Fast Food Salads: An Iceberg Sank the Titanic!

April 13, 2012
I found this excellent article providing guidance on what salads to order at fast food restaurants.  These are great tips, whether you are eating out or making a salad at home!
While most people think that the salads offered at fast food restaurants are healthy, nutritious choices, the truth may be quite different. Fast food salads vary widely in the nutrition category. While some salads are reasonable choices, some fast food restaurants soup up their salads with a variety of less-healthy, fat- and sodium-laden items, such as fried chicken, creamy full-fat dressings, sour cream, and lots of cheese, bacon, fried croutons, and taco chips or shells. Less prevalent or completely absent are the nutritious, high-fiber salad items such as beans, chick peas, and a wide variety of fresh vegetables.
But with a busy work schedule, family responsibilities, and the chaos of life in general, sometimes fast food restaurants are the only option. So, what is a hungry person to do? Here is some food for thought the next time you are at the drive-thru ready to order a fast food salad:
Beware of Deceptive Information
While all of the fast food restaurants have nutritional information available on all of their menu offerings, some of the information can be a bit misleading. For example, some of the information only gives nutritional statistics on the actual salad, leaving off the information about dressing, croutons, cheese, or other packets of ingredients that are included with your salad. Make sure you read the information carefully.
Remember: An Iceberg Sank the Titanic
Choose more complex greens than plain old iceberg lettuce. Iceberg lettuce is calorie-free, but it is also nearly nutrition- and fiber-free. Worst of all, it is essentially flavor-free, leading you down the path to high-fat temptation by encouraging you to add more flavorful (and higher fat, sodium, and calorie) ingredients to your salad to make it more palatable and satisfying.
Paint With a Broad Palette of Color
The greater the variety of colors in the vegetables in your salad, the greater the variety of nutrients. Go for a wide variety of greens (including different types of lettuces, spinach, peppers), oranges (carrots), and reds (tomatoes and red peppers).
Skip the Meat
Try ordering your salad without meat. Or, if you really want the meat, choose to have it grilled (not fried) and consider eating only half of what is included with your salad.
Remember: Dynamite Comes in Small Packages
So if you want to avoid exploding your healthy eating plan, say no to those little packets of Parmesan cheese, croutons, or Chinese noodles. They may look innocent (and yummy), but these extras are a serious source of fat, calories, and sodium. Ask your server to leave them off of your order—once you get them to your table, they are just going to tempt you.
Do Not Douse, Dress
Ask if there is a low- or no-fat dressing available, and substitute that for the one that comes with the salad you have ordered. Use the smallest amount possible to flavor (not drench!) your salad. Some restaurants have plain packets of vinegar or lemon juice available; consider sprinkling these on your greens instead of dressing.
Inquiring Minds Want to Know
All of the major fast food restaurants have websites that detail the nutritional stats on each of their menu items. Read the available nutritional information about various fast food salads and other offerings. If you read about the choices in advance, and plan your attack, you might be more successful at making healthy choices.
by Rosalyn Carson-DeWitt, MD

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