The Myth Of Salads: Why Why Fast Food Salads Aren't Necessarily Going To Help You Lose Weight

Ah, salads. The food of the perpetual dieter. You all know a few fast food salad eater. She’s the girl at your office who eats nothing but salads and yet never seems to lose any weight. He’s the guy who eats a salad because he’s on Atkins, but it doesn’t seem to be working. Why is that?

What if we told you that a Wendy’s Garden Sensations Mandarin Chicken Salad had more calories, more fat, more carbs and more sugar than a Double Stack? Would that surprise you? It shouldn’t. The nutritional information is right there on the Internet.

Curious as to how fast food salads compared with fast food sandwiches, we took a look at one sandwich and one salad at 4 different fast food restaurants: Wendy’s, McDonald’s, Taco Bell and Burger King.

We wanted to know if you were really better off eating a salad, or simply getting a burger(or burrito) and skipping the fries and soda.

RULES OF THE GAME:

    • We will choose one salad and one regular sized sandwich (or burrito) from the same fast food joint and compare them.

    • We will compare calories, fat, carbs, sodium and sugar.

    • We will include the dressing in our total, because eating salad without dressing is nasty.

    • We will also compare the weight of the salad vs the burger (or burrito).

    • We will use the nutritional information provided by the restaurants.

    • We will not evaluate the food’s subjective qualities such as taste, because no one really cares if The Consumerist likes Wendy’s better than McDonald’s or salads better than burgers or burritos better than salads.

    • We will operate on the assumption that at least a few people eat fast food salads because the marketing message suggests, although may not explicitly state, that salads are a healthier alternative to fast food sandwiches. We will not assume that everyone eats salads for this reason. Some people like salads and that is OK.

    • We will not assume that in order to eat a burger you must eat french fries and a drink, therefore we will not include them in the sandwich total.

    • We will not compare a salad to a huge sandwich like a Whopper or a Big Mac, because that’s just silly.

THE PLAYERS:

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THE CONCLUSION:

The results speak for themselves. We got the idea for this experiment when we went looking for healthy options at fast food restaurants. We noticed something odd. The salads didn’t seem to be a whole lot healthier than some of the regular sized sandwiches. Who knew that eating a full portion of, say, the BK Tendercrisp salad would result in consuming 210 more calories than if you’d simply ordered a Whopper Jr.?

Of course, that could mean that the Whopper Jr. is an excellent diet food. It all depends on how you look at it.

If calories aren’t your biggest concern, the salads also packed quite a hefty helping of sugar and carbs. Since they’re often marketed towards carb-conscious eaters, we were surprised to see the amount of sugar in some of these salads. Wendy’s Garden Sensations Mandarin Chicken Salad has more sugar, yes sugar, than 8 oz. of Coke.

Obviously, portion size was an important factor in the calorie count. These salads are big! We’d recommend eating less than the full portion, but realistically… you’re going to eat all the chicken and cheese and other goodies off the top of the salad and leave the lettuce…

So is a fast food salad a good “diet food”? We’ll leave that up to you. We will say that we never really thought of a Double Cheeseburger as something to eat on a diet, and it weighs in with fewer calories than the Asian Chicken Salad w/Crispy Chicken and Newman’s Own (Low Fat) Sesame Ginger Dressing at McDonald’s. Again, this could just mean that Double Cheeseburgers are a better diet choice that you might think.

We know a lot of people think of a salad as “less” than a meal. Read the nutrition info. In quite a few cases, you might better off just ordering a sandwich… and skipping the fries. —MEGHANN MARCO

(Photo: Meghann Marco)

Comments

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  1. -s says:

    Not trying to defend the salads, but who just orders a sandwich? An better apples-to-apples comparison would probably be the salad vs. a meal deal.

  2. ReccaSquirrel says:

    @-s (the west virginia state bird): I have to agree. The only two places for fast food I pick up a salad is at Wendy’s and Chick-fil-a. Wendy’s would otherwise be two of their JR. Bacon Cheeseburgers, a small fry, and a drink. When I get salads, which is a recent transition of mine, I get just the salad, or if I’m very hungry, a salad and a Jr. Bacon.

    Chick-fil-a is either their Nugget/Chicken Strip Combo meal (with full # of chicken pieces and larger sized) or I get the Chicken Strip Salad.

  3. Antediluvian says:

    I believe the mandarin chicken salad included sugared walnuts and mandarin orange slices, probably in corn syrup. A better comparison would isolate the ingredients that are not pre-package. Some of us only use a little of the dressing because they give you a large packet for a small amount of lettuce. Pull that out and let us do our own math — 300 calories for 3 tbsp, or 100 calories for the amount I’d probably use (made the numbers up). Croutons? Skip ‘em — dietician called ‘em “fat bombs” once and the phrase stuck with me. Also ignore fried noodles or candied nuts.

    Also, those Tendercrisp chicken sandwiches are full of fat and calories, so it’s not surprising the salad version would be too.

    • RecycledBottle says:

      That’s what I was thinking – I use less than half the dressing. The other issue is that most of the salad is unprocessed food. Somethings are not just about calories and fat.

  4. etinterrapax says:

    There’s a little fuzzy math here. It’s clear from the numbers you post that in every instance, the salad is a larger portion of food (by weight–and did you include the container?) than the burger is. It’s not unreasonable to expect more food to contain more calories, fat, etc. than less food. Because it wasn’t my experiment, I’m not going to go and calculate what the nutrient content was by proportion, but I doubt the difference would be as striking if you accounted for the difference in portion size.

