July 21, 2024


The Food community

10 Super Unhealthy Salads You Should Avoid From Your Favorite Chain Restaurants

6 min read
Photo credit: gbh007 - Getty Images
Photo credit: gbh007 – Getty Images

From Prevention

Salads are good for you, right? Well, sure, they can be. But the salad = healthy equation is far from foolproof, especially if you get that bowl o’ greens from a restaurant.

When you’re dining out or ordering takeout, you should never assume that a salad is the most wholesome choice on the menu, says Keri Gans, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.N., author of The Small Change Diet. “In many instances they can be calorie bombs,” she warns. Here are some of the big reasons why:

✔️ They’re overloaded with special toppings. Restaurants tend to load their salads with the yummy extras that you’d only use in small portions (or avoid altogether) at home. Think cheese, bacon bits, croutons, and crispy noodles or tortilla strips—all of which can pile on extra calories and drive up sodium counts, explains Erin Palinski-Wade, R.D., C.D.E., author of Belly Fat for Dummies. Even healthy toppings like nuts, avocado, or dried fruit are tossed in with a heavy hand, causing the calories to add up.

✔️The proteins are often deep-fried. Those breaded crispy chicken strips that make their way into so many restaurant salads are basically just chicken nuggets. Thanks to the extra oil and breading, they’re loaded with fat and calories.

✔️They’re swimming in dressing. A standard serving of dressing is two tablespoons, but it’s not unusual for restaurants to drizzle on more, Gans says. To make matters worse, the dressings tend to pack loads of sugar and salt, and creamy ones are usually high in saturated fat.

✔️The portions are too big. Ever order an entrée salad that came in a bowl big enough to feed three or four people? Yeah, us too. Too much of any food, even salad, can end up delivering more calories than you need. And that’s especially true when your salad is more meat/cheese/eggs/toppings/dressing than leafy greens.

All that said, there are some salads that truly go above and beyond in the bad-for-you department. We’ve rounded up 10 of the worst picks here, with the calorie, fat, sugar, and sodium counts to prove it.

1. Jack in the Box Chicken Club Salad with Crispy Chicken, Croutons, and Ranch Dressing

Photo credit: Jack in the Box
Photo credit: Jack in the Box

Club salads generally tend to be a risky order, since they often pack bacon and cheese and croutons and creamy dressing. But this one might be the king of unhealthy clubs once you add fried chicken pieces and mayo-laden ranch dressing. More than half of the salad’s calories come from fat (including 1 g trans fat), and it’s got nearly a day’s worth of sodium. To keep it lighter, opt for their traditional grilled chicken (pictured above) instead and ditch the croutons.

The total damage: 820 calories, 35 g protein, 55 g fat, 13 g saturated fat, 47 g carbs, 5 g sugar, 1,870 mg sodium

2. Applebee’s Oriental Chicken Salad with Crispy Chicken

Photo credit: Applebee’s
Photo credit: Applebee’s

The chain bills this salad as a “long-running favorite,” but your waistline definitely won’t love it: It’s basically a plate of fried chicken tenders and crispy noodles piled on top of some lettuce, with a side of buttery breadstick. And it serves up more calories than some people eat in an entire day and as much sugar as a slice of chocolate fudge cake.

The total damage: 1,570 calories, 42 g protein, 103 g fat, 17 g saturated fat, 126 g carbs, 41 g sugar, 1,610 mg sodium

3. California Pizza Kitchen Waldorf Chicken Salad with Dijon Balsamic Vinaigrette

Photo credit: California Pizza Kitchen
Photo credit: California Pizza Kitchen

A salad made with grilled chicken, fruit, and walnuts seems like a harmless choice, right? Well, not here. Candied nuts, gorgonzola cheese, and a way-too-big bowl means a full-size version of this salad has almost 100 g fat, two days’ worth of sugar, and nearly enough calories to sustain you all day long.

