What is the healthiest McDonald’s salad?

McDonald’s offers a variety of salad options on their menu that can make it difficult to determine which one is the healthiest choice. With some key nutrition facts in mind, we can analyze the different salads and uncover which McDonald’s salad reigns supreme for nutritional value.

What salads does McDonald’s offer?

McDonald’s currently offers the following salad options:

  • Southwest Salad
  • Bacon Ranch Salad
  • Premium Bacon Ranch Salad
  • Premium Southwest Salad
  • Side Salad
  • Fiesta Salad with Chicken

Each of these salads varies in ingredients and nutritional content. To determine which salad is healthiest, we’ll need to dive deeper into the nutrition facts for each option.

What are the nutrition facts for McDonald’s salads?

Here is an overview of the basic nutrition facts for each standard McDonald’s salad without any added dressing:

Salad Calories Total Fat (g) Sodium (mg) Carbs (g) Protein (g)
Southwest Salad 260 13 780 13 14
Bacon Ranch Salad 270 18 730 12 14
Premium Bacon Ranch Salad 320 21 960 13 21
Premium Southwest Salad 300 17 880 13 20
Side Salad 20 0 15 5 1
Fiesta Salad with Chicken 260 11 850 23 24

As we can see, calories, fat, sodium, and other nutrition content varies quite a bit across the different salads. The Premium options tend to be higher in calories, fat, and sodium compared to the regular Southwest and Bacon Ranch.

What are the key ingredients in each McDonald’s salad?

It’s also helpful to look at the key ingredients that go into each McDonald’s salad:

  • Southwest Salad: Lettuce blend, black beans, tomatoes, corn, Monterey cheddar cheese, chili lime tortilla strips, Southwest seasoning
  • Bacon Ranch Salad: Lettuce blend, baby spinach, red leaf lettuce, carrots, grape tomatoes, Monterey Jack cheese, bacon pieces, ranch dressing
  • Premium Bacon Ranch Salad: Lettuce blend, baby spinach, red leaf lettuce, baby kale, grapes, bacon pieces, Parmesan cheese crisps, ranch dressing
  • Premium Southwest Salad: Lettuce blend, baby spinach, baby kale, red cabbage, tomatoes, black beans, cheddar cheese, chili lime tortilla strips, Southwest seasoning
  • Side Salad: Lettuce blend, carrots, tomatoes
  • Fiesta Salad with Chicken: Lettuce blend, grilled chicken, pico de gallo, cheese blend, roasted corn & black bean salsa, avocado lime ranch dressing

Reviewing the main ingredients gives us a glimpse into the nutrition profile of each salad. For example, Premium options have more higher fat ingredients like bacon pieces, Parmesan crisps, and dressing. Fiesta Salad seems nutrient-dense with lean grilled chicken and vegetables.

Which dressing and toppings should you choose?

Dressings and additional toppings can dramatically impact the nutrition facts for McDonald’s salads. Some healthier dressing and topping options include:

  • Balsamic vinaigrette dressing
  • Lite Italian dressing
  • Fat-free honey mustard dressing
  • Apple slices as topping
  • Extra tomatoes or other veggies instead of cheese, bacon, croutons, etc.

On the other hand, some of the unhealthiest options include:

  • Ranch dressing
  • Creamy caesar dressing
  • Extra cheese, bacon bits, avocado
  • Fried onion crisps, tortilla strips
  • Sugary dried fruits like craisins

Choosing a sensible low-calorie dressing and getting extra servings of vegetables can help maximize the nutritional value of your McDonald’s salad.

How does McDonald’s nutrition info compare to other restaurants?

To better evaluate the healthiness of McDonald’s salads, it’s useful to see how their nutrition compares to salads from other popular restaurants:

Restaurant Salad Calories Total Fat (g) Sodium (mg) Carbs (g) Protein (g)
McDonald’s Southwest Salad 260 13 780 13 14
Panera Caesar Salad 490 17 980 40 22
Subway Sweet Onion Chicken Teriyaki Salad 210 3.5 910 29 21
Wendy’s Apple Pecan Chicken Salad 490 21 1280 44 32

Compared to other popular chains, McDonald’s salads tend to be lower in calories, fat, and carbs. Of course nutrition varies depending on toppings and dressing, but in general McDonald’s salad nutrition appears more reasonable.

What are expert recommendations for the healthiest McDonald’s salad?

Nutrition experts tend to recommend these strategies for creating the healthiest McDonald’s salad:

  • Choose grilled chicken as the protein if possible for the lowest fat option
  • Opt for vinaigrette dressing or low-fat balsamic to avoid excessive calories
  • Load up on veggie toppings like tomatoes, onions, peppers instead of cheese
  • Stick to the standard salads and avoid fried Premium options
  • Pair with apple slices or a yogurt parfait as a side for more nutrients
  • Split the salad and dressing into two meals for smaller portion sizes

Following these tips can help reduce calories, fat, and sodium while maximizing the nutritional benefit of your McDonald’s salad.

The healthiest McDonald’s salad

Taking all of these factors into account, expert consensus is that the Fiesta Salad with Grilled Chicken is likely the healthiest standard McDonald’s salad choice.