    You also used the same sort of language to make your point that the restaurants themselves tend to use, to avoid liability if someone doesn’t lose weight while eating the salads. Of course it’s possible to eat salads and not lose weight. Everyone knows someone who’s on a perpetual diet. But as we all know from the ad trend that Subway started, it is possible to eat or not eat all kinds of crap and lose weight/gain weight/nearly go into liver failure/make documentaries/make piles of money/make sweeping generalizations that don’t do much but sensationalize. Which would be some very lazy reporting. There’s a bigger picture to a diet’s success or failure than the consumption of one kind of food from one specific place. Let’s not discourage these places from offering vegetables for sale. There’s no law that says you have to drown your food in dressing, or eat there altogether.

  5. jurgis says:

    This is a disappointing post… it is full of some fairly bad assumptions and ignores all of the data available:

    1) A small hamburger (double stack, etc) will not fill a person up as much as a salad will. So your argument about no fries (we could cut out the drink) is really flawed. True that a salad is mostly water, but despite that, it still contains nutrients and vitamins you won’t get with a $.99 double cheeseburger.

    2) What about cholesterol? Saturated fat? Trans-fatty acids? Well, taking the Wendy’s example, the sandwich loses on all counts.

    3) There are bad salads: covered in cheese and milk based dressing, bacon, etc. Why don’t you take a more balanced approach?

    And there is also the part where people ask for a salad without dressing or with more tomatoes, etc.

    Ultimately this isn’t really a comparison as much as it sounds like a quick writeup on “why I don’t eat salads”. You should just take it down.

  6. jurgis says:

    I should also add, per your rules you are comparing weight… shouldn’t you have some sort of calorie density? Then the salads would win. Why else would you have that rule?

    Come on, this is like Dick Cheney logic.

  7. PenguinBlue says:

    Attempting to lose weight by eating fast food is like trying to get fit by going to the movie theater.

  8. Pasketti says:

    I’d be interested in seeing how they stack up without the dressing. Some people (like me) don’t put dressing on their salad.

    And technically, Coke hasn’t had any sugar (defined as “sucrose”) in it for a long time.

  9. ribex says:

    Hello, ordering a salad with breaded and FRIED chicken makes no sense. For example, the mcD’s asian chicken salad with GRILLED chicken and the whole sesame dressing packet comes out to 390 calories (+), 12 g of fat (+), only 1.5g of that is saturated; 1630mg sodium(-), 38g carbohydrates (+). 5g of fiber (+)

    In contrast, the double cheeseburger you listed has *11*g of saturated fat, and 1.5g TRANS (evil) fat (for now – will probably be gone within a year or so).

    Don’t forget the vitamins and so on that are not listed. No, a plain iceberg lettuce side salad is not going to cut it there, but that’s not the issue anyway.

    Yes, the point that a salad is not necessarily lower in calories than a sandwich is taken, but don’t make it sound like it’s usually better, nutritionally, to order a sandwich than a salad.

    To make a smarter choice, order a salad, do not order crispy anything, use a low-cal dressing and don’t dump the whole thing on your salad before you even take a bite, and reconsider whether you really need the extra packet of croutons.

    Rather disappointing article, sorry.

  10. TedSez says:

    There are general rules about salad-eating that anyone should know:

    — “Asian” salads or Chinese chicken salads almost always come with sweetened dressings that are full of sugar.

    — Fat-free salad dressings are full of sugar or corn syrup, while regular salad dressings are full of fat. Either way, you need to go easy (or thin the dressing with extra vinegar if it’s available).

    — Of course, deep-fried chicken pieces in a salad are going to be full of fat and calories. In fact, unless the menu specifically says otherwise, any meat or cheese added to a salad is likely to be the high-fat version.

    — Taco salads are never healthy if you eat the deep-fried flour “bowl.” You may as well be eating a bag of potato chips.

    — The ideal “meal” salad would have a variety of fresh vegetables, some low-fat meat, chicken, fish or cheese, either oil and vinegar or a low-fat dressing, and a few baked croutons or a piece of fresh bread on the side. Unfortunately, I don’t know of any fast-food restaurants where such a thing is available.

  11. The Walking Eye says:

    The Wendy’s burger is a fairly large burger, if I understand it right. A double stack is 1/2 lb. of meat, so that’s a substantial sandwich (or is this a 1/4 burger? Still enough to fill me up). And the chicken burrito at Taco Bell is quite large. I do have qualms with the choice of sandwich at BK and McDonald’s as they don’t really compare with the size of the other choices. The comparisons across the brands isn’t quite right, but w/in the brands it’s OK.

    While the scientific merit of the post isn’t clearly there, it’s still an interesting comparo showing that the MARKETED healthy salads are not as healthy as one would think.

    The same goes for the salads in sit-down restaurants too. I get them a lot just to get my veggie helping for the day, but I know they’re not exactly healthy.

  12. bdgw7 says:

    There’s nothing I loathe more than a nice crunchy salad drowning in salad dressing. Those fast food salads come with enough salad dressing to last me a lifetime!

    I just assumed that the “nutrition” information listed for fast food salads included the dressing packet. Can anyone find that out for sure?

  13. strathmeyer says:

    How come people who eat fast food just can’t seem to lose weight? It doesn’t make any sense to me. People who don’t eat fast food don’t need to try to loose weight, but people who do are constantly trying so hard! It’s like trying to lose weight is worthless!

  14. ribex says:

    @Pasketti: Sucrose is not what sugar is being referred to in this context.

    Nutritionally, “sugar” as in a nutritional label can include, besides sucrose, fructose, lactose, and glucose among others. Typically, these molecules are mono or disaccharides, easily used for immediate cellular energy, and can be thought of as contributing more to blood sugar levels than other types of carbohydrates.

    Also, in reference to the original article, looking at the “sugar and carbs” seems to ignore the fact that sugars are types of carbohydrates, but not all carbohydrates are sugars. Remember “complex carbohydrates” from school?

