Sweetgreen boasts one of the healthiest fast-casual menus on the market. All of their ingredients are locally sourced, they slice their veggies in-house, and they load their salads with nutritious and natural foods. However, when you are going to pick up your healthy salad for lunch, are you making the right choice?
Luckily for us, Sweetgreen is extremely transparent about their nutritional info. They display the calorie content of their salads in plain view and reveal all of their ingredients — it seems they have nothing to hide.
So what about the nutritional content of these options? If you’re trying to be healthy with your salad for lunch, which menu option is best? The salads themselves range from low-calorie to high-calorie, but we know by now that calories don’t mean everything when it comes to nutrition.
We asked nutritionist Liz Weiss to weigh in. “For a salad to be healthy, fill your bowl with lots of fresh, crunchy vegetables, and don't shy away from fat,” she advised The Daily Meal. “Healthy fats found in foods like avocados, olives, nuts, seeds, and oil-based salad dressings can boost your body's ability to absorb certain antioxidants as well as the fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K) found in fruits and vegetables.”
Essentially, if you want to absorb the nutrients in fruits and vegetables, fats are a must.
Protein was also heavy on the list. “Choose nutrient-rich sources of protein including beans, hard-boiled eggs, chicken, salmon, shrimp, and lean beef,” Weiss explained.
Basically, you don’t want an excess of any one thing, but you want to make sure your salad has everything: carbs, fats, proteins, and a rainbow of vegetables.
Based on this expert advice, we went through Sweetgreen’s menu options and ranked the top five for you, with the healthiest at number one.
#5 Hummus Tahina
Sweetgreen took deep-fried falafel and healthified it — their version is baked and contains whole, unprocessed chickpeas. The hummus and yogurt-based dressing keeps the healthy fat content at a happy medium while adding a ton of Mediterranean flavor.
However, there is one major ingredient this salad is missing: protein. With only sixteen grams in the huge salad, one can’t help but be disappointed with this nutritional omission. Additionally, the iceberg lettuce the salad builds off of is lacking in the important nutrients contained in Sweetgreen’s other leafy green bases.
#4 Pesto Portobello
Pesto is the best-o as far as healthy fats are concerned. And the arugula and mushrooms add a sharp flavor kick to this nutrient-loaded bowl.
However, this salad is packed with extra servings of carbohydrates. According to U.S. dietary guidelines, carbohydrates should comprise about half of the calories in your meal. In the case of this salad, they make up well over half, with quinoa, corn, and chickpeas adding them on — bringing the calorie total of this meal all the way up to 775. With only 310 of these calories coming from the healthy fats and protein in the bowl, this option isn’t ideal.
Beets, bean sprouts, mushrooms, kale, and basil: These crunchy and earthy vegetables fill this salad with vitamins and minerals like iron and vitamin A.
Kale is an ideal green to add as a base to salad because of its hidden protein content. However, we wish this salad had even more. While protein does come with tofu, the salad chain only sprinkles on a few cubes — resulting in a far lower profile of protein in this particular salad.
By contrast, the only dominant source of fats is the pesto vinaigrette. We wish this salad had more healthy fats (did somebody say pine nuts?!) and cut the starchy corn.
#2 Harvest Bowl
While this bowl is slightly higher in calories — 705 for the entire bowl — all of these calories pile on nutritional value. Wild rice and sweet potatoes are two of the healthiest slow-digesting carbohydrates, chicken adds protein, and toasted almonds give this salad a healthy fat-filled crunch. We’re not surprised this one is the most popular order in the Northeast.
However, Weiss warns, “Go easy on the dressing to keep calories in check.” The almonds and the dressing are both healthy sources of fats — so there’s no need to go crazy on servings of both.
#1 Guacamole Greens
This classic has been on the menu for quite some time — and with good reason. A moderate amount of calories and a zing of lime flavor make this salad satisfying every time. The chicken adds a solid source of protein while tomatoes and greens load it with essential micronutrients.
It also contains a healthy portion of a health-boosting favorite: avocado. “Luscious avocados are filled with healthy monounsaturated fats,” Weiss says.
Plus, a salad that tastes like chips and salsa? We’re so down.