Turns out, a salad isn't always the healthiest choice.
Chopt Texas Po Boy Salad
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At 680 calories, this salad is definitely not a lower-calorie option. "This salad comes with panko fried chicken," points out Alix Turoff, a registered dietitian and certified personal trainer. "If you swap it for grilled chicken, you can save 230 calories and 21 grams of carbs. You'll also be getting 8 grams more protein." That seems like a brainier.
There are also multiple sources of fat on this salad, says Turoff. Aside from the fried chicken, there's also cheddar cheese and ranch dressing. "I suggest swapping the cheddar cheese for avocado so you're getting a healthier source of fat, adding some fiber and shaving 90 calories off your salad." (FYI, here's yet another important reason to eat healthy fats.)
Panera Southwest Chile Lime Ranch Salad with Chicken
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Panera allows you to personalize your salad, so the nutrition information will update based on those choices," says Turoff. Pretty nifty.
"Ditch the corn tortilla strips and you'll save 170 calories, 10 grams of fat, and 18 grams of carbs," she suggests.
And while avocado is great for you, it's easy to go overboard with it. "Ask for 'light' avocado and they'll cut the portion in half. Your new full-sized salad would contain 450 calories instead of 670, 20 grams of fat instead of 34, and 36 grams of carbs and 56. And that's without even changing the dressing."
Hale & Hearty Chicken, Avocado, Cranberries, and Walnuts
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"The dressing on this salad alone contains 370 calories," says Turoff. "Instead, choose a lighter dressing (like the Avocado Green Goddess Dressing for 60 calories)." Dried cranberries are also super sugary, so Turoff recommends adding in fresh apples, grapes, or mandarin oranges for a hint of sweetness without so much sugar.
(You could also whip up one of these 3-ingredient salad dressings and keep it in the fridge at work.)
Photo: Hale & Hearty
Au Bon Pain Thai Peanut Chicken Salad
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It's not so much that this salad is bad, but more so that there are better options on the menu if you're paying attention to your nutrition, says Turoff. "Skip the salad completely at Au Bon Pain, and go with the chicken, vegetable, or lentil soup, and pair it with one of their 'to-go' snacks." Fruit, eggs, and nuts snack are all options as well as fruit and yogurt cups.
Just Salad Chipotle Cowboy
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This salad adds up to 510 calories, plus extra for dressing. While that's not so bad, there are definitely better options on the Just Salad menu if you're looking for something more health-conscious. Deborah Malkoff-Cohen, a registered dietitian, recommends checking out the Thai Chicken Crunch (with a half portion of crunchy noodles) or the California salad as alternatives.
Photo: Just Salad
McDonald's Southwest Buttermilk Crispy Chicken Salad
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Truth be told, Malkoff-Cohen is impressed by McDonalds' nutrition transparency. "It's cool of McDonald's to let you see the ingredients of the salad and cater it individually by adding or deleting ingredients," she says. As is, this salad comes out to 520 calories with 25 grams of fat, 46 grams of carbs, and 28 grams of protein.
But by leaving out the chili lime tortilla strips and getting the dressing on the side, you can save about 100 calories. You could also opt for the fast food restaurant's Southwest Grilled Chicken Salad, which is just 350 calories with 37 grams of protein. Not too shabby.
Chopt Classic Cobb
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Clocking in at 670 calories and 41 grams of fat, Chopt's Classic Cobb salad isn't exactly light. "Here's another example of multiple sources of fat in one salad," says Turoff. "Here we have the avocado, bacon, egg, and blue cheese which are all sources of fat. You could swap the egg out for egg whites and save 6 grams of fat and 60 calories.
"I would then choose Bacon or Blue cheese, but not both, or ditch them both if you don't care," she says. Keep the avocado if you want (the dijon dressing is light and helps to balance it out). You could also ask for half the amount of avocado, cheese, or bacon. That way, you get the flavor of the ingredient but easily shave half the calories/fat."
(BTW, here are 5 reasons your salad is making you bloated.)
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Don't get us wrong, if you're going to grab a salad for lunch, Sweetgreen is one of the healthiest places to do it. But where most people run into trouble? The dressing.
"They don't offer any 'light' dressing options," says Turoff. So you're either forced to get one of their dressing options that all contain ~110 calories per 2 tablespoons, or you have to go with lemon or balsamic vinegar, which isn't always desirable. Some people will choose olive oil as a dressing thinking they're making the best choice, but keep in mind, 1 tablespoon of olive oil has 120 calories, and most people use much more than a tablespoon. So while olive oil is a 'heart healthy' oil, it's still very caloric."
In other words, go light on the dressing if you don't want to diminish all the healthy choices you made with the other salad ingredients.