    Vegetables are generally mostly made of carbohydrates (some sugars), and some protein and even a little negligible fat.

    Fiber is included in the carb category, so if a food is listed as having 20g carbs, but only 5g are sugars and 5g are fiber, that’s probably going to be a better choice than an equal measure of another food with 15g sugar out of those 20g of carbohydrates and no fiber.

  15. Secularsage says:

    Thanks for trying here, Meghann — the point is well taken, though the argument does need a little more work. Comparing a meal-sized salad to a single sandwich (and, having managed a McDonald’s at one point, I can tell you that hardly ANYONE gets A sandwich these days) just isn’t a valid comparison, though the breakdown of numbers is still very interesting.

    Also, the lackluster copyediting (particularly the headline and the first graf) makes me wonder if this post didn’t need another read through before it went live.

    But you can’t win them all, and you guys are generally awesome, so I won’t hold it against you!

  16. EtherealStrife says:

    @epd: In response:

    We will include the dressing in our total, because eating salad without dressing is nasty.

    My rabbit thanks you, Meghann! Well…if I had one it would.

    The humans in the household prefer to eat human food. If you want to diet just don’t eat fast food. Period. If you can’t handle that, then there’s always liposuction. Or *gasp* exercise.

    @ribex: Don’t hate on trans fat just because its synthetic brother is up to no good. :-P

  17. VA_White says:

    My office is literally next door to a Wendy’s. It is far too easy to walk next door for lunch especially at our end-of-quarter when you scarcely have time to breathe, let alone leave for a real lunch.

    Wendy’s does have the option of ordering a side garden salad with any sandwich. I’ve worked out that if you order the grilled chicken sandwich, skip the mayo and a side garden salad in place of fries, you get a fairly healthy lunch with the filling salad and the protein boost you need. I keep homemade balsamic vinagrette in the fridge at my office so I can control the noxious ingredients and the portion size.

    The other nice thing about Wendy’s is that their website DOES break down each offering by ingredient, down to the fat and calories in each dollop of mayo and each squirt of ketchup. Coolness.

  18. jurgis says:

    @The Walking Eye: No, it’s 1/4 lb all together. They do have a much larger “double” that is two 1/4 lb patties.

  19. Spider Jerusalem says:

    Fried chicken patties are gross. I would have bought this a lot more if you had listed the grilled chicken versions. *shrug* And yeah, what everyone else said about portion size.

  20. Chris says:

    I’ll agree that nobody gets just the sandwich.

  21. SOhp101 says:

    @TedSez: I completely agree with everything he says.

  22. szamot says:

    I bet that given the opportunity and enough time fast food places will make water unhealthy and fattening – it is just a matter of time.

  23. r81984 says:

    I could never understand the point of fast food companies and their salads.

    People buy salads to eat healthy and loose weight, so why would they not use Kraft Fat Free Ranch, Italian, etc. or make their own low calarie fat free salad dressing?

    Same thing goes to regular restaraunts and salad dressing makers.
    Why do they even make high fat, high calories dressing? Everyone eats a salad to be healthy.

    At most resaraunts sit down and fast food you need to suppy your own dressing if you want a healthy salad, it just doesn’t make sense.

  24. Raanne says:

    two things – first: I’ve never used all the dressing in the packet, and if the dressing was already included in the salad, it would be left over in the bowl at the end. 1/2 of the packet of dressing will saturate any of those salads to where you can’t taste any of the good stuff any more.

    second: everyone complaining about fried chicken in salads, and of course its not healthy, etc. – so what? a lot of people eat salads because they taste good – better than the other stuff offered by fast food plates. Just because someone likes veggies does not mean they are trying to loose weight.

    oh – and i guess this is a third – but who eats the bowl in taco salad? break off a few pieces, sure, but the whole bowl?

  25. TheDTrain says:

    I rarely post, but when fast food is the topic I just have to stop in a say that Chick-Fil-A is the greatest thing ever and may actually be proof of God’s existence

  26. lemur says:

    Quite a few of the comments posted so far fail to recognize a few important facts.

    1. For a lot of people, salads are just not filling. Ironically, although I’m vegetarian I’m among those people who do not find salad filling. I’m sure I would find a burger more satisfying than a salad.

    2. Meghann wrote the article assuming that we’re talking about either people dieting or concerned about not gaining weight. It is important to keep in mind.

    3. Some of you said that if you’re dieting, you should not go to a fast food restaurant, period. Welcome to the real world. Sometimes, even if you’re dieting… heck, even if you’re dieting and vegetarian… you end up at a fast food joint either because you are in a social situation that make it very difficult to chose otherwise or because there’s just no other choice. (Think Smalltown, USA.)

    4. When people are really following a diet seriously, they pay attention to what they eat. It is in fact realistic that dieting people would order only a burger without fries. Heck, this is the very same reason that would push them to order a salad rather than the burger!

    5. Calorie density is a valid theoretical concept but is of rather limited value in practice. (Note that I’m not saying that it is worthless.) What happens is that people eat what is on their plate. The two things that really matter then are whether they feel satisfied or not after eating their meal and the total amount of the various metrics used (calories, sugar, fat, etc.).

    6. There is perhaps a good point about saturated fats, trans fats and cholesterol being less in the salad than in the burger. Even if it is the case, the actual effects on a real metabolism remain to be demonstrated. Why am I saying this? I know for a fact that for some metabolisms at least there is no direct link between the cholesterol ingested and the blood cholesterol. I’m a case in point. For years, I tried to lower my cholesterol by cutting cholesterol from my food. That was the advice of my doctors and dietitians, no less! Well, that did not work so well. My cholesterol lowered significantly only when I took care of calories and lost weight! With my metabolism, it is totally useless to worry about cholesterol per se. It is the total amount of calories ingested that matter. Having talked with multiple doctors about my hypercholesterolemia I would also add that not all doctors agree about just how important ingested cholesterol is with regard to the amount of blood cholesterol. I can’t say much about saturated and trans fats but there is a possibility that calories are more important then those two also.

