You might feel virtuous when ordering salad as a main course at a chain restaurant, but if you use all the toppings and dressing provided, you could have been better off ordering a bacon cheeseburger.
That's what we found when we looked at the nutrition of 20 meal-size salads, with and without toppings, from eight major fast-food and casual restaurant chains, including Burger King, McDonald's, Olive Garden, On the Border Mexican Grill & Cantina, Panera Bread, Sonic, and Wendy's. (For more information on and Ratings of fast-food eateries, read our Fast-food restaurant Buying Guide.
Some restaurants dole out as much as 4 tablespoons of dressing with a salad. For ranch, that could mean almost 300 calories, 30 grams of fat, and 500 milligrams of sodium (about 22 percent of the daily recommended limit).
When we previously rated salads from the restaurants named above, only five (from On the Border and Panera Bread) scored Very Good for nutrition, based on calories, fat, sodium, and fiber. But most did so only if undressed. Just one had Very Good nutrition with the dressing, the Citrus Chipolte Chicken salad with mango citrus vinaigrette from On the Border. It had about 300 calories and 3 grams of fat.
You can cut calories, fat, and sodium in any salad by limiting extras such as croutons, asking for dressing on the side so you can add a small amount, or using a lower-fat one.
For the latest food and drink reviews and ratings from our experts check out our Food and Drink Guide.