Fast food

Are salads always good and can you eat healthy food at fast-food joints in Dubai?

If you’re trying to start the New Year on a healthy note, salads will most likely form part of your new diet. But all is not as it seems. Put down that lettuce and look before you order.

Burger King
The tendercrisp chicken garden salad with honey mustard dressing contains more calories than a BK Whopper – a sizable 680. Avoid all the dressings and go for the tendergrill, rather than tendercrip, salad and you’ll only be taking in 240 calories. The Side Garden Salad only has 15 calories and 0 grams of fat. A large order of hash browns has an incredible 13 grams of trans fat and should be avoided, but the big one in the UAE to give a body swerve is their Tripple Whopper Meal. The triple Whopper with cheese on its own is one of the worst burgers you could order with a total of 1,230 calories and 82g of fat, but with a large fries and coke you will be taking on board a total of 2,020 calorie and over 100g of fat. It may only cost you Dhs23 but to burn that meal off the average male would have to walk 32km, or 80 times around an Olympic-sized running track.

Johnny Rockets
The garden salad is the one to go for here. At 271 calories it’s pretty safe ground and better for you than the other options, including the chicken club salad (529 calories), and the crispy chicken club salad (651 calories) both of which have more than the streamliner burger — which is the most healthy burger option on the menu. Key things on the menu to avoid are less obvious. While the Chili Size burger packs a serious 1,254 calories (which hikes up to 1,785 calories if you have the fries with it) is an obvious diet buster, watch out for the Big Apple shake. This bad boy packs 1,585 calories — that’s just under the same number of calories found in three Big Macs crammed into one drink. And for dessert watch out for the apple pie — it may be all-American but it has 930 calories, 59g of fat and 88g of carbs.

The clown-endorsed restaurant has two salads on offer. The chicken Caesar salad has 157 calories and four grams of fat — considerably less than the same titled dish at Chili’s. Their garden salad has 118 calories and eight grams of fat. However, it’s worth noting that Crispy Chicken Caesar Salad with low-fat dressing may sound healthy but it contains 16g of fat which is more than the standard cheeseburger.

The official website claims that ‘McDonald’s is recognised by the Government as a leading company that contributes to the UAE’s economy.’ It also contributes, however, to the obesity problems here and for branches of McDonalds in the Middle East, we get the McArabia with its 566 calories, which is one of the unhealthiest ‘sandwiches’ McDonalds produces worldwide — some 83 calories more than a Big Mac. With 280 calories the six-piece chicken nuggets is not too bad, unlike the Premium Breast Strips (five pieces) with creamy Ranch sauce as it packs a hefty 830 calories.

You’d think that the salads might put you on safe ground, but they’re not healthy. One serving of the Cobb, Caesar or Mesquite chicken salad each has more than the 2,400mg recommended limit of sodium per day. The chicken Caesar salad has over 1,000 calories which is more than their Old Timer burger with cheese. It’s also more than the sirloin steak, so foregoing the meat and having a salad isn’t really helping. There’s also less fat in the steak — 46g compared to 72g.

However, Chili’s have a section called ‘Guiltless Grill’ and put a halo in that section just to emphasise the goodness. There are only three options in the guiltless section and two of them (the chicken platter and chicken sandwich) have more than the recommended day’s worth of sodium. Hardly guiltless. The only remaining option, the ‘guiltless’ salmon dish, at 480 calories, is probably your best bet here.

The big dishes to avoid are the Texas fries with its 2,070 calories, 160g of fat and 3,730mg of sodium — and it’s only a starter. Incredibly, the boneless buffalo chicken salad has over 4,000mg of sodium, which is a great if you’re using a whole load of them to melt an icy driveway, but less than brilliant if you’re wanting to eat them whilst hoping your heart doesn’t explode before you reach your 40th birthday.

On the border
The new Mexican chain at Festival City may only have one outlet in Dubai (give it time) but its salads are well worth noting. Their Grande Taco Salad with Taco Beef contains a staggering 1,450 calories and 105g of fat. That’s three and a half times more fat than a Big Mac and more calories than seven Krispe Kreme doughnuts. Just for good measure, it has 2,410mg of sodium which is more than the daily recommended allowance, in one single dish. Yikes. In fact, four of their salads have over 1,000 calories and this is all before adding a dressing. And while hitting the kid’s menu might be an obvious way to reduce harmful intake (largely due to smaller portions) it’s worth noting that seven items in the section for children contain more than 30g of fat, including the bean and cheese nachos with 57g. That’s over 70 per cent of the daily recommended limit for an adult male.

The best salad to go for at Subway is the Chicken Breast Salad with fat-free Italian dressing, that has a more-than-reasonable 175 calories and 2.5g of fat. But there’s not a whole lot else that’s good for you and despite the idea they’re one of the healthier places to go there are big crimes on the menu. The 12-inch meatball marinara is the worst thing you can order here. The basic comes with 1,040 calories. Then they offer you a sauce and that can add up to another 108 calories. Then another 41 if you choose the honey oat bread instead of the standard wheat, taking it all to a grand total of 1,189 calories. It also has over 3,000mg of salt, which is frankly ridiculous for one sandwich — avoid this.

Romano’s Macaroni Grill
The Festival City fast food restaurant is a favourite with families for its child friendly approach, but it is less diet friendly, and one of the contributing factors to there being so many chubby children clogging up malls. Romano’s parmesan crusted chicken salad contains 1,190 calories and 63g of fat, which is the same calorific intake as just under six original glazed Krispy Kreme doughnuts and over five times as much fat. Frankly, this is staggering for a salad which you’re likely to choose in the belief it’s a healthier option. For the average man weighing about 76 kilos, you would have to walk around the mall for seven hours to burn off the calories that you had just taken on board if you eat this salad. While a seven hour mall-trawl might be standard for women, for guys it’s a huge burden to burn off a meal that wasn’t the steak.

For more news and views on men's health and fitness across Dubai pick-up a copy of the UAE's hot new monthly magazine Men's Fitness. The January issue is out NOW.

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