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.


    • 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 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)

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