Americans eager to slim down might be surprised to learn that those fast-food salads they consume may not be as healthy as they think.
A Dallas affiliate of NBC recently put the Wendy’s Mandarin Chicken Salad to the test. When compared to the Big Bacon Classic burger, the salad—topped with Mandarin oranges, roasted almonds, crispy noodles and oriental sesame dressing—had more fat and calories than the burger.
The burger had 570 calories and 29 grams of fat and the salad had 590 calories and 35 grams of fat.
The NBC affiliate also tested McDonald’s Crispy Chicken California Cobb Salad to the Quarter Pounder With Cheese. The salad, with dressing, weighed in at 500 calories and 32 grams of fat, while the burger contained 530 calories and 30 grams of fat.
Chuck O’Reilly, owner of 13 McDonald’s franchises in North Texas, told NBC that the fat and calorie content can be lessened by choosing healthier dressings.
“McDonald’s is about choice,” O’Reilly said. “It would probably depend mostly on your choice of dressing, but it’s all about choice.”
Even with tempting, high-fat dressings, salads are still the best choice, registered dietician Lona Sandon told NBC.
“That salad loaded up with some fresh vegetables is gonna give you more vitamin A, vitamin C, maybe more vitamin E,” Sandon said. “So you’re going to get more nutrient value in the salad than you may get out of the hamburger.”
“Good Morning America” food editor Sara Moulton tested 30 salads from major fast-food chains and also found that in some cases, based on fat and calorie count, you might be better off with the burger.
Part of the problem, Moulton said, was that the base for these salads is iceberg lettuce.
“Iceberg lettuce has zero nutrients and zero grams of fiber,” Moulton told ABC News. “Romaine lettuce, on the other hand, has one gram of fiber per six leaves, and 32 percent of your daily intake of vitamin C.”
Overall, Moulton favored the Au Bon Pain salads for having “the best base, nice ‘real’ greens and vegetables.”
“The New Salads: The Latest in Fast Fraud,” a report by the Physicians Committee For Responsible Medicine, gave top nutrition ratings to only two salads—Au Bon Pain’s garden salad and Subway’s Veggie Delite salad with fat-free Italian dressing, according to the Myrtle Beach Sun News. The nutritionists at the Washington-based nonprofit group looked at 34 salads from Au Bon Pain, Burger King, McDonald’s, Panera, Subway, Taco Bell and Wendy’s.
“It was a surprising finding that a lot of the salads were high in saturated fat and cholesterol,” Brie Turner-McGrievy, registered dietitian and clinical research coordinator for Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, told the Sun News.
Toppings like cheese and fried chicken drive up the fat and calorie count, she said. And dressings pile on sodium and fat.
Jodi Mathews is news writer for EthicsDaily.com.