19 Unhealthiest Salads in America
We kinda love Whoppers. We bet you do, too. With juicy beef, ketchup, mayo, pickles… what’s not to like? However, it’s an indulgence—and everyone knows it. Just as you wouldn’t order a Whopper 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 19 examples of unhealthy salads so bad, you’d be better off ordering that Whopper, after all.
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What They’re Up Against
Burger King Whopper Sandwich
Panera Southwest Chile Lime Ranch Salad With Chicken
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.
Strawberry Poppyseed & Chicken Salad
Chipotle Chicken Salad With Black Beans, Red Salsa, Cheese & Chipotle Honey Vinaigrette
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.
Barbacoa Burrito Bowl With black beans, cheese, lettuce, and tomato salsa
Cosi Cobb Salad
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.
Shanghai Chicken Salad
Taco Bell Fiesta Taco Salad
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.
Fresco Crunchy Beef Tacos
BJ’s Honey-Crisp Chicken Salad
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.
Fresh Mozzarella and Tomato Salad
P.F. Chang’s Vietnamese Noodle Salad with Salmon
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 the calorie count soaring over 1,000, not to mention adding 450 milligrams of sodium.
Spinach Stir-Fry with Garlic
Romano’s Macaroni Grill Parmesan-Crusted Chicken Salad
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.
Fresh Greens Side Salad
El Pollo Loco Chicken Tostada Salad with Light Creamy Cilantro Dressing
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…
Double Shrimp Mango Bowl
On the Border Grande Taco Salad With Ground Beef with Chipotle-Honey Mustard Dressing
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.
Fajita Chicken Salad
California Pizza Kitchen BBQ Chicken Chopped Salad
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.
Classic Caesar Salad
California Pizza Kitchen Thai Crunch Salad
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.
Quinoa & Arugula Salad
Applebee’s Crispy Chicken Tender Salad
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.
Thai Shrimp Salad
Buffalo Wild Wings Honey BBQ Chicken Salad with Honey BBQ Ranch Dressing
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.
Caesar Side Salad With Light Caesar Dressing
California Pizza Kitchen Waldorf Chicken Salad
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.
Half Roasted Vegetable Salad
T.G.I. Fridays Pecan-Crusted Chicken Salad
In chain-restaurant parlance, “crusted” is a euphemism for “fried.” Add sugar-coated pecans, sugar-coated cranberries, and a heap of blue cheese, and you have all the makings of one of America’s worst salads. Go for the Cobb and hold the dressing.
Million Dollar Cobb Salad with Grilled Chicken (lunch portion)
Applebee’s Oriental Chicken Salad With Crispy Chicken
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?
Lunch Caesar Salad
Chili’s Quesadilla Explosion Salad
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!
Chevy’s Fresh Mex Tostada Salad with Chicken
Containing nearly a day’s worth of calories and as much fat as 20 Twinkies (and this doesn’t include the dressing), this bowl of leaves qualifies as one of the worst salads in America. Opt for the Grilled Chicken Tacos instead. Though it is not a healthy food, they are the lesser evil—and drop the cheese and the chipotle aioli while you’re at it.
Grilled Chicken Tacos
Cheesecake Factory Caesar Salad With Chicken
The dismal dawn of the 1,600-calorie salad is upon us. Truth be told, nearly every Cheesecake Factory salad dwarfs a Whopper (or two, or even three). Their nutrition menu omits a lot of nutrition details, so who knows what can is actually in their salad. The exception is the Weight Management salad menu, which provides rare decent options, even though two of them contain more sodium than this attrocity.
Seared Tuna Tataki Salad
This article was originally published in January 2016 and has since been updated to reflect the most recent nutrition information.