I admit it. I watched part of The Doctors television show the other day. I caught a segment on how Americans eat and one of the doctors was working at a fast food drive-through window attempting to get customers to choose a healthy meal over the unhealthy meal they were ordering. It did not go that well for him. Only one person on the segment out of four changed their meal after he told them how unhealthy their selection was in terms of calories, fat, and sodium levels.
What stuck with me was that one woman said that a cheeseburger was kind of like a salad. Her point was that salads have vegetables and cheeseburgers have vegetables. Therefore, they are similar. The audience laughed good-heartedly and I groaned and laughed.
Then I got to thinking… Is a fast-food salad really that much better of an option than a fast-food cheeseburger? I turned to the restaurant’s Web sites to make some comparisons.
Let me start by saying that there are other choices than what I have compared below. If the Wendy’s Garden Side Salad with no croutons and low-fat dressing (70 calories, 0 g fat, 190 mg sodium) or the ¾-pound Dave’s Hot ‘N Juicy Triple Burger (1060 calories, 67 g fat, 2020 mg sodium) are your choices then yes, the salad is much healthier. However, I have tried to pick middle of the road choices that I think people would make in these examples.
First, I compared a regular McDonald’s Cheeseburger to their Premium Southwest Salad with Grilled Chicken (with and without the creamy southwest dressing). As the table below shows, the salad with dressing, which is how most people would order it, has 90 more calories, 2 more grams of fat, and 240 more milligrams of sodium than the cheeseburger. If you can forego the dressing for the salad, you are only saving 10 calories, 4 grams of fat, and 100 milligrams of sodium versus the cheeseburger. That is not a huge difference.
Salad with dressing
Next, I moved to Wendy’s to compare the Jr. Cheeseburger Deluxe to their Apple Pecan Chicken Salad (with and without the pomegranate vinaigrette dressing). Again, the cheeseburger is the healthiest option in terms of calories, fat, and sodium. The salad with dressing has 210 more calories, 8 more grams of fat, and nearly 700 more milligrams of sodium. If you can go without the dressing, you will still have 100 more calories and 3 more grams of fat than the cheeseburger; but you will save almost 300 milligrams of sodium.
Jr. Cheeseburger Deluxe
Salad with dressing
I could continue; but I think the pattern is clear. The salad is not always the healthier choice at a fast food restaurant. We are still operating under the assumption that the salad is always healthier, or at least that audience and I were, and that is just not true! Now, there is a lot to consider when deciding which choice is healthier, such as the types of fats, cholesterol, and other nutrients such as the vitamins and minerals. But if I included all of that, you would have stopped reading by now…
· Avoid the fast food places altogether. You can make a yummy salad or a healthier cheeseburger at home using a small portion of lean beef, low-fat cheese, and lots of vegetables.
· If you cannot avoid the fast food restaurant, ask for the nutrition information before you order (many have handouts) or look at their Web site before you go. Most importantly, make your choice before you order at the register (where you can see the pictures and smell the food).
· Realize that what you think may be an unhealthy choice, may not be the unhealthiest choice on the menu. Sometimes, the cheeseburger may be better than the salad.
As always – enjoy your food!