Maybe your kids are screaming for fast food. Or your partner is dying to hit the local rib joint. Or your company is holding its employee appreciation lunch at Fat Joe’s House of Lard. Regardless, you’re trying to watch your weight. So what do you do when the waitress slides a greasy menu into your hands?
Easy. Just order the salad. And if your family and friends tease you for ordering the “wimpy” food? Well, that’s the price you pay for cutting calories, right?
Just one problem: All the discipline, self-deprivation, and scorn you suffer at the hands of your peers might be for naught. Because at many restaurants, the salad is just about the unhealthiest thing on the menu.
What? Really? Come on! Salads are made of all that leafy green stuff, the stuff that has hardly any calories, right? Isn’t ordering the salad the equivalent of ordering a plate of air, with a side of emptiness?
That’s what restaurants would love you to believe. They like it when you order the salad, because salads are pretty inexpensive for your local burger joint to put together. You choose the green stuff; they make the green stuff. But to entice you to keep coming back, many chains are loading their “diet” options with crispy carbs, gummy fats, and enough oil to put BP to shame. The result: a few frail leaflets of healthy summer greens wearing a winter wardrobe of calories.
Here we’ve rounded up six examples of salads so bad, you’d probably be better off ordering that 670-calorie Whopper after all.
Worst Drive-Thru Salad
Wendy's Chicken BLT Salad with Croutons and Honey Dijon Dressing
59 g fat (17 g saturated, 1 g trans)
1,665 mg sodium
SODIUM EQUIVALENT: 167 Pringles Crisps!
Good to know: A Whopper contains 670 calories, 40 grams fat (11 g saturated, 1.5 g trans), and 1,020 milligrams sodium.
Your salad is only as healthy as its dressing. Honey mustard is the worst dressing on the menu. The best? Fat-free French. Make the swap and you’ll save 170 calories. Unless labeled “fat free,” avoid creamy dressings. Another major culprit in this leafy mess? The carbohydrate-loaded, oil-soaked croutons. Always order your salads without. Now here's the real catch: You can order this one salad at Wendy's. Or you can order a single burger with everything and a side salad, and save nearly 300 calories. Do the math on that one. An Eat This, Not That! smart swap like this one every day can help you lose 15 pounds of belly fat in just six months!
Eat This Instead!
Single Old Fashioned Hamburger with Everything and Side Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette
26 g fat (8 g saturated fat)
1,275 mg sodium
Bonus tip: Wendy's is one of the best fast-food restaurants in the country—it serves relatively healthy sides and burgers, earning it a grade of B+ in our books and Restaurant Report Card ratings. For a list of decidedly less healthy fast-food joints, check out the restaurants that serve the 10 Worst Fast-Food Meals in America. Most of them will have you consuming more than an entire day's worth of calories in just one sitting! (Good news: Each bad choice comes with a much heathlier alternative of your favorite meal so you don't have to contemplate being on some miserable restriction diet.)
Worst Caesar Salad
Quizno's Chicken Caesar Regular Chopped Salad
66.5 g fat (20.5 g saturated)
2,090 mg sodium
CALORIE EQUIVALENT: 10 Good Humor Cookies and Cream ice cream bars!
Quizno’s is home to one of the worst sandwiches in America (the tuna melt), so it’s not exactly a shock that it also offers up a salad that contains nearly half a day’s worth of calories, a full day’s worth of sodium, and the amount of saturated fat you’ll find in 20 strips of bacon. Much of Quizno's sandwich line would fall under the category of "worse than a Whopper," in fact. This salad goes wayward in two ways. First, it’s a Caesar—which means it’s filled with heavy, fatty dressing and carbohydrate-packed croutons. Second: It’s huge. There’s only one “Regular”-sized salad on the Quizno’s menu that comes with under 500 calories. Choose that one, instead.
Eat This Instead!
Pan Asian Regular Chopped Salad
17.5 g fat (4 g saturated)
1,915 mg sodium
Quick quiz: Why have you never seen a hot Hollywood star at Quizno's? Click here for the answer—and the inspiration and tips that can help you look and feel your very best!
