5 Fast-Food Salads That Are Terrible for You (And 4 Better Options)

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A salad should be a fresh, crisp bowlful of healthfulness. And eating one can undoubtedly punch up your produce intake for the day. Unfortunately, a salad from a fast-food joint may also contain just a little bit of lettuce accessorized with far too many nutritionally questionable ingredients, from preservative-laden dressing to greasy bacon bits.

When you visit a fast-food chain, you may need to go on a scavenger hunt through its website to determine which salad best matches your nutrition goals. Lucky for you, we went on that e-hunt so you don’t have to. The good news is it’s possible to find healthy salad options, and through our research we found five salads that you should avoid at all cost. Scroll through to see our picks so you’re prepared to order the better-for-you version the next time you’re caught in line at the drive-thru.

Worst Salad No. 5: Wendy’s Taco Salad

credit: Wendy's Wendy's

Wendy’s may trick consumers into thinking its food is healthier than the competition, thanks to its campaign of “fresh never frozen” beef burger patties, but its taco salad is packed with not-so-fresh ingredients. After the nutritionally approved lettuces and tomatoes and cheddar cheese (these ingredients provide plenty of vitamin A, vitamin C and calcium), the ingredient list starts reading like a mad scientist’s creation.

First, there’s potassium sorbate in the light sour cream. This preservative may have an adverse effect on DNA in white blood cells. Then there’s a flavor enhancer in the chili sauce that includes silicon dioxide. This food additive is considered safe by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) when used appropriately, but for workers exposed to large amounts of crystalline silica (a form of silicon dioxide), it showed a potentially harmful impact on lung function. And, finally, this taco salad is excessively high in sodium, clocking in at 1,820 milligrams. American adults should consume less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium in an entire day, while sodium-sensitive individuals should aim for significantly less. This one is definitely a no-go.

Nutrition info per serving (full size): 660 calories, 32 grams of total fat (13 grams of saturated fat, one gram of trans fat), 85 milligrams of cholesterol, 1,820 milligrams of sodium, 63 grams of total carbohydrate (10 gams of dietary fiber, 18 grams of sugar), 32 grams of protein

Read more: How to Make the Avocado Art That Instagram Is Obsessed With

Worst Salad No. 4: Subway’s Chicken & Bacon Ranch Salad

credit: Subway Subway

While Subway is best known for its subs, it’s become a popular destination for salads too. There seems to be an option to please everyone’s palate, but if you’re picky about your health, steer clear of Subway’s Chicken & Bacon Ranch Salad. At first glance, nothing seems to be amiss about this protein-packed order: 540 calories sounds right for lunch. It fails because it contains bacon, which has sodium nitrite, and the dressing contains synthetic preservatives.

According to a 2015 World Health Organization report, eating processed meat, including bacon, is carcinogenic, which is partially due to sodium nitrite. The ranch dressing tossed with this salad contains sodium benzoate, a synthetic preservative. When that chemical combines with vitamin C it may form benzene, which in turn may lead to a higher risk for blood cancers. And to top it all off, just from this salad you get more than half of the daily recommended sodium.

Nutrition info per serving: 540 calories, 40 grams of total fat (12 grams of saturated fat, one gram of trans fat), 100 milligrams of cholesterol, 1,290 milligrams of sodium, 15 grams of total carbohydrates (four grams of dietary fiber, nine grams of sugar), 32 grams of protein

Read more: 9 Chocolate Desserts That Are Actually Good for You

Worst Salad No. 3: Taco Bell’s Fiesta Taco Salad With Seasoned Beef

credit: Taco Bell Taco Bell

Despite its sub-par ingredients and nutritional makeup, this taco salad from Taco Bell is still as popular as ever. While you get veggies (salsa counts too) and beans here along with a significant amount of fiber, you’ll also sink your teeth into ingredients that your body doesn’t need.

Potassium sorbate, the preservative that may have a potential negative impact on DNA, shows up in both the reduced-fat sour cream and the taco salad shell. The shell and the rice are made with processed grains, so they’ve been stripped of health-promoting whole-grain benefits. Plus, you get a hefty 760 calories and some trans fat — the most heart-unfriendly of fats because they lower “good” cholesterol and raise “bad” cholesterol. Ideally, everyone should aim for 0 grams of trans fat. And if you do choose this salad, don’t crunch on that shell; compost it instead.

