Everyone wants to be able to say that they're trying to eat healthier when they opt for a bowl of lettuce at a sit-down restaurant or make one at home instead of boxed mac and cheese for the night. For the most part, fast-food salads can indeed be healthy, but that's with the right base and right toppings. So we went on the hunt for the best fast-food salad out there.
When eating out, you have no idea what exactly is going on top of your greens and how much sugar you could be consuming, especially at fast-food spots. Without examining how healthy the ingredients are and assuming just because it's green that it's good, you could be eating something that is more unhealthy for you than a fast-food burger. Dressings are loaded with sugar, and the toppings of your favorite go-to can add to your sugary demise.
Sarah Garone, an NDTR, health writer, and blogger for A Love Letter To Food, let us know her thoughts on the worst salads you can get at fast-food spots.
We applaud the fast food industry for trying to put out something that will let you enjoy your favorite fast food spots with a little more green, but there are some you just shouldn't attempt to go near.
"I found it interesting that many restaurant websites list nutrients only in numbers, without the percentages you would normally find on a nutrition label," says Garone, about each salad's nutrition information.
So why would that be a problem? "The average consumer doesn't necessarily know what they're looking at without the context of percentages. While there's no official daily value for sugar, the USDA recommends limiting consumption to 50 grams per day," she says.
With this in mind, we based our best and worst salad picks based on the number of calories, then by the sugar content. If there were two salads with the same amount of calories, we broke it down in sugar to make sure you stay as far as possible from our worst picks and easily find the best options.
And while you're thinking about fast food, here are 20 Ways to Cut 200 Calories From Your Fast Food Order.
The Best Fast-Food Salads, Ranked from Good to Best
Steak 'n Shake Grilled Chicken Salad with Light Italian Dressing
475 calories, 26 g fat (12.5 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat), 1,310 mg sodium, 21 g carbs (5 g fiber, 6 g sugar), 39 g protein
It's hard to go wrong—taste or nutrition-wise—with juicy grilled chicken breast served over fresh lettuce, carrots, red cabbage, tomatoes, cheese, and croutons.
Panera Full Asian Sesame Chicken Salad with Asian Sesame Vinaigrette
430 calories, 23 g fat (3 saturated fat, 0 g trans fat), 670 mg sodium, 29 g carbs (6 g fiber, 7 g sugar), 31 g protein
Panera's entire salad selection is pretty solid nutritionally, but their sweet and tangy Asian Sesame Chicken salad is one of the healthiest picks, making it a must-try for those on a diet. The restaurant combines chicken, romaine, cilantro, almonds, sesame seeds, and crispy wonton strips to create this flavorful, high-protein dish. Even topped with dressing, this fast-food salad is still good for you.
Chipotle Salad with Chicken, Black Beans, Fajita Veggies, and Fresh Tomato Salsa
370 calories, 8.5 g fat (3 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat), 1,235 mg sodium, 34 g carbs (11 g fiber, 6 g sugar), 42 g protein
If you're a big Chipotle fan, you might know that a typical order carries about 1,070 calories. Luckily, you won't get anywhere near that number if you stick with this salad. As you make your way down the line, ask your server to throw chicken, black beans (their high levels of phytochemicals lower the risk of heart disease), fajita veggies, and fresh tomato salsa atop a bed of greens. You'll get a whopping 42 grams of muscle-building protein, too.
We use fresh tomato salsa as our dressing and skip the Chipotle Honey Vinaigrette. Chipotle's signature salad dressing adds an unhealthy 850 milligrams of sodium, 16 grams of fat, 12 grams of sugar, and 220 calories to your fast-food salad.
Cosi Smart Fit Salad
359 calories, 18 g fat (2.5 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat), 628 mg sodium, 43 g carbs, (13 g fiber, 16 g sugar), 8 g protein
Compared to the industry status quo, most of Cosi's salads are relatively light, especially in sodium. But their Smart Fit salad is a true nutritional superstar that stands out above the rest, packing an impressive lineup of produce: kale, romaine, avocado, carrots, corn, black beans, red peppers, scallions, and sweet potatoes. The orange spud is rich in vitamin A, a nutrient that aids immune function, vision, and cellular communication. And while this salad is higher in sugar than we typically like to see, it's also one of the best sources of fiber on this list, serving up 10 grams of your 28-gram recommended intake of fiber per day. The macronutrient will help your body digest the sugar more slowly, giving a steady stream of energy.
Chick-fil-A Market Salad with Grilled Chicken Filet
250 calories, 10 g fat (2.5 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat), 530 mg sodium, 16 g carbs (4 g fiber, 8 g sugar), 27 g protein
Chick-fil-A's Grilled Market Salad is the best bang for your nutritional buck in the fast-food salad world. This seriously healthy salad is made with berries, apples, red cabbage, carrots, and blue cheese, all on top of a bed of mixed greens. You can also top it off with harvest nut granola and a roasted nut blend for added crunch, fiber, protein, and healthy fats. We couldn't have designed a better muscle-up, slim-down food ourselves.