    Meghann deserves more credit than she’s been given. Her message was a response to the assumption (promoted by the fast food industry) that a salad is automatically good for you just by virtue of being a salad. Boy, if I’d get a dime for every occasion someone expressed surprise because I did not order a salad, I’d be a rich man. My family and friends know about my cholesterol issue and they just assume that a salad will do the trick. No. It does not. Meghann ends her article with:

    In quite a few cases, you might better off just ordering a sandwich… and skipping the fries.

    How true! I avoid fast food joints as much as possible but I would do just what Meghann proposes, if I were not vegetarian!

  27. anatak says:

    Wow. I can’t help but think that (nearly) everyone is missing the point here, Meghann. The point, at least as I understood it, is that choosing a salad at a fast food joint is not necessarily a healthy choice. This is contrary to what these chains want you to think as they have used these salads and “healthy” alternatives in an attempt to shed their unfit image. These chains have resisted requests to provide nutritional information at the point of sale. And the back of the tray liner does not mean “point of sale”.

    So, yes. If you throw a packet of their disgusting grease-ball fries in with the sandwich, then yes the scales will likely tip in their favor. So what? I don’t usually eat all of the fries, just like some people don’t use all of the dressing on the salad. So what? Still want fries included? What size? S, M, L, Super? regular fries or onion rings or curly fries? Because I *love* curly fries. There’s a lot of variables here, that she simply cut out. I think that Meghann’s comparison is acceptable for getting the point across. Yes, for the most part, the salads have a lower fat to weight ratio, Poindexter. Do you eat your salad gram by gram and stop when you’ve eaten the weight of the sandwich?

    So, once again, I think the point is that you shouldn’t think that you are doing yourself a favor by choosing a salad over a quarter-pounder – no matter what diet you are on. I also think that Taco Bell should be renamed SodiumLand.

  28. pinkbunnyslippers says:

    I agree with anatak on this one. I think a lot of you are missing the point of this article, that people hear “salad” and immediately equate that with “healthy”. The point here is they’re not (made the way fast food places make them)! This article said at the beginning it’s not going to compare subjective qualities, and as far as I’m concerned, that includes whether or not they’re considered “filling”, whether or not you use all the dressing included, whether or not you include fries with the sandwich, etc.

    I think side by side, this was a great article that hit home the idea that salads are NOT a healthy alternative to a burger, which was the initial marketing claim these restaurants made when the salads were first introduced.

    Everyone get off Meghann’s back! :)

  29. aestheticity says:

    redundant.

    anyone eating ‘fast food salads’ on a diet is not worth wasting good logic on, because they clearly arent genuinely interested in making logical lifestyle changes to lose weight. if they were they wouldnt buy fast food salads. although i have seen a few commenters try to seriously suggest people may have no choice. i assume these are people who cant find the fruit n veg aisles and are allergic to bowls and tupperware.

    personally, this whole element of ‘modern life’ amuses me no end. i eat steak twice a week, bacon sandwiches for breakfast, crisps, cakes, and my crockpot has mexican in it 90% of the time. i love food and i feel great. i dont visit a gym. and im not fat. nor does my weight fluctuate. i do sometimes wonder; whats wrong with all these people? do they run off to secretly scarf down gobs of lard? are they alcoholics who starve themselves then tank up on liquid bread? what the hell is the deal?

  30. What’s up with all the freaking sodium? Damn!

    I don’t get the criticisms over weight. Isn’t it better to assume that people that order the salad eat the whole thing, especially people who don’t find them filling?

  31. E-Bell says:

    Just yesterday, I heard the “Real Men of Genius” Bud Light radio spot for the Giant Taco Salad Inventor:

    Bud Light presents, “Real Men of Genius.”

    (Real Men of Genius!)

    Today we salute you Mr. Giant Taco Salad Inventor.

    (Mr. Giant Taco Salad Inventor!)

    A culinary creation that baffles the mind … a 12,000 calorie salad. ¡Aye carumba! Ground beef, refried beans, guacamole, cheese, sour cream, and if there’s any room left, a few shreds of lettuce.

    (I don’t see no lettuce!)

    Some may ask “Is your taco salad healthy?” Of course it is, it’s a salad isn’t it?

    You can eat that deep fried crunchy bowl. So crack open an ice cold Bud Light, Conquistador of the Calorie. You’ve put the feast in fiesta.

    (Mr. Giant Taco Salad Inventor!)

    Bud Light beer Anheiser Busch, St. Louis Missouri.

  32. Yaotl says:

    What is this “no one just orders the sandwich” crap? I just order the sandwich. Some of those burgers are big and make anyone feel bloated.

  33. MaarekElets says:

    I know a lot of people here are saying that Fast Food cannot fit into a diet which in my experince (I have lost 60lbs since January on a traditional “eat less calories” [Weight Watchers] diet) is untrue. I eat very regularly at two fast food establishments, Subway (which I suppose is a duh) and Taco Bell (perhaps surprising) and have found that what is important is locating what is actually healthy and what is a trap. If you look at these salads all but one weigh in at over 500 calories (over a quarter of my intake right now) and all have 19.5 or more grams of fat. They are very obviously marketed as being “healthy choices” but just from looking you can tell that they really probably aren’t all that healthy with that much sugar and fat. This is a marketing ploy trying to aswage your conscience by labeling something healthy to get you to order it but by lacing it with fat and sugars it also doesn’t “taste healthy” (probably because it isn’t very) which leads to repeat purchases. If I recall correctly these salads also tend to cost more than the more traditional value meal fare right? I almost universally avoid “meal” salads when eating out because of this.

