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Are restaurant salads always the best choice?

March 18, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
Think ordering the salad on a restaurant's menu is the healthiest choice? Maybe, but maybe not. Consumer Reports took a look at salads you can eat as a meal, like the ones with added chicken or shrimp, and some of the results were surprising. Seems like nothing is healthier than a fresh salad.

Consumer Reports ShopSmart just evaluated salads from restaurant chains like Chili's, Panera Bread, and Olive Garden, as well as fast food joints like Wendy's and McDonald's.

"Our testers rated the salads on their overall nutrition," said Sue Perry, Consumer Reports ShopSmart. "Then we had our taste testers try the healthiest ones to see how good they are."

Turns out, a meal-based salad is not always the healthiest choice. For example, Chili's Quesadilla Explosion Salad packs 1400 calories and 88 grams of fat. That's almost as many calories as its Classic Bacon Burger.

And another salad from Chili's has almost as much sodium as the daily recommended intake.

But Consumer Reports did find some healthy salads that were tasty, even without a lot of dressing. One of the best is Panera's Barbecue Chopped Chicken Salad with Barbecue Sauce. It has 350 calories, 10 grams of fat, and 6 grams of dietary fiber - no dressing needed.

"Our taste testers said the barbecue sauce was plenty," said Sue Perry. "Plus skipping the dressing saves 140 calories and 11 grams of fat."

Another popular choice from Panera is the Asian Sesame Chicken Salad. Testers liked the sweet and sour dressing, but only used about half of it which will save you almost 50 calories and four grams of fat.

And On the Border's Citrus Chipotle Chicken Salad is still a nutritional winner -- even with all of its dressing. It has 290 calories, 3.5 grams of fat, and 11 grams of dietary fiber. And it tastes good, too.


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