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25 Unhealthiest Salads in America

Think having a salad is healthy? Think again.
25 Unhealthiest Salads in America

We love fast food burgers, and we bet you do, too. However, it’s an indulgence—and everyone knows it. Just as you wouldn’t order a Whopper or a Big Mac because you’re trying to watch your waistline, you’d probably order a salad for the same reason: it sounds like the healthiest item on the menu. Sadly, that’s not always the case.

More often than you realize, that salad is actually the worst choice on the menu. Restaurants across the country have learned that “nutrition” sells, so they smack these caloric calamities onto the “lighter fare” portion of the menu, encouraging you to think you’re making a healthy selection. To clear up the confusion and call these offending salads out, we’ve rounded up the most prominent examples of unhealthy salads. These salads are so bad, you’d be better off ordering that Whopper, after all.

In fact, the salads at many restaurants have thousands of calories, unhealthy trans fats, and more sodium than you should eat in a whole day all served over a bed of lettuce. Check out the worst offenders from some of the most popular restaurants in America.

1

Applebee’s Crispy Chicken Tender Salad

Applebees crispy chicken tender salad Courtesy of Applebee's
Per salad: 1,170 calories, 79 g fat (21 g saturated, 0.5 g trans fat), 2,360 mg sodium, 69 g carbs (7 g fiber, 30 g sugar), 48 g protein

Four of the salads on Applebee’s menu break the 1,000-calorie barrier, making them just as dubious as any other menu item, but this one takes the cake with more than the daily recommended amount of sodium in just one salad! Slash calories by switching over to the Thai Shrimp Salad.

Eat This! Instead:

Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad

Per salad: 780 calories, 55 g fat (11 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat), 1,950 mg sodium, 26 g carbs (7 g fiber, 6 g sugar), 49 g protein
2

Buffalo Wild Wings Honey BBQ Chicken Salad with Honey BBQ Ranch Dressing

Buffalo wild wings bbq chicken salad Courtesy of Buffalo Wild Wings
Per salad: 1,040 calories, 59 g fat (16 g saturated fat, 1 g trans fat), 3,570 mg sodium, 71 g carbs (6 fiber, 38 g sugar), 54 g protein

We’re as perplexed as you are. How a salad that contains chicken manages to have almost twice as much sodium as the daily recommendation is a nutritional puzzle that only Einstein himself could solve. (We’d never know.) Your better option is to choose a side salad, and a side salad only, as most of Buffalo Wild Wing’s salads have more than 1,000 calories.

Eat This! Instead:

Caesar Side Salad With Light Caesar Dressing

Per salad: 330 calories, 21 g fat (4 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat), 960 mg sodium, 30 g carbs (3 g fiber, 4 g sugar), 8 g protein
3

California Pizza Kitchen Waldorf Chicken Salad

California pizza kitchen salad Courtesy of California Pizza Kitchen
Per salad: 1,320 calories, 94 g fat (22 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat) 2,020 mg sodium, 75 g carbs ( 10 g fiber, 55 g sugar), 54 g protein

CPK’s salad menu is littered with gigantic gut-bombs like this one. There’s no reason that this salad should saddle you with over a grand of calories. According to the CPK website, it contains field greens, chilled-grilled chicken breast, seedless grapes, Granny Smith apples, candied walnuts, celery and Gorgonzola cheese. When mixed together in reasonable proportions, there’s nothing inherently wrong with these ingredients. In fact, most of them are good for you. It’s just that CPK jumbo sizes their menu items. Choose the half-size of the Roasted Vegetable Salad instead and consider it your main meal, not a starter dish.