Nutrition info per serving: 760 calories, 39 grams of total fat (10 grams of saturated fat, one gram of trans fat), 55 milligrams of cholesterol, 1,320 milligrams of sodium, 77 grams of total carbohydrates (11 grams of dietary fiber, seven grams of sugar), 27 grams of protein

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Worst Salad No. 2: Burger King’s Chicken Club Salad With Crispy Chicken

credit: Burger King Burger King

If you’re hoping to find a calorie-friendly salad at Burger King, be aware that its cheeseburger, double cheeseburger, bacon double cheeseburger and even Whopper sandwich provide fewer calories than this chicken club salad at 710 calories.

Still think the salad is better than a burger? Yes, you’ll get ever-important health-promoting vegetables in this salad, which contains romaine, green leaf and radicchio lettuces along with some tomatoes. Unfortunately, there are quite a few nutritional issues with the rest of the ingredients: smoked bacon pieces, crispy chicken, shredded cheddar cheese and butter garlic croutons. All of these ingredients contribute to this salad’s biggest blunder: 1,820 milligrams of sodium. Too much sodium in the diet causes excess fluid retention in your body, which then makes your heart work harder, and that can lead to higher blood pressure. According to Harvard’s School of Public Health, it can also raise your risk for heart disease, stroke, heart failure, osteoporosis and, potentially, stomach cancer.

Nutrition info per serving: 710 calories, 51 grams of total fat (13 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat), 110 milligrams of cholesterol, 1,820 milligrams of sodium, 33 grams of total carbohydrates (three grams of dietary fiber, six grams of sugar), 32 grams of protein

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Worst Salad No. 1: McDonald’s Southwest Buttermilk Crispy Chicken Salad

credit: McDonalds McDonalds

You may not have realized it, but McDonald’s has been offering some slightly healthier options over the past several years. But if you think reaching for this salad is going to be a nutritionally smart pick, think again. While it does provide a good portion of protein and fiber to satisfy, there’s too much sodium for one sitting: 960 milligrams of sodium to be exact.

The ingredient list is also filled with chemicals that are used for preservation (sodium benzoate and potassium sorbate in the cilantro-lime glaze) or preventing mold (natamycin in the cheese). These are not beneficial for your body. Excessive natamycin use may lead to fungi resistance, which could put people with weakened immune systems at risk if some drug treatments lose effectiveness. What’s more, this mold inhibitor is featured on Whole Food’s Unacceptable Ingredients for Food list. The bottom line is that a good-for-you salad should have an ingredient list that sounds more like a seasonal stroll through a garden than a freaky trip through a science lab.

Nutrition info per serving: 520 calories, 25 grams of total fat (six grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat), 75 milligrams of cholesterol, 960 milligrams of sodium, 46 grams of total carbohydrates (eight grams of dietary fiber, nine grams of sugar), 28 grams of protein

Read more: 12 Vegan Breakfasts Everyone Will Love

Best Salad No. 1: Sweetgreen’s Spicy Thai Salad

credit: Sweetgreen Sweetgreen

Sweetgreen simply does it right, especially since it works with farmers throughout the country to find fresh, seasonal, local ingredients. Its Spicy Thai Salad is a must-choose option for someone who wants to eat on the light side or go vegan without sacrificing taste.

The roasted sesame tofu is certified organic, and it’s a complete protein — which means it contains all of the essential amino acids required by your body. It’s loaded with greens, including organic arugula, chopped romaine, basil and cilantro. Yes, herbs count too! And there are still more veggies, including cucumbers, shredded cabbage and raw corn. Corn provides lutein and zeaxanthin, carotenoids that play an essential role in eye health. And if you’re into a hint of “heat,” this salad has a double dose with its spicy sunflower seeds and the spicy cashew dressing. Yum

Nutrition info per serving: 460 calories, 27 grams of total fat (four grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat), 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 578 milligrams of sodium, 23 grams of total carbohydrates (four grams of dietary fiber, six grams of sugar), 15 grams of protein

Read more: 10 Low-Carb Breakfasts That Will Fill You Up

Best Salad No. 2: Chipotle’s Chicken & Black Bean Salad With Corn Salsa

credit: Chipotle Chipotle

Chipotle keeps it real. It believes in farms, not factories, and it’s known for sourcing quality, non-GMO ingredients without added colors or flavors. Altogether, the result is an ingredient list that reads as you’d expect — like a homemade recipe.