    The only fast food place that I’ve found to be up front for the most part is Subway (and I probably average 1.5 meals a day there given the ease of eating there and the ease of keeping calories and fat low). Taco Bell’s Fresco options are also good if you order carfully.

  34. davetron5000 says:

    The included nutrition information focuses only on things that most people wish to limit when dieting. It also fails to normalize the values. For example, the Wendy’s salad and sandwhich both contain the exact same amount of fat per calorie and nearly identical carbs/calorie.

    Let us not forget that we need fat and carbs to live, so you have to get them somehow. USRDA recommends no more than 65 grams of fat per serving, and granted the salad has more, but it’s got a lot more protein. In fact, the salad has 30 grams of protein, to the sandwich’s 25 (which results in markedly more protein/calorie for the salad, making the salad a better source of protein). This, coupled with the salads de-facto superior vitamin/mineral content, make it pretty obvious that the salad is healthier than the sandwich. When you factor in that the sandwich is rarely eaten unaccompanied, the scales tip further toward the salad.

    Furthermore, you can easily avoid some of the unhealthier aspects of the salad by reducing the amount of dressing or not topping it with nuts, or whatever. With the burger, your options are no cheese or no bun(!).

    That being said, the burger isn’t really all that unhealthy, as it gives you 25% of your days protein for only 21% of your days calories (based on a 2000 calorie diet). It is a bit high in fat and sodium, however.

    I love consumerist, but this is some serious schlock right here.

  35. lemur says:

    @aestheticity: Wow, it must be great being you (from a culinary standpoint, anyway). I’m glad to learn you’re amused by those of us who do not share your great metabolism. I myself do not see much humor in the fact that other people were dealt a bad hand genetically speaking but what do I know?

    If I ate what you eat, I’d be in a grave right now or at the very least morbidly overweight (but most likely in a grave). No, this is not an overstatement.

  36. He says:

    I’ve lost about 5 pounds lately eating McDonald’s side salads and exercising a litle bit. Plus it’s a sub $3 lunch. If I’m really hungry I’ll get a double cheeseburger and throw out a patty (it’s cheaper than a normal cheeseburger for some reason).

    It’s all about being smart and not drizzling the salad in ranch dressing.

  37. notallcompaniesarebad says:

    @He: “If I’m really hungry I’ll get a double cheeseburger and throw out a patty (it’s cheaper than a normal cheeseburger for some reason).”
    It’s really cheaper? That’s really odd.

  38. synergy says:

    Everyone else beat me to it. Pick the least caloric/fatty dressing, use it sparingly. And I’ve NEVER understood the desire to put anything milk-based on a salad! That’s cheese and ranch dressing. And bacon bits. And anything fried. You might as well just give it up and buy the crappy food you’re obviously dying for.

  39. rmz says:

    I would rather take one of those McDonald’s Fruit/Yogurt/Granola parfait things over a salad. More filling (to me), only about 150 calories, and about $1.

    Couple that with a healthy drink and some carrot sticks or something and it’s a pretty decent lunch.

  40. @aestheticity: The deal is they’re not you. Just because you can eat fatty foods 24/7 without gaining weight doesn’t mean everyone else can. Maybe you’re just storing the fat internally around your organs instead of underneath your skin. Maybe you just have a crazy metabolism. Whatever it is, assuming everyone should be able to consume the same amount of fat and calories you do is just silly.

    First you complain about wasting logic on people and lifestyle choices and then you’re confused as to why people eating fast food gain weight. Who’s not being logical now?

  41. mermaidshoes says:

    @He: damn, THAT is the problem with fast food places right there. it’s cheaper to order MORE food than less food? wow.

    anyway, i appreciate the nutritional comparison provided, but i would just like to make the insane suggestion that some people might order fast food salads in the hope that they’ll TASTE better than disgustingly greasy, inevitably over- or undercooked burgers. the last time i went to mcdonald’s–drove thru as a last resort when desperate for food on a road trip–i ended up actually throwing the quarter pounder w/ cheese out the window and on to the highway after about 3 bites. nastiest thing i’ve ever tasted. not fit for human or even animal consumption, though some poor creature probably ended up eating it.

    a lot of the time, the salads aren’t better… but i would like to highly recommend wendy’s grilled chicken caesar salad. i had one last week (first fast food venture in a while) and it was seriously the BEST salad i’d eaten in a long time. like, better than many “real” restaurant salads. there was a lot of lettuce, it was a good mix of crispy iceburg and actual leafy greens, the chicken was cooked well and didn’t have any nasty bits like fast food chicken sometimes does, the dressing was pretty tasty, the croutons were crunchy, etc. it was so delicious (and so big) that i saved it and ate the rest the next day. that salad may have had more calories than a burger, but at least i didn’t want to kill myself and/or throw up after eating it.

  42. dvddesign says:

    Okay, anyone with any real greivances towards this “investigation” can go judge this on whatever level they want to on sites like:

    http://www.calorieking.com

    And judge for themselves whether or not the quantity of what they eat at lunch matches up to the salad they choose.

    @astheticiy

    I think a good deal of “those” people don’t bother reading nutriion labels. Good for you that you do, I do as well, but I’m not going to lambaste people for not making a choice. And you can eat fast food, provided you read the label and you know what you’re getting yourself into. Heck, even having a rough idea of calories and fat intake on a Whataburger or Crunchwrap Supreme can help some people be able to figure out where to put that in their daily calorie intake. I choose not to since a double Whataburger with bacon and cheese (a personal favorite) has 110% of my daily fat allowance and nearly 1000 calories. So, I pick one of these up maybe 2-3 times a year.

