This post from  Unreal Eats is Healthy Living’s original video series, where we go behind calorie counts and health claims to examine what’s really in the processed foods that scream loudest in our food environment.

You wouldn’t be amiss in thinking that a restaurant’s salad is a more nutritious and healthful option than their cheeseburger. But, in the case of fast food menus, that calculation doesn’t always pan out.

In our latest Unreal Eats, we explored the calorie and nutrition profiles of fast food salads to see if it really is possible to eat healthfully at some of our country’s most notoriously caloric restaurant chains.

We found that although fast food chains have put a big emphasis on developing “healthier” menus (see: McDonald’s “Favorites Under 400 Calories“), the nutrition content of salads turn out to be approximately the same as their counterparts without the health halo. In fact, in terms of calories and fat content, salads rarely fare much better than the unhealthy sandwiches and burgers we associate with fast food restaurants.

And that mirrors a 2012 study, which found that although fast food menus grew between 1996 and 2010 to include 53 percent more dishes and snacks, the average number of calories in each item hadn’t changed.

“Entree salads, which are increasing in number, can be bad, too. With fried chicken on top and regular dressing, they can have more calories than a burger,” lead researcher Katherine Bauer, an assistant professor in the department of public health at Temple University, told HealthDay at the time of the study’s release.

Which goes to show that adding lettuce won’t make your meal healthier.

Video & Editing by Amber Genuske
Reporting by Meredith Melnick
Producers: Laura Schocker, Meredith Melnick and Amber Genuske
Assistant: Rachael Grannell