In this salad of chopped romaine lettuce, you’ll find chicken that’s raised responsibly without antibiotics, marinated in an all-natural chipotle pepper adobo and grilled. You’ll get black beans that have been simmered and seasoned with onions, garlic, herbs and spices. The finishing touch is a roasted chili-corn salsa that’s made with white sweet corn, red onion, jalapeno, roasted poblano pepper, cilantro, lemon and lime juices and a little salt. You’ll get a whopping 44 grams of protein and 11 grams of fiber all for a svelte 400 calories. Need some extra energy? Just add a dollop of guac. Either way, plan to feel satisfied for hours.

Nutrition info per serving: 400 calories, 10 grams of total fat (three grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat), 125 milligrams of cholesterol, 855 milligrams of sodium, 40 grams of total carbohydrates (11 grams of dietary fiber, seven grams of sugar), 44 grams of protein

Read more: Livestrong’s 2018 Wellness Trends Guide

Best Salad No. 3: Starbucks’ Lentils & Vegetable Protein Bowl

credit: Starbucks Starbucks

Craving a nontraditional salad? Consider this creative bowl of nutrient-rich goodness from Starbucks. It has 650 calories and 80 grams of total carbs, making it an ideal post-workout meal. That amount of carbs may sound high, but 21 grams of it is from fiber. Fiber can play a beneficial role in reducing the risk of heart disease, diabetes and obesity. According to The National Academies of Sciences Engineering Medicine, for adults age 50 or younger, women should consume 25 grams of fiber per day and men should have about 38 grams. Unfortunately, the average American diet contains only 16 grams of fiber. Lucky for you, this filling Starbucks’ pick is chock-full of fiber.

If your digestive system isn’t used to that significant amount of fiber, consider eating a portion now and saving the rest for later. This salad is also loaded with deliciously wholesome ingredients, including brown rice, black lentils, crunchy roasted sunflower seeds and lots of colorful veggies like kale, butternut squash and beets. It’s dressed with a delightful lemon-tahini dressing. And it’s vegan, too. (Note: This bowl is only available at select Starbucks locations.)

Nutrition info per serving: 650 calories, 29 grams of total fat (3.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat), 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 670 milligrams of sodium, 80 grams of total carbohydrate (21 grams of dietary fiber, 10 grams of sugar), 23 grams of protein

Read more: 10 Smoothies That Won’t Spike Your Blood Sugar

Best Salad No. 4: Panera Bread’s Ancient Grain & Arugula Salad With Chicken

credit: Panera Panera

Panera Bread is a quick-service restaurant that you can feel good taking the entire family to. The company’s “clean” menu has much to do with that. It doesn’t use artificial ingredients, and it even has a “no-no list” of ingredients that you won’t find in any of its food.

In this 400-calorie pick, you’ll find citrus-and-pepper chicken, apple cabbage slaw, red seedless grapes, arugula and roasted salted pumpkin seeds — all topped with an apple-flavored white balsamic vinaigrette. The most interesting highlight, though, is the ancient grain and seed blend that’s made with organic freekeh and farro, black barley and daikon radish seeds. It’s what makes this salad plentiful in prebiotics. Prebiotics are food for the “good” bacteria in your gut.

Nutrition info per serving: 400 calories, 14 grams of total fat (three grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat), 80 milligrams of cholesterol, 290 milligrams of sodium, 38 grams of total carbohydrate (six grams of dietary fiber, 19 grams of sugar), 32 grams of protein

Read more: 4 Cereals That Are Terrible for You (and 5 Better Options)

What Do YOU Think?

credit: Jackie Newgent, RDN, CDN Jackie Newgent, RDN, CDN

Do you eat fast-food salads? Did your favorite salad make our worst or best list? Let us know in the comments below!

4 Cereals That Are Terrible for You (and 5 Better Options)

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Overview

A salad should be a fresh, crisp bowlful of healthfulness. And eating one can undoubtedly punch up your produce intake for the day. Unfortunately, a salad from a fast-food joint may also contain just a little bit of lettuce accessorized with far too many nutritionally questionable ingredients, from preservative-laden dressing to greasy bacon bits.

When you visit a fast-food chain, you may need to go on a scavenger hunt through its website to determine which salad best matches your nutrition goals. Lucky for you, we went on that e-hunt so you don’t have to. The good news is it’s possible to find healthy salad options, and through our research we found five salads that you should avoid at all cost. Scroll through to see our picks so you’re prepared to order the better-for-you version the next time you’re caught in line at the drive-thru.

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