Fast Food Salads Often Unhealthy


saladsWhen is a kale salad unhealthy? Apparently, it is when McDonald’s prepares it. At a time when the company and other restaurant chains are trying hard to show “fast food” is not a synonym for “junk food,” McDonald’s has rolled out new salads, including a kale one (initially in Canada). Unfortunately, anyone watching their weight may be better off with a Big Mac, since fast food salads are often unhealthy.

Leafy, deep green kale is trendy because of its high vitamin content. It is being added to countless menus as a healthy option. But the McDonald’s “Keep Calm, Caesar On” salad with kale has more calories, sodium and fat than a Big Mac double-decker burger. The problem is that the kale and lettuce content is merely the bottom layer of a crispy fried chicken, cheese, bacon and mayonnaise sauce dish. So, eating the salad is adding 730 calories, 1,400 mg of sodium and 53 grams of fat to the diner’s diet. (By comparison, the Big Mac has 540 calories, 970 mg of sodium and 28 grams of fat.)

For fast food aficionados, and those who merely tolerate them when traveling on an interstate, the fact that fast-food chains do offer some healthy options, including healthy salads, on their menus is good news. But, until the Affordable Care Act mandate is finally in place requiring calorie counts on for everything on menus at chains with at least 20 locations, consumers should be cautious when assuming they are ordering a “heathier” option on a menu.

The key thing is paying attention to what is in the dish and optional items that make them a less-than-optimal choice as well as ways to modify the order. For example, Carl’s Jr. for years has let diners opt for a low-carb version of any sandwich (i.e., without the bun). Additionally, most chains offer tasty, reduced-fat salad dressings for those who ask. Even McDonald’s, nowadays, lets customers modify menu items to make them healthier.

Three areas to focus on when choosing fast-food salads to stay away unhealthy items are:

  1. Avoid anything labeling as crispy (except lettuce). Crispy is restaurant-speak for fried. It makes a big difference. For example, the grilled version of McDonald’s Premium Bacon Ranch Salad with Buttermilk Crispy Chicken (not including dressing) contains 490 calories and 29 grams of fat, whereas the version with grilled chicken only contains 310 calories and 14grams of fat. On the positive side, both versions are low in sugar!
  2. Pick salads with colorful vegetables and fruit like tomatoes, peppers, apples, shredded carrots, or cabbage. Stay away from cheese and other things that add fat and calories. For example, a full order of Wendy’s Apple Pecan Chicken Salad has 590 calories and 27 grams of fat. Remove the blue cheese and it drops to 470 calories and 17 grams of fat. However, be wary of the sugar content. It has 40 grams; experts recommend 40 grams for the whole day!
  3. Whether at a fast food restaurant or a gourmet one, salad dressing wreaks havoc on a diet. The calorie counts do not include the dressing, which is listed separately. Several chains do have reduced fat options. Regardless, try to use as little as possible to keep the sugar, fat and calories in check.

Passing through the drive-through at lunch or on-the-way home from work is a modern convenience many rely on as a timesaver. But, be wary that trying to watch the amount of calories, fat and other nutritional items will often help keep the fast food salads from being a more unhealthy choice that the sandwiches.

Written and edited by Dyanne Weiss

CBC: Healthy fast food? McDonald’s kale salad has more calories than a Double Big Mac
Cooking Channel Tv: Best & Worst Fast-Food Salads
Web MD: How Healthy Are Fast-Food Salads?
People: McDonald’s New Kale Salads Pack More Calories than a Big Mac

Photo of healthy Premium Chicken Caesar Salad courtesy of McDonald’s