obvious that full-fat creamy dressings might just make your salad just as bad as a burger. Fat: 12 grams without the ranch dressing, 32 grams with it Calories: 312 calories, 505 calories with it Price: About $7.19 Photo Credit:

Bad-for-You Salad: Chili’s Grilled BBQ Chicken Salad

So, strictly speaking, Chili's isn't fast food, but it needed to be included on this list. Like the healthier Panera barbecue chicken salad, this salad comes with both barbecue sauce and ranch dressing. And 53 extra grams of fat. It does contain a filling 67 grams of protein and 12 grams of fiber, however. Fat: 63 grams Calories: 1060 calories Price: About $8.79Photo Credit: Merelymel

Bad-for-You Salad: Chili’s Quesadilla Explosion Salad

Not too surprisingly, the Quesadilla Explosion ranked as the worst chain restaurant salad for your health. Too many of these salads and your waistline might just explode as well. Plus it contains nearly a full day’s worth of sodium. Fat: 88 grams Calories: 1,400 calories Price: About $8.99 Photo Credit: (nutmeg)

At-Home Salad Tips

If you’ve ever made your own salad at home, it can be glaringly obvious that buying individual ingredients, making your own dressing and putting it all together to your liking can often be cheaper and healthier.  But to avoid being allured and trapped by fatty additions, here are some ingredients to buy and others to avoid – or even keep out of the fridge entirely if you're aiming to eat healthier. Photo Credit: Rene Erhardt

Artery-Clogging Cream?

Whether ranch, bleu cheese or creamy Italian dressing is your weakness, these dairy-based salad additions can really pack in the fat as well as sodium, sugar and fillers.  Homemade dressings with healthy oils, including olive oil, walnut oil and grapeseed oil, plus a good balsamic or apple cider vinegar however, can be a very healthy choice. If it takes a creamy dressing for you to eat your vegetables, however, a homemade yogurt-based dressing would be a healthier option than the bottled creamy kind, ShopSmart suggests. Photo Credit: UggBoy

Choosing Cheese

Shredded, cubed or crumbled cheese can add a sharp kick or a smoother and creamy feel to your everyday salad.  But remember that a serving of cheese is only two ounces, or the size of two dominoes, according to PBS Kids.   To prevent the damage that chunks of fatty cheese can do to your waistline, try low-fat cheese. Photo Credit: nikoretro

Picking Nuts

Almonds, walnuts, pecans and other nuts are a source of healthy fats and add a crunch to your average salad.  But you may want to steer clear of glazed nuts, like candied walnuts found on some Asian-style salads.  They’re covered in sugar and can add a lot of unnecessary calories and carbs to your plate. Photo Credit: twohelmetscooking

Favorite Fruits

Dehydrated fruits like sweetened, dried cranberries can be a fun and flavorful addition to salads.  But since they’re shrunken and fairly sugary, you may not realize how much sugar you’re consuming in that generous handful.  On the other hand, fresh grapes and strawberries can also make a good salad topper and may contain less sugar than dried fruits. Photo Credit: stevendepolo

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