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How Much Difference Does it Make to Turn Down That Side of Fries?

Just because salad is greener, it doesn’t mean it’s leaner

Every January, most of us resolve to get healthier, workout more, and most of all, eat better. So, on the next lunch trip to our favorite chain restaurant, voice ringing with smugness, we swap out the fries from our burger with a menu salad. Because a side of fresh greens must be healthier than a large side of deep fried, processed potato sticks, right?

But not so fast: According to this CBC News report, a crispy chicken and baby kale salad from McDonald’s is stuffed with more calories (730) than a large order of French fries (560), or even a Double Big Mac (680). Add a cheeseburger and medium iced tea to the equation, and you’ve ramped up lunch to nearly 1,200 calories. Now, you’d be smart to cut the Asiago Caesar dressing, which is 210 calories by itself, but you’re still taking on half the recommended daily caloric value in a single meal.

Kale or no kale, you won’t meet your fitness goals that way.

The fact of the matter is this: Swapping out a not-so-lean side of greens isn’t enough, especially if you’re taking it with a burger and a sugary soft drink. Nutrition and fitness stem from a basic formula: To lose weight, you have to expend more calories than you consume. Which means that, rather than just swapping out the French fries for the kale salad, you need to make the salad your whole meal. And choose the grilled chicken over the crispy option (it’s 130 calories less) and either go for the low-fat dressing, or better yet, skip the dressing altogether.

If you really want to reach your health and fitness goals, though, you’re better off trying to avoid food like this in the first place. The food from fast food chains like McDonald’s is loaded not only with calories, but with fat, cholesterol and sodium. Take that Double Big Mac, for example: As we mentioned, it’s 680 calories, but it also houses 38 grams of fat (59 percent of your daily value); 120 milligrams of cholesterol; and 1,310 milligrams of sodium (55 percent of your daily value).

And that devious kale salad? Even with the grilled chicken swapped in for the crispy, it’s still packing 18 grams of fat, 135 milligrams of cholesterol and 990 milligrams of sodium. “By eating that salad, you’re getting your sodium for the day,” Toronto registered dietitian, Shauna Lindzon, told the CBC..

So, yeah.

If you’re serious about getting fitter, don’t just swap out the French fries — swap out the burger and beverage, too. Look for salad bars that have a la carte ingredients you can mindfully choose, rather than the processed, premade greens. And most of all, avoid the heavy, creamy dressings like Caesar and blue cheese. Sure, they’re tasty, but with all the calories and fat they have, you may as well just keep the French fries and throw them on top of the greens.