Sometimes when you hit the local drive-through, you are just craving a juicy burger. At other times, simple convenience is your goal. You may even find yourself at a fast food restaurant only because your companions chose to go there. At those times, you may be seeking a healthy option among the vast array of high-calorie fare. Fast food salads, including those at McDonald’s, often get a bad rap. Before you assume that nothing good can come from a salad at the Golden Arches, consider these points about the leafy options at your local McD’s.
11. The Salad Greens
In years past, the McDonald’s salad consisted of pale, wimpy, iceberg lettuce leaves. In recent years, McDonald’s has upped the nutrient content in its salads by including romaine, kale, red-leaf lettuce, and spinach as well. These greens are not only darker in color than their iceberg counterpart, but they are also higher in vitamins, antioxidants, and fiber. Leafy greens like kale and spinach contain vitamin A, vitamin E, and vitamin K. They also provide folic acid, riboflavin, magnesium, and manganese. These critical nutrients help with functions like protein metabolism, immunity, growth, and bone health.
With the exception of the side salad, the McDonald’s salads provide protein in the form of chicken. The grilled chicken is coated with a blend of olive and canola oils and seasoned before grilling. In addition, the southwest chicken salad contains fiber and protein in the form of black beans. The artisan grilled chicken breast used in the grilled chicken salads contains easily pronounced ingredients like garlic powder, lemon juice concentrate, honey, onion powder, and dried vinegar. The protein content of the salads containing chicken ranges from 28-42 grams.
9. Salt Content
If you are looking to avoid excess salt in your diet, a McDonald’s salad may not be the best choice for you. Salt makes its way into these salads through the chicken seasonings, cheese, and bacon ingredients. The American Heart Association recommends limiting your salt intake to less than 2,300 mg per day. Unfortunately, the Bacon Ranch Salad with Buttermilk Crispy Chicken comes in at a whopping 1,120 mg of sodium. This means one salad can use up half of your daily salt allowance. Skip these toppings and stick to a light vinaigrette if you are limiting your sodium intake.
The salads at McDonald’s may contain some healthful ingredients such as protein, fiber, and antioxidants. However, depending on the toppings and on your choice of dressing, they may also be high in calories. In fact, some salads may even be higher in calories than a burger. According to the McDonald’s nutrition calculator, a Quarter Pounder with Cheese contains 540 calories. Meanwhile, the Southwest Buttermilk Crispy Chicken Salad provides 520 calories without the dressing. While the low-fat Balsamic Vinaigrette dressing contains only 40 calories, a packet of ranch adds an extra 200 calories.
The carbohydrates in McDonald’s salads come from several sources. The side salad and Bacon Ranch Salad with grilled chicken contain only 3 grams and 8 grams of carbs, respectively. The crunchy buttermilk coating on the crispy chicken salads adds carbohydrates. The Southwest Chicken Salad includes additional carbohydrates in the form of tortilla strips. The Southwest Chicken Salad with Buttermilk Crispy Chicken is the salad highest in carbs, containing 46 grams. To decrease the carbs in this salad option, choose the grilled chicken, and skip the tortilla strips.
6. Bacon Ranch Salad with Chicken
The bacon ranch salad comes in two options. The first is the Bacon Ranch Salad with Buttermilk Crispy Chicken. This salad contains a mixture of kale, spinach, romaine lettuce, and red leaf lettuce. It is topped with chicken coated in a crunchy, buttermilk batter. Grape tomatoes add extra tang and an extra dose of vitamins to this option. This salad contains 480 calories before you add the dressing. Meanwhile, the second option is a Bacon Ranch Grilled Chicken Salad. This salad includes grilled chicken instead of the crispy chicken and comes in at 320 calories without the dressing.
5. Southwest Chicken Salad
The Southwest Chicken Salad is also available with either grilled or buttermilk crispy chicken. In addition to the leafy green salad mix, the salad comes with black beans, tortilla strips, and lime. Roasted tomato, roasted corn, and poblano peppers are veggies that add extra flavor. The Buttermilk Crispy Chicken version comes in at 520 calories without the dressing, while the grilled chicken option is 350 calories.
4. Side Salad
The McDonald’s side salad makes a healthier side dish than a box of French fries does. This salad consists of romaine lettuce, baby spinach, carrots, kale, and a variety of lettuce. It also contains tomatoes for a burst of color and flavor. This salad is only 15 calories. Pair it with the low-fat Balsamic vinaigrette for a low-calorie side.
3. Creating a Healthier McDonald’s Salad
It is possible to create a delicious and nutritious salad at McDonald’s. Skip the calorie-laden dressings altogether or choose the balsamic vinaigrette to keep the calorie count low. Leave off the chicken for a vegetarian option that will decrease your sodium intake as well. Choose the Southwest salad to enjoy the benefits of fiber and nutrients from the black beans and roasted vegetables.
2. Comparison to Other McDonald’s Items
You may have heard rumors that the salads at McDonald’s are just as bad for you as their burgers. True, the crispy chicken salads may be higher in calories than some burgers. However, for the most part, you can enjoy a tasty salad that will provide you with more fiber and nutrients than a hamburger and fries. A Big Mac contains 540 calories, 28 grams of fat, 3 grams of fiber, and 25 grams of protein. In comparison, a Southwest Grilled Chicken Salad contains 350 calories, 11 grams of fat, 6 grams of fiber, and 37 grams of protein.
1. Comparison to Other Fast Food Chains
McDonald’s isn’t the only restaurant to provide options for those who want a healthier fast food option. Burger King has a BLT Garden Fresh Salad consisting of tomatoes, bacon, lettuce, and cheese. Without dressing, this salad is 230 calories and has 16 grams of fat, 8 grams of carbohydrates, and 18 grams of protein. Meanwhile, Wendy’s offers a variety of salads made with their signature lettuce blend of iceberg, romaine, and spring mix. A half-size portion of Wendy’s Berry Burst Chicken Salad contains 290 calories, 13 grams of fat, 5 grams of fiber, and 23 grams of protein.