Here’s a recap of why the Fiesta Salad with Grilled Chicken comes out on top:

  • Lean grilled chicken provides filling protein (24g)
  • Lower in sodium (850mg) than most salads
  • Higher fiber (4g) from vegetables including corn and black beans
  • No inflammatory saturated fat from bacon or fried tortilla strips
  • Lower calorie avocado lime ranch dressing option
  • Nutrient-rich blend of lettuce, corn, peppers, avocado

The Fiesta Salad with Grilled Chicken has a strong nutritional profile with protein, fiber and antioxidants. As long as you avoid sugary, fatty add-ons like tortilla strips or extra dressing, it can be a reasonably healthy fast food choice.

Building the healthiest customized McDonald’s salad

While the Fiesta Salad ranks as the healthiest standard McDonald’s salad, you can make any of their salads healthier with the right customizations:

  • Base: Garden Side Salad
  • Dressing: Balsamic vinaigrette
  • Protein: Grilled chicken
  • Toppings: Extra tomatoes, onion, spinach leaves, apple slices
  • No croutons, cheese, tortilla strips, etc.

With the right mix and match of salad ingredients, you can create a McDonald’s salad with under 225 calories, 10g fat, 600mg sodium and 5g fiber.

Should you eat McDonald’s salads for weight loss?

While McDonald’s salads can be customized into a healthier meal, they may not be the best choice for weight loss purposes.

Some downsides of McDonald’s salads for weight loss:

  • Calorie counts can still be high after dressing and toppings
  • Sodium content contributes to water retention and bloating
  • Sugary dressings and toppings can spike blood sugar
  • Doesn’t provide much satiety compared to meals with fiber, protein, and healthy fats
  • Portions may be large enough for multiple meals

You’re often better off building your own salad or eating a home-cooked meal for weight loss purposes. But in a pinch, a customized McDonald’s salad can be a “healthier-for-you” fast food choice.

Healthiest salad dressing, toppings and sides at McDonald’s

To make the optimal healthy McDonald’s salad, here are the best salad dressings, toppings and side options:

Healthiest McDonald’s Salad Dressings

  • Newman’s Own Low Fat Balsamic Vinaigrette (45 calories)
  • Newman’s Own Caesar Dressing (70 calories)
  • Newman’s Own Lighten Up Italian (45 calories)
  • Fat Free Catalina (10 calories)

Healthiest McDonald’s Salad Toppings

  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Sliced onions
  • Sliced cucumbers
  • Apple slices
  • Extra lettuce or spinach

Healthiest McDonald’s Salad Side Options

  • Cuties mandarin oranges
  • Fruit & Maple Oatmeal
  • Apple slices
  • Yogurt parfait
  • Low fat milk or mineral water

Pairing your salad with healthy sides and avoiding heavy dressings or fried toppings is key for nutrition.

Health risks of McDonald’s salads

While McDonald’s salads can be a healthier option, there are still some potential health risks to consider:

  • High sodium: Most salads contain over 700mg sodium, increasing blood pressure.
  • Hidden sugars: Some dressings and toppings like sugary dried fruits boost sugar.
  • Trans fats: Small amounts of trans fats may still exist in certain fried toppings.
  • Foodborne illness: Ingredients like chicken increase risk of contamination.
  • Allergens: Milk, eggs, wheat, soy in salad ingredients may cause reactions.

For people with high blood pressure, diabetes, food allergies or risks of foodborne illness, caution is warranted with McDonald’s salads.

Healthier fast food salad options beyond McDonald’s

If you’re looking for fast food salads beyond McDonald’s, here are some of healthiest options to consider from other chains:

Panera Bread

  • Green Goddess Cobb Salad with Chicken
  • Fuji Apple Chicken Salad
  • Modern Greek Salad with Quinoa


  • Grilled Market Salad
  • Grilled Nuggets Side Salad


  • Salad bowls with light dressing
  • Veggie Delite Salad
  • Rotisserie Chicken Salad

Building your own salad bowl at places like Chop’t, Sweetgreen or salad bars can also be great healthier options.

Are McDonald’s salads vegetarian or vegan?

None of the standard McDonald’s salads are fully vegetarian or vegan. However, you can customize a vegan McDonald’s salad by:

  • Choosing the Side Salad or Garden Side Salad base
  • Using oil & vinegar or balsamic vinaigrette dressing
  • Adding extra veggies for toppings
  • Omitting cheese, chicken or bacon pieces

With the right modifications, vegans can build a plant-based McDonald’s salad. But specialty chains like Sweetgreen may have better dedicated vegetarian and vegan options.

Low carb McDonald’s salad options

Here are some tips for ordering a lower carb McDonald’s salad:

  • Avoid sugary dressings like ranch, honey mustard or creamy caesar
  • Skip croutons, tortilla strips or sugary dried fruit toppings
  • Order a grilled chicken salad instead of crispy chicken
  • Choose avocado ranch or vinaigrette dressing
  • Add extra vegetables for volume and fiber

The Bacon Ranch Salad or Southwest Salad with simple modifications can be a reasonably low carb fast food choice.


When dining at McDonald’s, the Fiesta Salad with Grilled Chicken ranks as the healthiest standard salad option. But you can also build your own nutritious salad with the right base, dressing, toppings and sides. While not ideal for every day, McDonald’s salads can be a “healthier-for-you” fast food pick in a pinch.

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