Eat This! Instead:

Half Roasted Vegetable Salad with Dijon Balsamic Vinaigrette Dressing

Per half salad: 360 calories, 27 g fat (3 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat), 610 mg sodium, 29 g carbs (10 g fiber, 12 g sugar), 7 g protein
4

T.G.I. Fridays Grilled Chicken Pecan & Blue Cheese Salad

TGI Fridays grilled chicken pecan blue cheese salad Courtesy of TGI Friday's
Per salad: 950 calories, 42 g fat (11 g saturated fat), 1,730 mg sodium, 103 g carbs (10 g fiber, 77 g sugar), 49 g protein

In chain-restaurant parlance, not even the grilled chicken salads are safe bets. That’s because once you add sugar-coated pecans, dried cranberries, and a heap of blue cheese, you have all the makings of one of America’s worst salads. The sugar count of this salad climbs to the equivalent of 5.5 scoops of Breyer’s Natural Vanilla Ice Cream (and the fat equivalent of three scoops). To cut back on sugar, you can opt for the lowest-calorie salad choice with the Caesar Salad with Grilled Chicken.

Eat This! Instead:

Caesar Salad with Grilled Chicken with Caesar Dressing

Per salad: 650 calories, 42 g fat (9 g saturated fat, 0.5 trans fat), 1,660 mg sodium, 24 g carbs (4 g fiber, 3 g sugar), 46 g protein
5

Applebee’s Oriental Chicken Salad With Crispy Chicken

Applebees oriental salad Courtesy of Applebee's
Per salad: 1,430 calories, 96 g fat (15 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat), 1,510 mg sodium, 109 g carbs (11 g fiber, 37 sugar), 37 g protein

Why is this salad so hefty? Part of the blame goes to the ìtasty Oriental vinaigrette, for sure (the secret is always, at least partially, in the sauce). Another reason: It’s topped with crispy noodles (carbohydrate overload). And to complete the triumvirate of dietary doom: Fried chicken to boot. What exactly makes this a salad again?

Eat This! Instead:

Thai Shrimp Salad

Per salad: 380 calories, 19 g fat (2.5 g saturated fat), 1,510 mg sodium, 30 g carbs (8 g fiber, 14 g sugar), 25 g protein
6

Chili’s Quesadilla Explosion Salad

Chilis quesadilla explosion salad Courtesy of Chili's
Per salad: 1,400 calories, 93 g fat (28 g saturated fat, 1 g trans fat), 2,390 mg sodium, 81 g carbs (9 g fiber, 17 g sugar), 61 g protein

The “explosion” is what happens to your mind when you realize what’s in this “salad.” Chili’s highest-calorie salad will supply you with 1.5 days’ worth of fat, thanks in no small part to its “garnish”—an order of cheese quesadillas!

Eat This! Instead:

Santa Fe Chicken Salad with Chicken

Per salad: 620 calories, 43 g fat (7 g saturated fat), 1,610 mg sodium, 26 g carbs (7 g fiber, 8 g sugar), 33 g protein
7

Cheesecake Factory Chinese Chicken Salad

The Cheesecake Factory chinese salad Courtesy of The Cheesecake Factory
Per salad: 1,740 calories, 106 g fat (15 g saturated fat, 1 g trans fat), 2,840 mg sodium, 141 g carbs (11 g fiber, 62 g sugar), 59 g protein

Bet you weren’t expecting to take down the sugar equivalent of 4.5 single-serve bags of Haribo Gummy Bears in a salad—were you? That’s not to mention you’ll also be gulfing down the same amount of fat as you’d find in 13 bags of Doritos chips. To stick with the Asian theme, opt for the more calorically-reserved Seared Tuna Tataki Salad.

Eat This! Instead:

Seared Tuna Tataki Salad

Per salad: 490 calories, 29 g fat (2.5 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat), 1,380 mg sodium, 17 g carbs (5 g fiber, 9 g sugar), 42 g protein
8

Cheesecake Factory Barbeque Ranch Chicken Salad

Cheesecake Factory Barbeque ranch chicken salad Olivia Tarantino | Eat This Not That
Per salad: 2,150 calories, 137 g fat (25 g saturated fat), 2,870 mg sodium, 161 g carbs (23 g fiber, 67 g sugar), 66 g protein

The dismal dawn of the 2,000-calorie salad is upon us. Truth be told, nearly every Cheesecake Factory salad dwarfs a Whopper (or two, or even three), but this one is truly the worst of the worst. Save 1,310 calories—the same caloric value as Cheesecake Factory’s Roasted Mushrooms Flatbread—by switching to the Wellness Salad instead. On the “Super” Food Menu, the Wellness Salad is a kale-based dish with avocado, broccoli, fresh fruit, and nuts.

