Fresh, healthy, and green are just a few words that come to mind when you think of salads. In general, that’s pretty true. The concept is the epitome of health; vegetables in a bowl. And if you’re looking to lose some weight, eating a low-calorie salad has proven to enhance the feeling of fullness so you eat fewer calories over the course of your meal. 

Salads always seemed like the smart choice until fast food chains stepped in. Practically every fast food chain nowadays has salads on their menu. Right beside their pictures of burgers and fries is a green option.


Photo by Grace Bodkin

Everything in their marketing makes you think it’s a healthy option. The salad commercials even have someone prancing through a meadow. A real meadow! I’m looking at you Wendy’s. As a slim, glowing person prances through the meadow to reach their delicious salad you can be fooled into thinking it’s a staple of a healthy diet. In reality, fast food salads are usually pretty comparable to their burgers in terms of calories and fat. 

I know it sounds crazy. How can a salad ever be unhealthy? Well, let’s break it down and see what we’re actually eating.

1. The dressings are packed full of calories


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The bowl you get may be filled with lettuce and assorted veggies, but the dressing drizzled on top can be packed with calories. Creamy dressings like ranch and caesar can be the biggest offenders. Caesar dressing has about 80 calories per tablespoon, and ranch is just slightly better with 75 calories a tablespoon. 

The McDonald’s Caesar salad, even when you substitute crispy chicken for grilled chicken, still has 360 calories. That’s comparable to their bacon ranch junior chicken.

2. The salads are loaded with cheese 


Photo by Alex Weiner

Cheese is a quick and easy way to add calories to any meal. Burger King’s garden grilled chicken salad features iceberg lettuce, grilled chicken, and lite balsamic vinaigrette. Good on you Burger King for ditching the calorie infused dressings. But this salad still racks up an astounding 320 calories.

3. Bacon

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In addition to loading salads up with fatty dressings and mountains of cheese, fast food restaurants also like to add a sufficient helping of bacon. And yes, this may be an ingredient that compliments a lot of meals, but healthy it is not. 

4. It’s Served in a Fried, Edible Bowl


Photo by Raissa Xie

Trendy Instagram accounts are filled with posts about restaurants like Chipotle and Qdoba, which feature burritos, tacos, nachos, and taco salads. I’m not going to say they aren’t delicious, because I love a good taco salad. Sadly, it’s just a bowl of everything that would go in a burrito sans the soft tortilla. Instead, it’s replaced by a fried tortilla bowl. When you order a meal that comes in a dish you can eat, you know it’s been processed and fried beyond any version of the word healthy.

5. It’s Literally Just Other Menu Items on Top of Lettuce


Photo by Kavitha George

Often these meals are just the salad version of your guilty pleasure. Fast food menus tend to feature salads that put normal, high-calorie items on a bed of leafy greens. For example, Wendy’s offers a salad that is actually just their breaded chicken breast sliced up on lettuce. The dish also features a creamy dressing, cheese, and bacon. Maybe it’s time to rethink your choice of indulgence.