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Worst (and Best) Salads of America

It takes a uniquely American brand of innovation to transform a healthy helping of produce into a green monster.

No meal on the planet carries a healthier reputation than salad, and because of that, our fast food merchants know they can hide gobs of fat-riddled toppings amidst the foliage. So most of today’s salad entrees are swimming in as much fat and sodium as a heaping plate of cheese fries — and that’s before the greens are drowned in dressing.
   
Though we’ve uncovered a long list of nutritional ruses perpetrated by the food industry in such Eat This, Not That! reports as Health Foods That Aren’t, the lard-bearing salad is perhaps the most troubling trend of all.

Looking to capitalize on our belief in the almighty leaf, restaurants and fast-food chains have loaded their menus with dubious salads, and diners are grazing away, like sheep before the slaughter. Reports from the National Restaurant Association and the USDA show salad sales up by as much as 50% over the past decade.
   
So how did the salad leap from a nutritional boon to a full-blown health hazard? Over the past decade the restaurant industry has surreptitiously merged our growing affinity for greens with two other scary restaurant trends — bigger portions and more fried foods.

That’s why today’s fresh produce increasingly is freighted with more crumbled cheese, greasy bacon, pan-browned beef, and oily dressing. The one-time rabbit food now looks a lot more like pig slop.
   
With that in mind, we’ve developed a lineup of the most egregious veggie offenders, along with a few great salads that can guide your own green revolution. We urge you to pick your lettuce carefully.
       
On the Border’ Grande Taco Salad w/Taco Beef and Smoked Chipotle Vinaigrette Dressing
1,680 calories
121 g fat (40 g saturated)
2,660 mg sodium
   
When a restaurant exchanges the salad bowls with a deep-fried tortilla trough, you know something’s amiss. With as much saturated fat as 40 strips of bacon (two days’ worth) and more calories than 11 Taco Bell Fresco Beef Tacos, this abdomen expander earns a well-deserved spot on our list of The 20 Worst Foods in America, 2008.
 
Chevy’s Fresh Mex’s Tostada Salad with Chicken
1,551 calories
94 g fat (37 g saturated)
2,840 mg sodium
   
Steer clear of Mexican-themed salads; they invariably suffer from the caloric impact of fried tortillas, shredded cheese, and ice-cream-size scoops of sour cream. This particular Mex mess has nearly two days' worth of saturated fat and more than an entire day’s sodium, putting it on par with the brackish bites that round out our list of the 20 Saltiest Foods in America.
       
Chili’s Caesar Salad w/ Grilled Chicken & Caesar Dressing
1,010 calories
76 g fat (13 g saturated)
1,910 mg sodium
   
The top three words you never want to see sharing a space with “salad” on a menu: tuna, taco, and yes, the mighty Caesar. Consider that tangle of romaine a hapless vehicle for the troubling trinity of croutons, parmesan cheese, and viscous Caesar dressing. Chili’s version is the worst; the elephantine portion yields a salad with more fat than a dozen Oreo Ice Cream Sandwiches from Breyers. (Maybe Brutus was right to take a knife to him, after all.)

Einstein Bros. Bros Bistro Salad with Chicken
940 calories
71 g fat (12 g saturated)
810 mg sodium
   
Chicken, mixed greens, walnuts, raspberry vinaigrette: Sounds like good eating, right? Too bad the walnuts are candied, the dressing alone has 14 grams of fat, and the leaves are strewn with salty hunks of Gorgonzola cheese. Want a survival plan? Ask for a half salad and politely decline the free bagel. Then make sure that next time you have a few tricks up your sleave by learning the secrets to losing weight while still eating restaurant food!
   
Macaroni Grill’s Seared Sea Scallops Salad
1,320 calories
91 g fat (25 g saturated)
2,860 mg sodium
   
Macaroni Grill manages to take two normally healthy foods — salad and seafood — and turn them into the caloric equivalent of 29 Chicken McNuggets. Not to mention more than one day’s worth of sodium, fat, and saturated fat. There’s an important lesson here: Sea creatures, just like leafy greens, are at grave risk when they fall into the hands of the restaurant industry.
   
Quizno’s Chicken with Honey Mustard Flatbread Salad
1,110 calories
74 g fat (14.5 g saturated)
2030 mg sodium
   
Surprised to see a Quizno’s salad with nearly as many calories as five packages of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups? Don’t be. Half the salads on the menu top 1,000 calories, and 330 of those calories come from the flatbread alone. (See if Quizno’s and your other favorite eateries make the grade with this handy Restaurant Report Card. Note: several well-know restaurants score an ‘F’!)

T.G.I. Fridays Pecan Crusted Chicken Salad
1360 calories
Fat: unknown (The company refuses to disclose the nutritional content of the food they’re serving you.)
Sodium: unknown
   
Turns out Friday’s monster salads aren’t much better than their burgers. Six out of the seven we analyzed topped out with more than 900 calories, which means that lunchtime can be the start of something big — namely, your belly.
   
   
Salad Hall of Fame:

McDonald’s Premium Asian Salad with Grilled Chicken
300 calories
10 g fat (1 g saturated)
890 mg sodium
   
Panera Classic Café Salad
400 calories
11 g fat (1.5 g saturated)
270 mg sodium
   
Au Bon Pain Butternut Squash Salad
280 calories
6 g fat (4 g saturated)
570 mg sodium
   
Jack in the Box Southwest Chicken Salad with Grilled Chicken Strips
310 calories
12 g fat (5 g saturated)
840 mg sodium
   
Carl’s Jr. Charbroiled Chicken Salad
330 calories
8 g fat (3.5 g saturated)
580 mg sodium
   
Denny’s Grilled Chicken Salad Deluxe
290 calories
10 g fat (5 g saturated)
770 mg sodium
   
Arby’s Martha’s Vineyard Salad
272 calories
9 g fat (4 g saturated)
609 mg sodium

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