Are Restaurant Salads Really Healthy?

Healthy Salad

Ordering a salad at a restaurant seems like a good way to “eat healthy.” Here’s the deal: restaurants aren’t in the business of keeping you healthy; they’re in the business of offering meals that taste good so you will keep coming back.

Check out the nutrition facts for your favorite meal-sized restaurant salad. It most likely has more fat, calories, salt and sugar than you expect. A familiar favorite salad loved by many is the BBQ Chicken Chopped Salad from California Pizza Kitchen. The salad has 1,250 calories, 81 grams of fat, 1800mg of sodium, and 6 teaspoons of sugar. It’s time to end the salad sabotage! Here are some common bowl-busters and tips to help you make healthier choices when ordering greens on the go.

  1. Crunchy toppings: Whether it’s thin strips of tortilla chips, fried Asian noodles, or crispy croutons, a hearty sprinkle of crunchy toppings add more fat, sodium, and refined carbs than they’re worth. You’re better off asking for these on the side, and spooning them on sparingly before you dig in.
  2. Crispy shrimp or crusted chicken: While the name has a nice ring to it, the words “crispy” and “crusted” are synonyms for “fried.” One four-ounce fried chicken breast has 300 calories and about 15 grams of fat. The same amount of fried shrimp has 275 calories and 13 grams of fat. By asking for grilled shrimp or chicken instead of fried you are able to cut the calories and fat by at least half.
  3. Fried taco shells: Mexican-lovers beware: the grand finale of a taco salad, that crunchy taco shell bowl, will tack an additional 400 calories on to your meal. Your best bet is to skip the shell altogether, go light on the sour cream and sprinkle a few crushed tortilla chips on top (if you must).
  4. Dangerous dressings: Depending on the size you order, there can be anywhere from 2 to 4 (and sometimes more especially with a Caesar salad) tablespoons of dressing coating your salad. Creamy dressings tend to be high in fat, sweet vinaigrettes are often a sneaky source of added sugars and many Asian dressings can be high in sodium. Adding oil and vinegar yourself is the healthiest option. You don’t have to sacrifice the flavor of your favorite dressing. Ask for the dressing on the side and dip your fork into the dressing before loading it up with veggies. The light coating gives you just enough flavor and you’ll use about half as much dressing.
  5. Sugary sauces:Barbecue and honey mustard sauces are commonly found on restaurant salads, but beware, they’re loaded with added sugar. Just 2 tablespoons of honey mustard sauce contains 1 1/2 teaspoons of sugar. Two tablespoons of barbecue sauce contains an entire tablespoon of sugar. It is best to ask for these sauces on the side to control how much sweet stuff ends up on your salad.
  6. Dried fruit: Many people love pops of sweetness in their salads but dried fruits are concentrated sources of sugar, some of which is added sugar. A good example are dried cranberries. It’s common to have ¼ cup of dried cranberries mixed into a restaurant salad which adds upwards of 100 calories and nearly 20 grams (or 5 teaspoons) of sugar to your “healthy” meal. Opt for salads with fresh fruit, like sliced apples or pears. This allows you to keep the sweet without all the concentrated, unnecessary sugars.
  7. Cheese: A 1-ounce serving of cheese typically has anywhere from 80 to 110 calories. Most meal-size restaurant salads have much more than 1 ounce and many times as much as 2 ounces. Rather than having it mixed in, ask for the cheese on the side and then sprinkle it on sparingly. A little goes a long way!
  8. Super-sized portions: Portion distortion isn’t just a problem with entrees, restaurants know that oversized salads ensure customers leave full, happy and feeling good about making a “healthier” choice. If you want your salad with all of the fixings, order the half- or lunch-sized portion. It will save you a lot of calories and perhaps a little cash too.

By Molly McBrayer, clinical manager, Roper St. Francis Bariatrics & Metabolic Services


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