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The 6 Worst Salads to Eat While Dieting

Posted on 09/23/2015

When someone decides to adopt a healthier diet and lifestyle, one of the first things they realize is they may not be eating as much produce as they should be. Without a doubt this realization comes as a surprise to many people. The solution? Consume salads regularly and often – even while dining out.  

All salads are good for you...right?

Good? No, unfortunately it’s not so good. The problem with this gut reaction often leads to consuming many, many more calories than one intends to consume. How could it be? Salads are good for you and so-called health food! Right? Well, not all salads are created equally.  As you will read, the list of ‘6 worst salads at your favorite chain restaurants’ will show how unhealthy salads exist and can be a saboteur to your new, healthier lifestyle and reaching weight loss goals.

Bottom line: the way to lose weight is calories in versus calories out, if you consume fewer than you burn then you’ll lose weight. It’s a scientific fact!

Salads prepared with fresh ingredients with an eye toward health are the way to go, nix the salads drenched in creamy dressings and mounds of cheese, bacon and fried chicken!

Here’s a look at some of the more unhealthy salads that exist at some restaurants, proving that only salads made entirely from fresh ingredients are conducive to trimming belt lines and improving health:

Thai Crunch Salad, California Pizza Kitchen

Thai Crunch Salad, California Pizza Kitchen

At 1,460 calories, this Asian-themed salad is packed with fried noodles and avocado, which is more than enough to overpower a small bed of iceberg lettuce with calorie-heavy add-ons. All of that make this salad unhealthy enough to cover almost (or more than) the entirety of a human being’s caloric intake for a day. Someone could eat two Big Macs and still not match this calorie count!

Quesadilla Explosion Salad, Chili’s

Quesadilla Explosion Salad, Chili’s

Not much better is Chili’s Quesadilla Explosion Salad, which literally is a bit of lettuce stacked atop a heaping handful of actual quesadillas, built from several flour tortillas and a gooey Mexican cheese blend. While there are some veggies sprinkled to and fro beneath the huge portion of chicken, mountain of cheese and creamy dressing, they are minute compared to the considerably less healthy ingredients that make up this 1,430-calorie “salad.” Again, more than a person’s daily caloric needs in one salad alone!

Parmesan-Crusted Chicken Salad, Macaroni Grill

Parmesan-Crusted Chicken Salad, Macaroni Grill

While there’s nothing wrong with wanting to add a little protein to a salad by way of chicken, it’s usually better to go with grilled chicken than something rolled in cheese and then fried. Adding prosciutto and a Parmesan ranch dressing to the fray cranks up the sodium (910 mg, in this case), and between that dressing and a balsamic glaze, this double-dressed salad is soaking wet with fat and calories, which never leads to healthy things. In this case, the end result is a 1,080-calorie bomb that will do nothing for one’s diet.

Pecan-Crusted Chicken Salad, Applebee’s

Pecan-Crusted Chicken Salad, Applebee’s

A good rule of thumb is that if a salad’s name features the word “crusted,” it probably isn’t all that salubrious. Nothing on a truly healthy salad should be crusted in anything, let alone in nuts. Applebee’s actually throws on even more pecans (of the honey-glazed variety), as well as blue cheese, honey balsamic dressing and dried cranberries, among other things. There are 16 teaspoons of sugar in this salad, and it tops 1,340 calories in the process. In short, there are so many better ways to budget one’s daily calories than this on super-sized, super sweet salad.

Grilled Shrimp ‘N Spinach Salad, Applebee’s

Grilled Shrimp ‘N Spinach Salad, Applebee’s

The Pecan-Crusted Chicken Salad isn’t the only unhealthy salad on the menu at Applebee’s, however, as the healthier-sounding Grilled Shrimp ‘N Spinach Salad also comes in with a four-digit calorie count (1,000 calories). While it does feature both shrimp and spinach as its main ingredients, bacon also is a heavy contributor to the flavor profile of the dish, showing up both in terms of actual bacon and what Applebee’s calls “hot bacon vinaigrette” dressing. A handful of almonds add to the caloric content of the salad, which should be called the Bacon Nut Salad to be more accurate.

Carolina Chicken Salad, Ruby Tuesday

Carolina Chicken Salad, Ruby Tuesday

While some unhealthy salads at least try to mask their unhealthiness by splitting up the large chicken servings into small chunks dropped sporadically over the lettuce, the Carolina Chicken Salad at Ruby Tuesday is completely unapologetic for its size, suffocating a negligible amount of greens with three huge pieces of fried chicken and plenty of shredded cheddar cheese. Bacon, croutons and almonds help push this monstrosity to 1,117 calories.

Build a salad the right way

Some of these horribly unwholesome salads probably sound and look sinfully delicious, and while they absolutely may be, the reality is that they aren’t going to do anybody’s diet or health any favors.

There are easy approaches to building salads the right way, however, using fresh ingredients that work together to give both enjoyment and nutrition. Using a spring mix with some baby spinach is a great way to start things off, as they are both very low in calories and very high in nutrients such as Vitamin A, Vitamin C, iron and fiber, but vegetables like carrots, bell peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, red onions, broccoli and peas all go a long way toward bulking up the dish and adding some flavor in addition to more vitamins, nutrients and additional fiber to increase one’s satiety to help with fullness.

Don't forget the protein!

For those that need more protein to feel full, consider adding some skinless grilled chicken breast, hard boiled egg, beans, legumes, edamame, turkey breast, tuna fish or tofu. Finally, if you must add dressing, try to use only recommended serving sizes of low-calorie dressings. Or better yet, make your own healthy dressing with a mix of olive oil, vinegar, and citrus juice such as lemon or lime to get the rich flavor without the added sodium. Get creative and throw in some herbs like sage, basil, dill or parsley in the mix for a dash of freshness.

The bottom line here is that salads done the right way really are healthy, but many restaurants are selling meals billed as salads that are shockingly unhealthy. Be aware of what you’re ordering at places like this, or better yet, bring your own salad made from fresh ingredients.

And hold the bacon.

Looking for a great menu that includes numerous salads and also helps you lose weight at the same time? Look no further than Seattle Sutton! With 30 years of proven results, Seattle Sutton's Healthy Eating prepares tens of thousands of healthy, delicious meals weekly and its innovative approach has helped thousands of people achieve and maintain weight loss without the planning, shopping or cooking for themselves.

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post-author

Rene Ficek, RDN, CDE

Grew up in the food industry and took that love of healthy eating to earn her degree in nutrition. She has worked as a registered dietitian for 6 years and has been with SSHE since 2013, providing nutrition analysis and meal planning. Her special interests in weight management and diabetes, helps patients manage their weight and health conditions. She enjoys an active lifestyle, as well as time in the kitchen. Rene’s favorite SSHE meal is the Thai Noodle Salad.

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