Eat This! Instead:

Wellness Salad

Per salad: 840 calories, 70 g fat (8 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat), 1,180 mg sodium, 45 g carbs (14 g fiber, 23 g sugar), 14 g protein
9

Panera Southwest Chile Lime Ranch Salad With Chicken

Per salad: 650 calories, 34 g fat (7 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat), 810 mg sodium, 53 g carbs (9 g fiber, 8 g sugar), 38 g protein

Panera’s salads might have fewer calories than a Whopper, but it’s worse in almost every other category. This Southwest Chile Lime Ranch Salad packs in a disastrous 1,270 milligrams of sodium. If you’re planning to order a salad at Panera, try the antioxidant-packed Strawberry Poppyseed & Chicken Salad.

Eat This! Instead:

Strawberry Poppyseed & Chicken Salad

Per full salad: 340 calories, 13 g fat (1.5 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat), 280 mg sodium, 31 g carbs (6 g fiber, 20 g sugar), 29 g protein
10

Chipotle Carnitas Salad With Black Beans, Fajita Veggies, Cheese & Chipotle Honey Vinaigrette

Per salad: 695 calories, 38 g fat (15g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat), 1,850 mg sodium, 47 g carbs (10 g fiber, 16 g sugar), 39 g protein

If you’re seeking solace in salads at Chipotle, be sure to pass on the one and only vinaigrette on the menu. With 220 calories and 16 grams of fat, it has more than double the calories than the most caloric salsa at Chipotle. Your best bet is to turn the tangy green salsa (just 15 calories per serving) into your dressing and spend the 205 calories you save elsewhere. When you’re looking to order at Chipotle, we opt for a burrito bowl over the salad and ask for extra lettuce on the bottom. Basically, just a salad without the caloric dressing.

Eat This! Instead:

Barbacoa Burrito Bowl With black beans, cheese, lettuce, and tomato salsa

Per bowl: 440 calories, 17 g fat (8 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat), 1,480 mg sodium, 30 g carbs (10 g fiber, 3 g sugar), 38 g protein
11

Cosi Cobb Salad

Per salad: 739 calories, 56 g fat (16 g saturated, 0 g trans fat), 1,316 mg sodium, 20 g carbs (3 g fiber, 94 g sugar), 39 g protein

Learn to lighten up! On sandwiches and salads that include Cosi Vinaigrette, this little phrase will switch you to a fat-free vinaigrette. Easiest 300-calorie savings ever. Ordering salad when dining out is risky business, but the Shanghai standby below offers plenty of lean protein and fresh vegetables without the normal salad pitfalls.

Eat This! Instead:

Shanghai Chicken Salad

Per salad: 265 calories, 10 g fat (2 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat), 870 mg sodium, 28 g carbs (4 g fiber, 8 g sugar), 18 g protein
12

Taco Bell Fiesta Taco Salad

Taco bell fiesta taco salad Courtesy of Taco Bell
Per salad: 760 calories, 39 g fat (10 g saturated fat, 1 g trans fat), 1,330 mg sodium, 78 g carbs (11 g fiber, 7 g sugar), 26 g protein

Deep-frying an oversized tortilla and using it as a salad bowl completely defeats the purpose of ordering a salad in the first place. No matter what you stick in it, it’s still going to be burdened with a dangerous load of greasy fat. Opt for the hard-shell taco instead—it’s still the best option on the menu after all these years.

