One would think salads are the safest, healthiest options on a fast food menu, but that’s not necessarily the case. That’s not good news for people like me who convince themselves that no matter how much dressing their greens are sloshing around in, it’s still healthy because it’s vegetables. Sure I add up the calories and think, “Ehhh, it’s a little high. I’ll just skimp on dinner.” Reality is, many fast food salads are saturated in fat and sodium.
Over-consumption of sodium may lead to high blood pressure, a risk factor for heart attack and stroke according to the Center for Disease Control. Meanwhile, saturated fat has been linked to heart disease, too. So while your brain may be celebrating your “healthy” salad choice, your heart is probably waiting for the room to stop spinning.
Good news: First, one unhealthy salad isn’t instantly going to give you a heart attack. Second, with the help of our resident (and awesome) nutritionist, Sidney Fry, I’ve compiled a list of the best grab-and-go salads. Your mind and your heart will be happy next time you pick up your fork and dive into one of these bowls:
Au Bon Pain
- Southwest Chicken Salad: Power up with this salad of veggies, beans, corn, chicken and avocado. While the salad itself is fine nutritionally, the dressing threatens to put you over what you should be eating in one meal for sodium, so consider using 3/4 of the packet. Calories 360; Fat 11g (sat 2g); Sodium 360 mg. 3/4 Dressing Packet: Calories 120; Fat 13g (sat 2g); Sodium 360mg.
California Pizza Kitchen
- Classic Caesar Salad with Grilled Shrimp, Half Size: If you like Caesar salads, stop by California Pizza Kitchen for one that won’t set you back from a good day of healthy eating. Simply classic: croutons, shrimp, lettuce, Parmesan cheese and dressing. This smaller salad packs a whopping 27 grams of protein. Calories 350; Fat 22g (Sat 8g); Sodium 568 mg.
- Chargrilled & Fruit Salad: A mix of veggies, grapes, strawberries, apples, mandarin oranges, cheese and chicken, this salad only has 220 calories and 3.5 grams of saturated fat. Add in the berry vinaigrette and you’re still within reason for sodium and under 400 calories. Calories 220; Fat 6g (sat 3.5); Sodium 450 mg. Dressing adds: Calories 110; Fat 3.5g (sat 0g); Sodium 250mg.
- Chargrilled Chicken Garden Salad: This salad is loaded with veggies–cabbage, carrots, tomatoes, and broccoli–and weighs in at 180 calories. Plus, you get cheese! We suggest the berry balsamic or spicy dressing to keep the total sodium under 700 milligrams. Calories 180; Fat 6g (sat 3.5g); Sodium 450mg. Dressing adds: Calories 110; Fat 3.5g (sat 0g); Sodium 250mg.
- “Lighter Portion” Nutty Mixed Up Salad: This smaller salad packs 17 grams of protein. You get chicken, nuts, fruit and feta cheese. Swap the balsamic vinaigrette for the raspberry cabernet vinaigrette to save 160 milligrams of sodium. Calories 240; Fat 6g (sat 3g); Sodium 430mg. Dressing adds: Calories 60; Fat 4g (sat 0g); Sodium 200 mg.
- Power Mediterranean Chicken: Check out the hidden menu at Panera for this superstar. With 35 grams of protein, this salad will fuel your day: spinach, romaine, egg, bacon, and chicken dressed in lemon and olive oil. Salad including dressing: Calories 350; Fat 20g (sat 1.5g); Sodium 590mg.
- Mango Salad with Steak: Stick to the basics with this salad–lettuce, steak, mango salsa and cilantro lime dressing–and you’re safe but start adding things like cheese, guacamole or the tortilla bowl and you’ll consume entirely too much sodium. Surprisingly, some of the salsas have as much sodium as the cheese, so stay away from those too! Salad and dressing: Calories 280; Fat 9g (sat 4g); Sodium: 615.
- Turn your sandwich into a salad and save about 200 calories! One great option is the BLT salad, light on the honey mustard. Without the dressing, you’re looking at 150 calories, 3.5 grams of saturated fat and 450 milligrams of sodium. Salad: Calories 150; Fat 8g (sat 3.5g); Sodium 450 mg.
Half-Size Apple Pecan Chicken Salad: In addition to pecans, chicken and apples, you get cranberries and blue cheese crumbles, and pomegranate vinaigrette dressing all for 340 calories, 4.5 grams of sat fat and 700 milligrams of sodium. If you’re looking to cut back on sodium consider dropping the blue cheese crumbles and save 220 milligrams. Salad and dressing: Calories 340; Fat 18g (4.5g); Sodium 700mg.
See some other great (and some really, really bad) fast food and restaurant salads here.