Worst Spinach Salad
Applebee's Grilled Shrimp ‘N Spinach, Regular
72 g fat (11 g saturated)
2,530 mg sodium
SODIUM EQUIVALENT: 4.5 1.5-oz bags of Lay's Potato Chips!
This salad is seriously deceptive—spinach is filled with iron, and, as I revealed on my Twitter feed here, shrimp boasts lots of lean protein, selenium (which helps prevent skin cancer and diabetes), and no fat. But here's the deal: This shrimp and spinach salad gives two typically great superfoods a terrible name. In fact, half of the salads on Applebee’s menu break the 1,000-calorie barrier, making them just as dubious as any other menu item. If a field of greens is calling your name, limit yourself to a half order, or choose the Weight Watchers Grilled Chili-Lime Chicken Salad—it’s the only Applebee's salad with fewer than 700 calories.
(Surprised by these outrageous salads? Don't be. Dozens of seemingly healthy foods are among the absolute worst on restaurant menus. Want proof? Check out our shocking list of caloric calamities in 30 “Healthy” Foods That Aren’t. It explains how food marketers try to trick you into thinking that salads, wraps, smoothies, and other favorite foods are healthy.)
Eat This Instead!
Half Grilled Steak Caesar
33 g fat (7 g saturated)
930 mg sodium
Worst Fried Chicken Salad
T.G.I. Friday's Pecan-Crusted Chicken Salad
CALORIE EQUIVALENT: 39 Popsicle Firecracker Jr. Pops!
In chain-restaurant parlance, “crusted” is a euphemism for “fried.” Add sugar-coated pecans, sugar-coated cranberries, and a heap of blue cheese, and you have all the makings of one of America’s worst salads. Go for the Dragonfire Chicken, instead. Along with Shrimp Key and the Cobb Salad, this is the only legitimate health entrée available at Friday’s. The next best chicken-based entrée, the Chicken Parmesan Sliders, packs 790 calories before sides.
Eat This Instead!
Bonus tip: Another quick way to cut even more calories? Choose your drinks wisely. It turns out that Americans consume about a quarter of their calories in liquid form—which isn't too hard to believe, once you've seen this shocking list revealing the 20 Worst Drinks in America. Gross.
Worst Grilled Chicken Salad
California Pizza Kitchen Waldorf Chicken Salad with Dijon Balsamic Vinaigrette
25 g saturated fat
1,864 mg sodium
CALORIE EQUIVALENT: 13.5 Twix bars!
There’s no reason that this salad should saddle you with three-quarters of your daily allotment of calories. According to the CPK website, it contains: “Field greens, chilled-grilled chicken breast, seedless grapes, Granny Smith apples, candied walnuts, celery and Gorgonzola cheese.” When mixed together in reasonable proportions, there’s nothing inherently wrong with these ingredients—in fact, most of them are good for you. It’s just that CPK jumbo sizes their menu items. Choose the Half Moroccan Chicken Salad instead—just be aware that it’s also the size of a solid sandwich, and consider it your main meal, not a starter dish.
Eat This Instead!
Half Moroccan Chicken Salad
4 g saturated fat
309 mg sodium
Worst Taco Salad
On the Border Grande Taco Salad with Ground Beef and Chipotle Honey Mustard Dressing
124 g fat (27 g saturated)
2,570 mg sodium
CALORIE EQUIVALENT: 8 packs of M&Ms!
Don’t be thrown off by the word “salad." Think of this instead as the world’s largest taco, cradled by an oversize fried tortilla trough. Take a hint from the name: This Grande salad is gigantic, and comes with as many calories as in THREE Whoppers. As a general rule, avoid Mexican-style salads at every restaurant. On the Border provides one saving grace: The Citrus Chipotle Chicken Salad with Mango Citrus Vinaigrette will still give you that south-of-the-border taste without the same massive dose of dietary destruction.
Eat This Instead!
Citrus Chipotle Chicken Salad with Mango Citrus Vinaigrette
4 g fat (2 g saturated)
840 mg sodium
Think these salads are bad? Just wait. To see the absolute WORST salad in America, check out our eye-popping Restaurant Salad Hall of Shame.
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