Jack in the Box Grilled Chicken Salad
230 calories, 8 g fat (3.5 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat), 590 mg sodium, 12 g carbs (4 g fiber, 5 g sugar), 30 g protein
For a salad this big, this is very low in calories, earning it a spot as one of the best fast-food salad orders.
RELATED: No-sugar-added recipes you'll look forward to eating.
The Worst Fast-Food Salads, Ranked from Worse to Worst
Subway Sweet Onion Chicken Teriyaki
409 calories, 3 g fat (0.5 saturated fat, 0 trans fat), 620 mg sodium, 30 g carbs (4 g fiber, 21 g sugar), 19 g protein
"With 'sweet' right there in the name, it's no surprise that this salad clocks in with significant sugar," says Garone. "However, it doesn't have a lot of saturated fat and is quite low-calorie. If you opt for this one, be sure to skip the soda in favor of water."
Chick-fil-A Grilled Market Salad with Chick-n-Strips
450 calories, 23 g fat (5 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat), 990 mg sodium, 31 g carbs (5 g fiber, 10 g sugar), 34 g protein
"This salad may be slightly high in sugar at  grams, but it has far lower sodium, saturated fat, and calories than Chick-Fil-A's other salads," says Garone. "And even though its ingredient list is long, you'll still get plenty of nutrients and antioxidants from its strawberries, apples, and almonds. However, it appears that the  grams of sugar listed do not include dressing, so be mindful when choosing how to dress this one."
Panera Fuji Apple Salad with Chicken
580 calories, 36 g fat (8 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat), 700 mg sodium, 38 g carbs (6 g fiber, 22 g sugar), 32 g protein
Panera is a great, healthy alternative to Burger King or McDonald's. The chain's fruit and fresh bread are great picks as sides in place of French fries. This salad, however, is a sneaky culprit with way too much sugar for our liking.
"This sweet salad is certainly tasty (it's one of my personal favorites!) but its dressing makes it pretty high-sugar. To cut back, ask to have this salad dressed only lightly," says Garone.
Wendy's Apple Pecan Chicken Salad with Dressing
520 calories, 23 g fat (7 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat), 1,025 mg sodium, 41 g carbs (7 g fiber, 30 g sugar), 39 g protein
Coming in as one of our worst fast-food salads is this one from Wendy's. Their Apple Pecan Chicken Salad "has almost as much sugar as a can of Coke," says Garone. The only positive? "Its [seven] grams of fiber and 39 grams of protein are a plus," she says.
Zaxby's The Grilled Cobb Zalad
700 calories, 36 g fat (14 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat), 1,910 mg sodium, 35 g carbs (6 g fiber, 7 g sugar), 61 g protein
It's not the absolute worst, but this Southern chicken chain's salad is delicious but far from nutritious. Buttered texas toast to accompany a salad is not the ideal meal when you want to eat clean.
"In terms of overall health, you could do worse at Zaxby's than this Grilled Cobb Salad. It's not as high in calories, saturated fat, or sodium as the Fried Cobb also on the menu," says Garone. "I don't consider its 7 grams of sugar a problem, as they come from fresh vegetables. I'd be more concerned about its [1,910] milligrams of sodium, which takes up almost 80% of the recommended daily value."
Steak and Shake Garden Fresh Salad with Fried Chicken and Honey French Dressing
760 calories, 47 g fat (16.5 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat), 1,700 mg sodium, 48 g carbs (7 g fiber, 14 g sugar), 39 g protein
Steak 'n Shake isn't the most popular fast-food spot, but if you get dragged there and are trying to eat healthily, you may want to stay away from this salad. "For a lower-sugar version of this salad, you can opt for blue cheese, lite Italian, or Ranch dressing instead of honey French," says Garone.
Chipotle salad with sofritas, cilantro brown rice, black beans, fajita veggies, fresh tomato salsa, guacamole, queso, roasted chili corn salsa, sour cream, chipotle honey vinaigrette
1,310 calories, 75 g fat (21.5 saturated fat, 0 trans fat), 3,505 mg sodium, 127 g carbs (26 g fiber, 31 g sugar), 35 g protein
Chipotle's site lets you build your salad and shows nutrition not just in numbers but in percentages, Garone says. It's great if you want to see the macros from each topping ahead of time. However, this spot packs in the highest amount of calories when you add things like queso and sour cream. With beans, rice, guacamole, and queso on this salad, you could trash the greens and make this a burrito for the same effect. Instead, make a homemade salad with these 7 Best Salad Ingredients for Weight Loss.