Best & Worst Fast-Food Salads

On the go? Find out what to pick — and what to skip — when visiting some popular chain restaurants.

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Photo By: JB ©Copyright 2011 Noel Barnhurst

Avoid Fast-Food Traps

Though a salad sounds like a healthy option, at some restaurants salads pack more calories, saturated fat and sodium than a cheeseburger. A few top tips: Avoid anything crispy (which is code for fried) and don't use the whole packet of salad dressing (dressings are usually loaded with sugar, sodium and calories). Check out the best and worst salad options at five popular fast-food restaurants to make a healthy choice on the go.

Jack in the Box: Worst Salad

Chicken Club Salad With Crispy Chicken Strips and Bacon Ranch Dressing
Bacon, Cheddar cheese, croutons and bacon ranch dressing are what define this club salad, but they're also what make it a health disaster. This salad packs a hefty 783 calories and almost a day's worth of sodium. Save major calories by going for grilled chicken and using the dressing sparingly.

The Stats Calories: 783, Protein: 34g, Saturated Fat: 13g, Fiber: 3g, Sodium: 1946mg

Jack in the Box: Best Salad

Grilled Chicken Salad
Jack in the Box's grilled chicken salad packs in a few types of vegetables — grape tomatoes, red onions, cucumbers, carrots — and gets a helping of protein from grilled chicken. The entire salad with croutons and dressing clocks in at just 321 calories: a light, diet-friendly lunch.

The Stats Calories: 321, Protein: 29g, Saturated Fat: 5g, Fiber: 3g, Sodium: 1171mg

McDonald's: Worst Salad

Premium Bacon Ranch Salad With Crispy Chicken
"Crispy" is code for fried, so it's no wonder that this salad is the least-healthy salad option at McDonald's. This salad also has bacon bits and shredded cheese, so it's loaded with saturated fat (6 grams, 29% of the daily value) and sodium (870 mg, 36% of the DV), making it a menace for your heart. There are a few silver linings, though. This and all the meal-sized salads at McD's offer 160% of the vitamin A you need each day — mostly from the lettuce. It also provides a third of the daily value of vitamin C from the grape tomatoes and lettuce. Slash calories and saturated fat by opting for the low-fat balsamic vinaigrette or low-fat family recipe Italian dressing.

The Stats Calories: 570, Protein: 27g, Saturated Fat: 8g, Fiber: 4g, Sodium: 1400mg

McDonald's: Best Salad

Premium Southwest Salad With Grilled Chicken
Choosing grilled chicken over fried adds protein without the excessive saturated fat or calories. This salad also benefits from the addition of black beans so it boasts more fiber than any other salad. Plus, with corn, tomatoes and poblano peppers, you get a variety of veggies. The accompanying creamy southwest dressing has less sodium than other varieties they offer, but to keep calories, sodium and saturated fat in check, try half a packet of dressing. That combo will bring your total to 340 calories, 3g saturated fat and 820mg of sodium.

The Stats Calories: 390, Protein: 28g, Saturated Fat: 3.5g, Fiber: 7g, Sodium: 990mg

Panera Bread: Worst Salad

Steak & Blue Cheese Chopped Salad
Though it is refreshing to see a nonchicken option on a fast-food salad menu, steak isn't the best way to go from a health perspective. This salad has way more calories and saturated fat than any of Panera's other salads and is also at the higher end of the sodium spectrum.

The Stats Calories: 790, Protein: 39g, Saturated Fat: 16g, Fiber: 4g, Sodium: 1280mg

Panera Bread: Best Salad

Asian Sesame Chicken
At 500 calories, this salad clocks in at the lower end of Panera's salad options (a good upper limit for lunch, as a rule of thumb). It also has less saturated fat and sodium than some of the other lower-calorie contenders, like the Greek salad and Caesar chicken. This salad's almonds will give you a dose of healthy fats and fiber too.

The Stats Calories: 470, Protein: 33g, Saturated Fat: 4g, Fiber: 4g, Sodium: 600mg

Burger King: Worst Salad

Chicken BLT Garden Fresh with TENDERCRISP® and Avocado Ranch Dressing
Bacon and the three-cheese blend on this salad drive the sodium count through the roof (75% of your daily sodium limit in just one meal). It also tips the scales on saturated fat with over half of the saturated fat you should eat each day. Cut back on both saturated fat and sodium by using less salad dressing and ordering grilled instead of crispy chicken.

The Stats Calories: 690, Protein: 36g, Saturated Fat: 12g, Fiber: 3g, Sodium: 1750mg

Burger King: Best Salad

Chicken Caesar Garden Fresh Salad With TENDERGRILL® With Citrus Caesar Vinaigrette
Crispy romaine lettuce is the base of this salad, a more nutrient-dense alternative to the iceberg lettuce that's sometimes found in fast-food salads. This salad also has fewer calories and less saturated fat than the other BK meal-sized salads, in part because of the grilled chicken option. Shave off some of the sodium and calories by using just a drizzle of dressing.

The Stats Calories: 530, Protein: 35g, Saturated Fat: 5g, Fiber: 3g, Sodium: 1640mg

Wendy's: Worst Salad

Baja Salad
The Baja Salad, featuring lettuce, chili, cheese and guacamole, might win points for its whopping 13 grams of fiber (half of what you need in a day) and 32 grams of protein (this nutritional combo means it will definitely fill you up). But this one meal also delivers two-thirds of your daily limit for sodium and saturated fat, making it a less-healthy choice. Add to that its high calorie count and you're looking at Wendy's worst salad option. Take advantage of the waist-friendly ordering option and get any of their salads in half sizes — you'll slash those calories (and saturated fat and sodium) in half.

The Stats Calories: 730, Protein: 34g, Saturated Fat: 17g, Fiber: 13g, Sodium: 1920mg

Wendy's: Best Salad

Apple Pecan Chicken Salad
With fewer calories and less saturated fat and sodium than the other choices, this is the healthiest salad on Wendy's menu. It features dried cranberries and blue cheese in addition to the apple, pecans and grilled chicken. It does pack a lot of sugar, though, at 39 grams (in large part from the dressing). If you want a lower-sugar dressing, choose the light classic ranch instead of the default pomegranate vinaigrette.

The Stats Calories: 570, Protein: 37g, Saturated Fat: 8g, Fiber: 6g, Sodium: 1340mg