Salads are the universal "healthy" order. The thinking: how can you go wrong with a plate full of fresh lettuce and veggies? "Eating salads is a great way to get a lot of servings of veggies in one sitting," Roxana Ehsani, MS, RD, CSSD, LDN, a registered dietitian nutritionist and a board-certified specialist in sports dietetics, tells Eat This, Not That!
But salads can be some of the unhealthiest items on any menu–especially when it comes to sugar content. "Some salads may be topped with sugar-filled dressings, high-fat toppings, calorically dense, or high in sodium ingredients such as tons of dressings, bacon crumbles, different assortments of cheeses, tortilla chips or fried pita chips."
If your salad is topped with protein, it could also be a source of sugar, extra fat, and calories. "Some salads may also be topped with fatty meats, poultry or fish, such as crispy chicken, which is breaded and deep-fried chicken or a battered seafood option such as tempura shrimp," says Ehsani.
And of course, the salad dressing you choose (and how much you pour on your salad) is another element to take into consideration–especially hidden sugar. "What goes in dressings can also be problematic–it may be loaded with too much salt, unhealthy fats, and too much sugar," notes Ehsani.
When it comes to ordering a healthy salad that is lower in sugar, ask for modifications. "Ask for salad dressing on the side which allows you to control how much of it goes on the salad," says Ehsani. "Ask them to remove some of the toppings or put them on the side to eat at a different time. For example, if your salad comes with a crumbled cheese, a heavy dressing, a glaze, and a drizzle of another sauce, it's best to cut it down to just 1-2 high fat toppings."
Here are 10 of the unhealthiest restaurant salads, ranked by sugar content. Read on, and for more, don't miss 13 'Healthy' Restaurant Orders with More Sugar Than a Can of Coke.
Berry & Goat Cheese Salad at Uno Pizzeria & Grill
Although this salad is topped with fresh strawberries, grapes, and blueberries, the honey vinaigrette is just plain sugar.
"This salad is quite nutritious, except for the fact that it contains half your allocated sugar for the day, packing 25 grams," says Ehsani. "This third ingredient on the vinaigrette is liquid sugar, which is likely the sugar culprit here."
Parmesan-Crusted Chicken at Macaroni Grill
This salad's sugar content comes from a buttermilk ranch dressing and balsamic glaze.
"The Parmesan-Crusted Chicken Salad at Macaroni Grill hits half your day's allowance of calories, plus is pretty high in total carbs, packing 100 g carbs in a salad, and 16 grams are coming from sugar," says Ehsani. "It contains both buttermilk ranch and balsamic glaze, which ticks up the calories and sugar, skip one to bring down these numbers."
Chopped Honey Crisp Chicken at Unos
Honey mustard dressing on this salad contains both sugar and high fructose corn syrup.
"The chopped honey crisp chicken is the highest caloric salad item on the Unos menu, and sky-high in total fat, saturated fat, sodium, and sugar," says Ehsani. "The honey mustard dressing contains high fructose corn syrup and honey in its listed ingredients which bumps up grams of sugar."
Citrus Asian Crunch salad with Chicken at Panera
Topped with a tangerine soy ginger dressing and teriyaki drizzle, this Asian-inspired salad is filled with hidden sugar.
"This salad at Panera has a tangerine soy ginger dressing and teriyaki drizzle, which bumps up the sugar content on this salad," says Ehsani. "Both the dressing and drizzle add unnecessary sugar to this salad."
Honey-Glazed Salmon Bowl at Ruby Tuesdays
With honey right in its name, you know that it's bound to be high in sugar.
"This honey garlic sauce glazed over the salmon is the hidden sugar component in this salad order," says Ehsani. "The first ingredient is sugar, then followed by corn syrup and molasses, which all tick up the grams of sugar."
Shaved Brussels Sprouts Salad with Grilled Chicken at Bonefish Grill
The balsamic vinaigrette and glaze that this salad is topped with are total sugar bombs.
"Although Brussels sprouts are a highly nutritious veggie, this salad is tossed in maple balsamic vinaigrette and has a balsamic glaze drizzled over it, which is likely the culprit behind it being a high sugar salad," says Ehsani. "Consider whipping up your own balsamic vinaigrette by just using balsamic vinegar and olive oil, some balsamic vinaigrettes have tons of added sweeter which isn't needed."
Oriental Grilled Chicken Salad at Applebee's
This salad's dressing and sauces are loaded with sugar and high fructose corn syrup.
"The second ingredient in this salad's oriental dressing is sugar, while the second ingredient in (the dumpling sauce) is high fructose corn syrup, and the fourth ingredient is corn syrup – so both the dressing and the dumpling sauce contribute to this salad being sky high in sugar, hitting over your daily allowance," says Ehsani. "It also nearly hits your daily allowance for sodium hitting over 2,000 milligrams just in one salad."
The Waldorf Chicken Salad, California Pizza Kitchen
Although this salad contains fresh fruit, the balsamic vinaigrette its topped with packs on the sugar.
"The Waldorf Chicken Salad reaches sky high numbers for both sugar and sodium," says Ehsani. "This salad does contain nutrient dense ingredients like apples, grapes but also is covered in balsamic vinaigrette which may be the culprit behind its high salt and high sugar amounts."
Thai Chicken Salad at The Cheesecake Factory
Beware of the super-sweet Thai vinaigrette that this salad is toppd with.
"The Thai Chicken Salad at The Cheesecake Factory comes in second at this restaurant for the most amount of sugar in its salad," says Ehsani. "It's right behind the BBQ Ranch Chicken salad, hitting 63 grams of sugar. The high sugar culprit in this salad is likely from the Thai vinaigrette that is covering the salad ingredients. This salad also exceeds your sodium limits for the day."
Barbeque Ranch Chicken Salad from The Cheesecake Factory
Barbecue sauce is notoriously high in sugar, and the dressing on this salad is like eating candy.
"The Barbeque Ranch Chicken Salad at The Cheesecake Factory contains a whopping 64 grams of sugar, likely due to the BBQ ranch dressing that is covering the salad ingredients, which is more than the recommended 50 grams set by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans," says Ehsani. "It also contains nearly a day's worth of calories in one salad, nearly double the amount of total fat you should shoot for each day (the goal for a 2,000-calorie diet is no more than 65 grams of fat per day). Finally, it exceeds the amount of sodium in one plate too.