The total damage: 1,320 calories, 54 g protein, 94 g fat, 22 g saturated fat, 76 g carbs, 54 g sugar, 2,020 mg sodium

4. T.G.I. Fridays Million Dollar Cobb Salad

Photo credit: T.G.I. Fridays
Photo credit: T.G.I. Fridays

It looks like there might be a few greens tucked in there somewhere, but this concoction appears to be mostly cheese, eggs, bacon, chicken, and ranch dressing. It might taste like a million bucks…but from a nutritional perspective? It’s a straight up salt bomb with more than a day’s worth of sodium.

The total damage: 1,020 calories, 65 g protein, 74 g fat, 24 g saturated fat, 26 g carbs, 11 g sugar, 2,640 sodium

5. Chili’s Quesadilla Explosion Salad

Photo credit: Chili’s
Photo credit: Chili’s

Not sure who actually needs to hear this, but a salad with the words “quesadilla explosion” in its name isn’t really a salad. (Points for creativity though!) Let’s call it a greens/chicken/creamy dressing combo served on a bed of fried starch and cheese instead.

The damage: 1,410 calories, 63 g protein, 94 g fat, 29 g saturated fat, 82 g carbs, 17 g sugar, 2,230 sodium

6. Cheesecake Factory Barbecue Ranch Chicken Salad

Photo credit: Cheesecake Factory
Photo credit: Cheesecake Factory

Grilled chicken, avocado, black beans, corn, cucumber, and romaine lettuce sounds like a pretty harmless combo. But when you drench it in barbecue ranch dressing, pile on loads of crispy onion strings, and offer up a portion big enough to serve an entire family, well, that’s another story. A dinner-sized serving of this salad has more calories and sodium than most people need in an entire day, close to double the daily sat fat limit, and a mind-boggling 16 teaspoons of sugar.

The damage: 2,150 calories, 66 g protein, 137 g fat, 25 g saturated fat, 161 g carbs, 67 g sugar, 2,870 sodium

7. Buffalo Wild Wings Santa Fe Grilled Chicken Salad with Cilantro Lime Dressing

Photo credit: Buffalo Wild Wings
Photo credit: Buffalo Wild Wings

Even though it’s made with grilled chicken, this salad is stacked with cheese, tortillas, and fatty cilantro lime ranch dressing—earning it 1,000 calories in the process. On top of that, it includes a whopping 2,200 mg of sodium and 1 gram of disease-causing trans fat, too.

The damage: 1,000 calories, 39 g protein, 61 g fat, 14 g saturated fat, 1 g trans fat, 75 g carbs, 14 g sugar, 2,200 sodium

8. Pizzeria Uno Chopped Honey Crisp Chicken Salad

Photo credit: Pizzeria Uno
Photo credit: Pizzeria Uno

Pizzeria Uno used the word “yowza” to describe this salad of fried chicken strips, bacon, crispy noodles, and honey mustard dressing—which seems spot on. You’d get fewer calories and less fat polishing off two slices of the chain’s deep dish Meat Market pizza.

The damage: 1,320 calories, 53 g protein, 90 g fat, 24 g saturated fat, 67 g carbs, 18 g sugar, 2,000 sodium

9. Subway Meatball Marinara Salad

Photo credit: Subway
Photo credit: Subway

This meatball-topped salad does okay on the calorie, sugar, and sodium front. So why does it make this list? It’s got 1 g trans fat, a dangerous type of hydrogenated fat that experts say you should avoid as much as possible, since it’s known to up the risk for heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes.

The damage: 290 calories, 15 g protein, 16 g fat, 6 g saturated fat, 1 g trans fat, 22 g carbs, 9 g sugar, 780 sodium

10. Carl’s Junior Beef Taco Salad

Photo credit: Carl’s Junior
Photo credit: Carl’s Junior

The deep-fried taco shell bowl should tip you off to the fact that this salad probably isn’t the most nutritious choice. But what you can’t tell just from looking? The salad packs close to a day’s worth of sodium, more than a day’s worth of saturated fat, plus 1 g trans fat. In other words, steer clear.

The damage: 890 calories, 35 g protein, 56 g fat, 18 g saturated fat, 1 g trans fat, 62 g carbs, 9 g sugar, 1,890 g sodium

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