Eat This! Instead:

Crunchy Beef Tacos

Per taco: 170 calories, 9 g fat (3.5 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat), 310 mg sodium, 13 g carbs (3 g fiber, <1 g sugar), 8 g protein
13

BJ’s Honey-Crisp Chicken Salad

Honey crisp salad Courtesy of BJ's Brewhouse and Restaurant
Per salad: 1,370 calories, 103 g fat (16 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat), 2,333 mg sodium, 77 g carbs (6 g fiber, 36 g sugar), 42 g protein

This salad comes from BJ’s “Garden Fresh” menu, but it’s not even close to something you’d find in a real garden. It has multiple nutritional categories in the quadruple digits. Downsize and look to the “Small Salads” section of the menu.

Eat This! Instead:

Fresh Mozzarella and Tomato Salad

Per salad: 260 calories, 18 g fat (7 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat), 324 mg sodium, 11 g carbs (2 g fiber, 8 g sugar), 14 g protein
14

P.F. Chang’s Vietnamese Noodle Salad with Salmon

PF Changs vietnamese noodle salad Courtesy of P.F. Chang's
Per salad: 1,040 calories, 32 g fat (4 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat), 1,690 mg sodium, 166 g carbs (6 g fiber, 29 g sugar), 52 g protein

Salmon might seem like an obvious choice to put on top of a salad due to its beneficial omega-3s and protein. However, when you add this healthful fish to carby noodles, it makes the calorie count soar over 1,000, not to mention, it also adds 450 milligrams of sodium. While our Eat This! Option isn’t much better on the sodium front, it will save you nearly 500 calories and 24 grams of sugar.

Eat This! Instead:

Asian Caesar Salad With Chicken

Per salad: 570 calories, 35 g fat (8 g saturated fat), 1,130 mg sodium, 25 g carbs (4 g fiber, 5 g sugar), 37 g protein
15

Romano’s Macaroni Grill Parmesan-Crusted Chicken Salad

Per salad: 1,080 calories, 48 g fat (16 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat), 910 mg sodium, 100 g carbs (7 g fiber, 16 g sugar), 64 g protein

Romano’s has been one of the most responsive restaurants in the past few years—a number of items we’ve featured on our pages and online have shrunk or all but disappeared in the wake of such exposure. The bad news is that dishes like this one still exist on their menu. Slash calories, fat, and saturated fat by opting for the new Crunchy Lombardo. This hearty salad is full of good ingredients like kale, arugula, apple, dates, parmesan, and pickled red onions all topped with a blood-orange vinaigrette.

Eat This! Instead:

Crunchy Lombardi

Per salad: 380 calories, 19 g fat (4 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat), 830 mg sodium, 48 g carbs (7 g fiber, 35 g sugar), 10 g protein
16

El Pollo Loco Chicken Tostada Salad with Creamy Cilantro Dressing

Per salad: 1,150 calories, 76 g fat (17 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat), 1,810 mg sodium, 77 g carbs (7 g fiber, 6 g sugar), 40 g protein

The dressing may be light, but this bowl is anything but. Rice and a fried tortilla combine for a one-two punch of empty carbs, while the shredded cheese and sour cream lend these leaves more saturated fat than a dozen strips of bacon. Opt for the surprisingly healthy Mexican Caesar Pollo Bowl instead. This Itali-Mex hybrid bowl makes significant improvements on the standard Caesar that so routinely underdelivers. Plenty of freshly grilled chicken adds a big dose of protein, and the hulking scoop of salsa ensures that the lettuce isn’t mere token greenery. You can also go for…

Eat This! Instead:

Double Shrimp Mango Bowl

Per bowl: 420 calories, 21 g fat (3 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat), 850 mg sodium, 43 g carbs (6 g fiber, 9 g sugar), 16 g protein
17

California Pizza Kitchen BBQ Chicken Chopped Salad

California Pizza kitchen chicken salad Courtesy of California Pizza Kitchen
Per full salad: 1,180 calories, 74 g fat (18 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat) 1,630 mg sodium, 77 g carbs (13 g fiber, 18 g sugar), 54 g protein

You know something’s amiss when the salad packs more than twice as many calories as the pizza. California Pizza Kitchen’s menu is a minefield of viscous calorie bombs, and if you try to venture far from the beaten path, you’ll likely find yourself with a barrage of clandestine calories clambering for real estate in—and on—your belly.