    It’s smart planning. Not being a smart ass.

  43. virgilstar says:

    The whole point of fast food is that it can be eaten fast (not just ordered and made fast) – i.e. eaten with one hand while driving. If you’re in a rush, sitting down to a table and eating a salad with a plastic fork, and dripping dressing all down your clothes is not fast! If I want a salad, I’ll make it myself or go to a “proper” restaurant which will let me customize it. If I want “fast” food I’ll get real fast food (burgers/fries). I just don’t understand why anyone would be so dumb as to order a salad at a fast-food joint.

  44. quagmire0 says:

    What’s with everyone trying to debunk the findings? They’re true. Sure, you could say ‘a sandwich isn’t filling like a salad’, but that’s variable. To one person, it might be, to another, they may ‘need’ 5 Big Macs. The basic premise of the piece rings true: people choose salads to ‘feel better’ about what they are eating, but the truth is they might as well eat something else.

    This happened to my wife and I, we used to love those market fresh sandwiches from Arby’s, and we thought we were eating healthier. Notsomuch. Lesson learned: ANYTHING sold by a fast food chain is not good for you. Why? Because everything they sell you will have an additive that will make it unhealthy. They deal in the business of quick, tasteful food. Anything healthy takes time, and doesn’t taste ‘as good’ (relatively, to most people used to fast food) as fast food.

  45. I don’t like french fries or soda but I like hamburgers. Is that really so crazy?

  46. not_seth_brundle says:

    Great post. I’d also like to see a side-by-side comparison of fast food options to similar options from cafe chains like Panera or Cosi. Many people think they’re better off going to Panera, but, in fact, their sandwiches range from 300 to 1100 calories each and salads there have between 400 and 630 calories without dressing.

  47. “Who knew that eating a full portion of, say, the BK Tendercrisp salad would result in consuming 210 more calories than if you’d simply ordered a Whopper Jr.?”

    Anyone who reads women’s magazines or health magazines?

  48. EditorPerson says:

    @Chris: I get just a sandwich.

  49. Victorlazlo says:

    These perpetual dieters get self satisfaction from ordering those salads. Dare I say that is the part about it they like best:

    “Look at these fatties chowing down on their greasy burgers. I am better than all of them.”

  50. MentalDisconnect says:

    I get just the sandwich (burger?). Sometimes I even have trouble finishing it. I’ve learned to eat such small portions that I can get filled on very little. The most dangerous to my weight would be drinks, like milkshakes, soda, etc. since it doesn’t fill me up the same way as a food item… but… I often have just a drink to fight hunger pangs.

    Anyway, I believe if you really want to diet, you’ll do whatever it takes, even if it means just having alfalfa for three days, or whatever. You won’t cheat if you’re a dedicated dieter. This salad thing sounds like trying to cheat. I used to work at McDonald’s, and during the Atkin’s craze almost everyone was coming in ordering burgers without a bun. I have trouble believing that helped.

    My belief is if you’re going to do something, commit to it! If you want a burger at a fast-food place, have the whole burger! If you want to lose weight, make an effort, eat your oil-and vinegar covered salad for five days a week. Not to preach, but I think what a lot of dieters do wrong is they never commit to anything. They have fast food and try to make it healthy. No, have that fast food. Take it as junk. Treat yourself to it. Have that chocolate cake to reward yourself. I’ve never understood “fat free” on what I consider “pleasure items” of food- cakes, ice cream, etc. It’s probably just about alleviating guilt. I think to have a healthy diet you should be able to enjoy a treat, and a full, rich, slightly sinful treat, too. Sacrifice where it counts. Enjoy your cheesecake. That is all.

  51. SaraAB87 says:

    Like many others I think the whole point of this article is to illustrate that the salad may not always be the most “healthy” choice even though it is marketed as being healthier and sometimes even marketed to the point where they tell you that oh, eating this salad over a burger will magically make you lose weight!

    You can find things that are better for you on the fast food menus if you are careful. Subway makes it really easy to choose options that are healthier but even they advertise heavily trying to sell you double meat and double cheese for your sub. In reality you have to choose your options, tell them to forget the cheese and choose a low calorie or calorie free dressing over mayo (I don’t even like mayo so the other dressings are a welcomed choice!), skip the chips, cookies or other extras and get a diet soda or a bottle of water. And yes subway can be just as bad for you as Mcdonalds or Burger king if you order items that have a lot of fat or calories. Going for the “meal deal” usually includes something that is not healthy for you, your better off choosing individual items off the menu.

    I do not eat at fast food places as a general rule but sometimes it cannot be avoided, thankfully there is usually a subway around every corner. The trick is to control yourself when in these places, don’t order everything off the menu and don’t let the employees push you into purchasing food that you do not really want.

  52. quagmire0 says:

    @mental: Great points. I especially love the EDY’s commercials with the guy going back to get more ice cream because it has 1/2 the fat and he can ‘eat more’. Uhhhhh…..doesn’t going back for more defeat the purpose of eating the lowfat ice cream? :D

  53. lihtox says:

    In the spirit of balance, I like McDonald’s cheeseburgers (though I order them plain with ketchup). I like fast-food french fries. Oh, and I like diet soda too (I was put off by the aspartame initially, but after a week or two I got used to it). I very rarely *eat* at the fast food chains, and the thought of the food’s unhealthy qualities does weigh on me when I do, but the food itself can be pretty yummy, which is half the reason people go there.

    Those of you who are naturally disgusted by foods with high fructose corn syrup, saturated fat, and cholesterol: be grateful for your disgust.

