American Restaurant Salads are Worse Than Fast Food, Study Finds

Salad: Is there a healthier, more satisfying mélange of vegetables? It’s the ultimate addition to any meal—crispy, crunchy, green, leafy, slightly sweet, tangy, even fruity. And salad is always good for you, right? Well, not so fast.

A recent report released by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine points to 100 restaurant salads that the group says are actually worse for your health than eating a Big Mac.

According to PCRM, “worse than a Big Mac” is defined by the levels of saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium and total calories (the Big Mac clocks in at 550). The Big Mac contains 29 grams of fat, 75 milligrams of cholesterol and 970 milligrams of sodium.

Salads are often the go-to choice at restaurants when people are seeking to avoid fried, greasy food, excessive amounts of meat and dairy, and even bread or grains. But PCRM says there is much to be weary of when it comes to restaurant salads.

“Some mass-produced salads are basically nachos in disguise,” reports The Atlantic. “Once something comes with ‘freshly toasted three-cheese quesadillas,’ it’s not a salad, it’s a Super-Bowl party appetizer.”

Topping the PCRM’s list of worst salad offenders are Applebee’s Grilled Shrimp ‘N Spinach Salad (1,000 calories), California Pizza Kitchen’s Moroccan-Spiced Chicken Salad (1,500 calories), Chili’s Quesadilla Explosion Salad (1,430 calories), IHOP’s Crispy Chicken Cobb Salad With Avocado (1,350 calories) and IHOP’s Crispy Chicken Cobb Salad With Grilled Chicken (1,130 calories).

Granted, more and more fast food and fast casual chains are trying to move towards healthier menu items (McDonald’s has been testing kale in breakfast bowls), but salads typically rank among the least popular fast food menu items and are often dropped whenever menus get revamped.

Or worse, they’re reconfigured, which typically means getting smothered in everything you’re trying to avoid. “Ordering a salad at a chain restaurant often seems like the healthiest choice to dieters or nutrition-conscious customers,” PCRM states on its website. “However, many restaurant salads are actually loaded with high-fat and high-cholesterol ingredients—like processed meat, cheese, and creamy dressing.”

PCRM recommends avoiding salads with ingredients like cheese and bacon, and skipping creamy dressings, opting for vinaigrettes or lemon and olive oil instead. Or try eating at restaurants with salad bars where you can choose the healthy salad toppings, such as high-protein beans, fiber-rich veggies and dark leafy greens.

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Salad image via Shutterstock