Eat This! Instead:

Classic Caesar Salad, Full

Per salad: 530 calories, 40 g fat (12 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat) 810 mg sodium, 27 g carbs (8 g fiber, 6 g sugar), 17 g protein
18

On the Border Grande Taco Salad With Ground Beef with Chipotle-Honey Mustard Dressing

Per salad: 1,160 calories, 88 g fat (25 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat), 2,140 mg sodium, 62 g carbs (11 g fiber, 21 sugar), 31 g protein

You could almost have two Whoppers in this salad! This beltline-busting bowl boasts two days’ worth of saturated fat and almost a full day’s worth of heart-taxing sodium. The Chipotle-Honey Mustard Dressing alone adds 330 calories, 31 grams of fat, and 12 grams of sugar.

Eat This! Instead:

Fajita Chicken Salad

Per salad: 440 calories, 21 g fat (3.5 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat), 1,090 mg sodium, 27 g carbs (8 g fiber, 17 sugar), 41 g protein
19

California Pizza Kitchen Thai Crunch Salad

California Pizza Kitchen Thai Crunch Salad Courtesy of California Pizza Kitchen
Per full salad: 1,180 calories, 73 g fat (9 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat) 1,710 mg sodium, 88 g carbs (14 g fiber, 51 g sugar), 55 g protein

Shredded carrots, edamame, cabbage, fresh avocado: The menu reads like an Intro to Nutrition class at the local junior college. If that’s the case, CPK is flunking out of school, since this seemingly harmless salad will saddle you with more calories than a pound and a half of sirloin from Applebee’s. Blame the two different dressings, the shower of fried wonton strips, and the sewer-cap size plate.

Eat This! Instead:

California Cobb With Herb Ranch Dressing, Half

Per half salad: 480 calories, 37 g fat (8 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat), 780 mg sodium, 11 g carbs (5 g fiber, 5 g sugar), 26 g sugar
20

Ruby Tuesday Crispy Chicken Ranch Salad

1,029 calories, 67 g fat (15 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat), 2,266 mg sodium, 56 g carbs (2 g fiber, 8 g sugar), 39 g protein

When you sat down for dinner, did you expect to blow through your entire day’s sodium budget by the end of your salad? Well that’s exactly what would happen if you sat down to this dish at Ruby Tuesday’s. While our Eat This! option is slightly better on the sodium front, it’s a clear winner when it comes to being nearly half the calories, fat, and saturated fat.

Eat This! Instead:

BBQ Chicken Cobb

Per salad: 624 calories, 31 g fat (9 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat), 2,099 mg sodium, 25 g carbs (1 g fiber, 12 g sugar), 49 g protein
21

IHOP Cobb Salad with Crispy Chicken

IHOP chicken cobb salad IHOP
Per salad: 1,210 calories, 93 g fat (27 g saturated fat), 2,360 mg sodium, 38 g carbs (5 g fiber, 8 g sugar), 56 g protein

You can indulge in one of the unhealthiest restaurant breakfasts, IHOP’s most caloric stack of pancakes (the Belgian Dark Chocolate Mousse Pancakes) and still have 140 calories leftover before you meet the same caloric value as this salad. to make a better-for-you pick, go with the grilled chicken and eat it alongside the veggie salad rather than the Cobb.