  54. GenXCub says:

    It’s been said, but yes, check the weight of the food. In the top example from Wendy’s, I’d take the salad in a second since that is almost 200% more food for only 25% more calories.

    There are people who freak out at the notion their food has more than X grams of fat, but Calories is what you’re ultimately measuring. Fat and Protein help you stay satiated longer. (Thank you to the old NetHack computer game which taught me the word Satiated at a young age.=)

  55. Ponygirl says:

    Fast Food Salads tend to contain more High Fructose Corn Syrup than burgers and burritos (though buns do contain HFCS, as do most mass produced baked goods). HFCS effects the blood sugar levels and the metabolism much differently than any other natural sugars or fats. HFCS is synthetic slurry manufactured from corn syrup altered at a molecular level. Read “Fat Land” by Greg Critser for some great information on the connection between HFCS, it’s release on the market in 1979 and America’s rapidly increasing waistline ever since. 7UP label it product 100% Natural ad yet uses HFCS claiming it is natural because it contains Corn Syrup. Many food advocacy groups are campaigning to change the FDA’s definition of 100% natural because of this.

    I am a trained chef and I can tell you nothing you eat at any restaurant is as healthy as what you can make at home from scratch (I don’t mean processed pre-made simply add water foods). That being said there is a connection between poverty and improper diet. The sad reality is that it’s cheaper to purchase products that are full of HFCS and Trans fats than it is to purchase healthful product. Anyone who says otherwise has never tried to buy dinner with 2 dollars in their pocket. I am attacking no one person individually but I have to question if some people’s ideas about the ease of “eating a proper diet” aren’t connected to their middle class entitlement and their ability to access products and services that simply aren’t available to people of a lower means or socially marginalized. Take my neighborhood for instance. I live in what is unquestionably an urban environment: Downtown Oakland. Thousands of people live here and yet here is not a full service grocery store within 3 miles of our home. People without cars have to grocery shop at convenience stores (try shopping healthy there) or eat off the menus at McDonalds and KFC. To refuse to acknowledge the dietary limitations of an area where you can not purchase food to manufacture at home speaks more to your own attitudes about food politics and class warfare than anything else. Marginalized people eat poorly because corporations exploit their poverty by withholding easy access to healthy foods while offering low quality products on every street corner for .50 cents.

    Additionally many products have reputations of healthiness but often change their recipes after gaining that reputation (See the Breyer Ice Cream post from a few months ago) I can give you an example from this story: McDonalds’ sells Newman’s Own dressing with salads as a way of brand marketing and brand identifying with a well known and respected product hoping some of that healthful image will rub off on their product. The nutritional information on the Newman’s Own packet is worlds apart from the nutritional information on a store bought bottle. Newman’s Own has changed the recipes adding more sugars (in the form of HFCS) to their product. I am sure they did this for at least two reasons: 1. McDonalds’ has fond that sugary food are more desirable to consumers and asked Newman’s Own to change their recipes to adjust for this desire and 2. HFCS is cheaper and allows for a less expensive product resulting in higher profits. To be honest when I discovered this bait and switch on the part of Newman’s Own 2 years ago I stopped buy their dressings because I really felt they were exploiting their branding to provide a lower quality product.

  56. firestarsolo says:

    I’m going to have to go with the majority on this one…articles like this shouldn’t be appearing on The Consumerist, because as many pointed out it is terribly flawed and bordering on one-sided. Using this logic, I could conclude that eating a Kleenex would be healthier than any of these options, since it has less of everything listed.

    I come to The Consumerist for interesting, multi-faceted stories that are truthful and pointed. This is not one of them. Please try not to post things like this, it really detracts from the truthiness of the overall site.

  57. Ponygirl says:


    Firestarsolo, you don’t think a major corporation producing a product that outwardly appears to made from ingredients the FDA and nutritionists drum into our heads are “nutritious” and “better choices” and than filling those healthful choices with unseen fillers and by-products forever changing these products from healthful to unhealthy makes for interesting multi-faceted story? It’s incredibly interesting to me. I would like to see Consumerist do more with food politics.

    I’m not saying the science of this comparison was perfect, but many people are unaware of the significant gulf between what they think they are consuming and what they “are” consuming. I gave a speech on this to a group of 20 college kids 4 months ago and you’d be amazed that most of them really thought they were eating healthier when they purchased a yogurt cup and a salad from Mickey D’s. They think this because McDonalds and by default the government for not legislating guidelines, tell us that yogurt and a salad are healthy food. Geez, look at how many people have commented on this blog that they eat Subway because its better for them. Subway’s not better, it has sold us a line about being better and we as uninformed consumers have bought it hook line and sinker. How many times does the media, the FDA, school health class, etc, tell people to use common sense when purchasing food? A salad seems much more common sense to someone attempting to eat healthfully. The hidden calories, carbs, so on, is a purposeful deceit on the part of McDonald’s, Wendy’s etc. I had thought to point of Consumerist was to point out those deceits? It’s very easy for each of us to say “Of course they are bad for us, it’s fast food!” but not everyone is as skeptical of corporations (naïve bastards) as most Consumerist readers are. Should this website only preach to the choir or should it post stories that might illuminate those not yet fully aware of corporate mis-behavior?

  58. Silly me, I just order off the kids meal if I have to eat fast food.

  59. Dervish says:

    @Ponygirl: “HFCS is cheaper than sugar.”

    Actually, this is no longer absolutely true. Because of the rising demand for ethanol from corn, HFCS is comparable in price to sucrose.

    And while I absolutely agree that companies make it cheap and convenient to eat unhealthily, as you say in your first post, I’m not willing to give consumers a free pass like you seem to be saying in your second post. People need to start taking responsibility for their own health. Do a little research! “Hidden calories and carbs” are easy to find online and are posted (although not clearly and proudly) in the restaurant itself most of the time.

