Virtual Health Coach Finds Chain Restaurant Salads Can Top Burgers in Calories

If you choose salads because they're healthy, check those calories. The virtual health coach Noom Coach reports that toppings like fried chicken and fatty dressings can push calorie counts of some popular salads past those of signature burgers.

Noom recently conducted an analysis of every fast-food and restaurant chain in the United States, looking to see which salads had the most calories. The calorie data were compiled from Noom’s proprietary database, which contains more than 58,000 menu items from 900 restaurant chains.

More than 65 million consumers currently log their meals, snacks, drinks, exercise and calorie intake on Noom’s digital platform. As part of this analysis, Noom’s data scientists cross-referenced their food database with the most popular salads logged by Noom users.

Noom’s researchers discovered roughly a quarter of the most popular salads logged on Noom contain more calories than the average fast-food hamburger.

In many cases, salads served at chains touted as healthy options, like Chopt and Panera Bread, contained more calories than similar salads served at fast-food chains, like Burger King, Wendy’s and McDonald’s.

Here’s a closer look at the top 10 most caloric salads logged in Noom Coach.

  • O-Charley’s California Chicken Salad, Full: 1,020 calories
  • Taco Bell Fiesta Taco Salad — Beef: 760 calories
  • Denny’s Prime Rib Cobb Salad: 740 calories
  • Cosi Cobb Salad: 739 calories
  • Taco Bell Fiesta Taco Salad — Chicken: 720 calories
  • Zaxby’s The Grilled Cobb Zalad: 680 calories
  • Chopt Classic Cobb Salad: 680 calories
  • Panera Bread Southwest Chile Lime Ranch Salad With Chicken: 650 calories
  • Wendy’s BBQ Ranch Chicken Salad: 590 calories
  • Panera Bread Fuji Apple Salad: 570 calories

Salads vs. Burgers Comparison

Noom’s research team also compared the calorie count of the most popular salads logged on Noom against fast-food signature burgers. According to the research, the most popular salad with the most calories is the Taco Bell Fiesta Taco Salad with Beef, which contains 760 calories. That’s more calories than a Big Mac and an ice-cream cone from McDonald’s.

The Wendy’s Apple Pecan Chicken Salad was among the top five salads that were logged on Noom. It contains 453 calories, which is more calories than the Wendy’s Jr. Bacon Cheeseburger, Jr. Cheeseburger Deluxe, Jr. Hamburger, Jr. Cheeseburger and Double Stack.

The Most Caloric Salads Branded as “Healthy”

Chopt, Cosi and Panera Bread frequently brand themselves as healthy, fast-casual alternatives, but Noom discovered that many of their salads actually contain more calories than a Big Mac. Among the findings:

  • Cosi (Cobb Salad) 739 calories vs. Wendy’s (Dave’s Single) 570 calories
  • Wendy’s (Spicy Chicken Caesar Salad) 720 Calories vs. Burger King (Whopper) 630 calories
  • Chopt (Texas Po’Boy) 680 calories vs. Shake Shack (Single) 550 calories
  • Panera (Fuji Apple Salad) 570 calories vs. McDonald’s (Big Mac) 540 calories

The Cobb Salad Analysis

The Cobb salad is a frequently logged high-calorie offering at several different restaurant chains. This is due to the combination of the salad’s high-calorie ingredients, such as bacon, egg, avocado and blue cheese. Consumers can reduce the overall calories in this usually high-calorie salad by choosing only one or two of the high-fat toppings.

Asking for salad dressing on the side can also save calories. Many restaurant chains frequently offer a reduced-fat version of the dressing. At Cosi, it can make the difference between 94 calories and 283 calories.

The Chicken Caesar Salad Analysis

Fried chicken is frequently one of the calorie culprits that top fast-food chain salads. The Wendy’s Spicy Chicken Caesar Salad contains 720 calories. More than half of those calories come from the fried chicken breast (270 calories) and Caesar dressing (160 calories).

Consumers can cut the chicken’s calorie content in half by substituting the fried chicken with a more healthy grilled chicken. The Wendy’s grilled chicken breast contains only 130 calories.

Similarly, more than half the calories in the Chopt Texas Po’Boy come from just the FreeBird panko-fried chicken. Consumers can substitute the 380-calorie fried chicken for the 150-calorie FreeBird grilled chicken.

Tools to Help Consumers Count Calories

Panera Bread restaurants allow consumers to order on a tablet that provides the calorie count in real time. As customers add or subtract items to a salad, they can see the actual number of calories they will consume with their changes.

Noom Coach also allows consumers to see the actual calories in real time on their phone. Noom’s psychology-focused weight-loss program not only guides users to the better menu choices in the moment but also helps them change their behavior so they can attain lasting weight loss.