Eat This! Instead:

Grilled Chicken & Veggie Salad

Per salad: 680 calories, 41 g fat (7 g saturated fat), 1,330 mg sodium, 46 g carbs (11 g fiber, 26 g sugar), 38 g protein
22

Chick-fil-A Cobb Salad

Chick fil a cobb salad chicken strips Courtesy of Chick-fil-A
Per salad: 620 calories, 33 g fat (8 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat), 1,380 mg sodium, 41 g carbs (5 g fiber, 9 g sugar), 41 g protein

The Cobb salad with avocado lime ranch dressing off Chick-fil-A’s menu will set you back 620 calories and nearly half your day’s worth of saturated fat, which is more than double that of the restaurant’s more obviously unhealthy Chicken Sandwich. Instead, opt for the grilled nuggets on the market salad to cut back on calories and fat for a good amount of protein.

Eat This! Instead:

Grilled Market Salad with Grilled Nuggets and Light Balsamic Vinaigrette

Per salad: 350 calories, 15 g fat (3.5 g saturated fat), 610 mg sodium, 26 g carbs (5 g fiber, 13 g sugar), 32 g protein
23

Moe’s Southwest Grill Adobo Chicken Close Talker Salad in Fried Salad Bowl With Southwest Vinaigrette

Moe's close talker salad Courtesy of Moe's Southwest Grill
Per salad: 963 calories, 62 g fat (18 g saturated fat), 1,629 mg sodium, 68 g carbs (15 g fiber, 3 g sugar), 45 g protein

We think this is clear: if you’re trying to eat healthy, a deep-fried taco shell isn’t going to cut it. Swap the chicken for steak, leave out the 455-calorie deep-fried taco shell, sub the Southwest Vinaigrette for a Chipotle Ranch, and you’re looking at a reasonable meal from Moe’s.

Eat This! Instead:

Steak Close Talker Salad With Chipotle Ranch Dressing

Per salad: 475 calories, 25 g fat (11 g saturated fat), 1,178 mg sodium, 34 g carbs (14 g fiber, 3 g sugar), 40 g protein
24

Zaxby’s The Fried Cobb Zalad

Zaxbys fried cobb salad Courtesy of Zaxby's
Per salad: 820 calories, 46 g fat (16 g saturated fat, 2 g trans fat), 1,970 mg sodium, 42 g carbs (6 g fiber, 6 g sugar), 58 g protein

Save yourself 30 grams of fat and over double the saturated fat and trans fat by opting for grilled instead of fried when you’re ordering a salad at Zaxby’s. The fried chicken chain makes some good crispy chicken, but double the calories just isn’t worth it if you’re eating a salad every day.

Eat This! Instead:

The Grilled Caesar Zalad

Per salad: 440 calories, 16 g fat (7 g saturated fat, 1 g trans fat), 1,600 mg sodium, 25 g carbs (3 g fiber, 5 g sugar), 49 g protein
25

Wendy’s Full Taco Salad

Wendys taco salad Courtesy of Wendy's
Per salad: 620 calories, 28 g fat (10 g saturated fat, 0.5 g trans fat), 1,760 mg sodium, 66 g carbs (12 g fiber, 18 g sugar), 28 g protein

Wendy’s may have a good number of salad options, but you’re going to be in the red when it comes to one macronutrient for each of them. The Apple Pecan Chicken Salad has 41 grams of sugar while the Harvest Chicken Salad has 37 grams of sugar—the only good news is that both of these are lower in fat. On the other hand, Wendy’s Parmesan Caesar Salad and Southwest Avocado Salad are both high in fat—34 grams and 41 grams, respectively)—but much lower in sugar. The Taco Salad takes the cake for the worst of all of them, but we’re going with the Southwest Avocado Salad as the healthiest fast food salad from Wendy’s because many of those fats are healthy monounsaturated fats from avocado. Plus, it serves up a high amount of protein. Go with the half to cut back on calories while maintaining just as much protein as the Taco Salad.

Eat This! Instead:

Southwest Avocado Salad, Half

Per salad: 310 calories, 21 g fat (6 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat), 620 mg sodium, 10 g carbs (4 g fiber, 4 g sugar), 22 g protein

This article was originally published in January 2016 and has since been updated to reflect the most recent nutrition information.

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