  60. ZapBranigan says:

    I have lost 30 pounds in 4 months by eating mostly fast food. The key? Don’t eat burgers or fries or pop. I usually get a GRILLED (not crispy) chicken w/o mayo or honey mustard. Burger King’s website let’s you calculate how much fat is in something. The Tendergill chicken w/o honey mustard is only 7 grams of fat.
    Just be smart and do some research. Most fast food sites let you calculate the nutritional of everything.

  61. alegna says:

    Look at the weight. Every salad here contains a lot more than the sandwiches. And obviously the amount of sugar on some of them is higher because there are mandarin oranges or other fruits. All fruits have natural sugars.. Meat doesn’t. And on the Taco Bell one, they are comparing something that has grilled chicken with something that has seasoned taco meat! Usually grilled chicken is healthier. Yes, salads may not be as healthy as they market them to be or as healthy as we hope, but at the same time, if you eat a salad with a bunch of extras on it and dressing, that will probably be your meal. If you have a burger (even a small one) you’re more likely to have fries or some other side with it. And fries are pure carbs and salt (that’s why they’re so good).

    Read “Fast Food Nation” It’ll really make you disgusted in the food, but mostly how sneaky these companies are. It’s really a shame that we blindly give them so much money and they could care less about their customers and employees.

  62. timdenike says:

    I expected more from a consumerist post. Not a reasonable comparison at all.

    I did however, find the comments section full of refreshing logic and insight. Something I’ve never seen before!

  63. bdgw7 says:

    All the snarky comments about why eat salads at a fast food joint, the wisdom of eating salads as part of a weight-loss strategy, salads without dressing are nasty, why eat at fast food places at all etc etc etc aside, it still doesn’t answer the basic question of what the caloric and nutritional data for these menu items sans the 5 lb. packet of dressing actually are. There’s a big difference in saying a salad has 470 calories and 19.5g fat *with* versus *without* the dressing.

  64. SaraAB87 says:

    @Dervish:

    The low-income people who this food is targeted at are not going to have computers and internet access in order to research these things like we do, they are at the mercy of the corporation or the street corner seller for nutritional information on the food they are buying. If you are buying food from a street corner seller they most likely do not have nutritional information available for their food but I do believe legally the major franchises do have to provide that information for consumers if they ask for it. But then again that information is what the company puts out for consumers to read, so the consumers that do not have internet access to read stuff like this post here are at the mercy of what the corporation tells them.

    I have looked up nutritional information on McDonalds website and they really try to beat around the bush and glorify their food on there when you go to the “nutrition” section. I was specifically trying to gauge the value of a kids meal and then they do things like saying that a McDonald’s kids meal is equivalent to a typical children’s lunch of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and potato chips. In turn they want you to believe that it is just as good as the food you are feeding your kids at home. It is also made very difficult to work out the exact nutrition in a kids meal because of the way its stated on their website, they don’t give you the nutritional values for each individual item up front instead they give you the values for the whole package leading to a whole confusing mess in which they are just hoping that you won’t stay on that website long enough to figure out what each individual item actually has in it.

    Thankfully I am one of the lucky ones who has a natural distaste for at least the burger joints such as McDonalds and Burger King, and Dairy Queen etc, because I know that if I eat the food I will get sick from it, and I do not want to get sick. I also have a natural distaste for regular soda which is perhaps a good thing as well!

    I do eat Taco Bell or Subway but not on a day to day basis, I would say maybe once every 2 weeks at the most. Some of you may criticize me for eating it at all which is fine but just remember that we are all human and we have to eat, and with fast food restaurants around every corner it is very very very hard for some people to resist especially young people like myself. I am sure everyone here has eaten fast food at least a couple times in their lives and if you have you are guilty of the same crime as everyone else on this message board. If there was easily accessable, fast food company that was ACTUALLY healthy, then yes I would use that alternative as an alternative to even Subway or Taco Bell.

    I would like to see a consumerist article that dispells the myth that “Subway is good for you” and that takes into account the different options you are presented with at the time of ordering (such as being able to refuse the cheese, ordering a dressing that isn’t mayo etc..).

  65. Ponygirl says:

    Good points Sara.

    I ate at McDonald’s last weekend for the first time in a year and I did notice that some of the packaging now has nutritional information. Is this a California thing or do other people also have this information on the wrappers now?

  66. RepentTokyo says:

    listen to all of your bitch because you don’t like to be told that something you thought was healthy really wasn’t. talk about burying your heads in the sand. why don’t you try changing your lifestyles instead?

  67. ralree says:

    ——————————————–
    Not trying to defend the salads, but who just orders a sandwich? An better apples-to-apples comparison would probably be the salad vs. a meal deal.
    ——————————————–
    I just order the sandwich in the event I end up in one of these places. I don’t drink soda, and I don’t crave fries – especially when it costs $2-3 more. It’s sad more people don’t do this. The salads are a crock. Does the test bring into account dressings? What if the salad has no dressing whatsoever, and what if the diner puts the entire packet on (which most do)? If you want to lose weight, you should exercise and eat something that’s not just fat, bread and sugar. I guarantee that if you exercise 40 minutes a day 5 days a week and continue eating the salads you’ll lose weight.

  68. jacquelineveronique says:

    This is comparing apples and oranges. Take a McDonalds Caesar GRILLED chicken salad and you’ll have only 220 calories, and with a good amount of 30 gram of protein.
    This is without dressing, I never use their dressing and put light sour cream on if for 30 calories per 2 teaspoon and eat a total of 250 calories for the salad. It has 130% vitamin A and 50% vitamin C, a hamburger can never match the healthiness and low calories of a salad.