Skip to Content

Is McDonald’s Southwest salad healthy?

McDonald’s Southwest salad contains a mix of romaine lettuce, black beans, tomatoes, corn, roasted red peppers, poblano peppers, tortilla strips and a southwest crunchy chicken topping. The salad is served with Newman’s Own Southwest dressing. With its mix of vegetables, beans, chicken and a tangy dressing, the Southwest salad seems like it would be a healthy option from McDonald’s. However, with the tortilla strips, cheese and dressing, the salad ends up being high in calories, fat, sodium and carbs.

Nutrition Facts

Here are the nutrition facts for a McDonald’s Southwest salad with grilled chicken and dressing (values are for a full salad):

Calories 530
Total Fat 24 g
Saturated Fat 4.5 g
Trans Fat 0 g
Cholesterol 80 mg
Sodium 1530 mg
Total Carbs 44 g
Dietary Fiber 7 g
Sugars 8 g
Protein 37 g

With 530 calories, 24g fat, 1530mg sodium and 44g carbs, this Southwest salad is quite high in calories, fat and sodium compared to other salad options. A salad with grilled chicken, veggies and dressing would typically have around 300-400 calories.

High in Calories

At 530 calories for the full salad, the Southwest salad is very high in calories compared to a typical salad. The main culprits for the high calorie count are the crispy chicken, cheese, tortilla strips and dressing which all add a significant number of calories. A salad with grilled chicken and light dressing would have closer to 300-400 calories.

If you’re watching your calorie intake, eating the full Southwest salad accounts for over 25% of the average person’s daily 2000 calorie needs. It’s best to limit high calorie menu items like this as part of a healthy diet.

High in Fat

In addition to being high in calories, the Southwest salad is also high in fat at 24g total fat for the full salad. The crispy fried chicken, cheese, and dressing provide almost all of the fat grams.

The American Heart Association recommends limiting total fat intake to 25-35% of total calories. So in a 2000 calorie diet, total fat intake should be 55-78g per day. With 24g of fat in just the salad alone, it’s using up a substantial portion of the recommended daily limit on fat.

Choosing grilled chicken over crispy chicken would lower the fat content somewhat. But the Southwest salad is still one of the higher fat menu options at McDonald’s.

High in Saturated Fat

The Southwest salad contains 4.5g of saturated fat, which is almost a quarter of the American Heart Association’s recommended daily limit on saturated fat of 16g or less.

Saturated fat has been linked with increased cholesterol levels and greater risk of heart disease. It’s recommended to limit intake of saturated fat from sources like cheese, meat and creamy dressings.

Going for grilled chicken over crispy chicken would reduce some of the saturated fat. But the cheese and dressing still contribute saturated fat as well.

Very High in Sodium

At 1530mg of sodium, the Southwest salad is extremely high in sodium accounting for over half of the daily 2300mg limit. The crispy chicken, cheese, beans, and dressing all contain high amounts of sodium.

Consuming high sodium foods regularly can increase risk of high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke. It’s important to limit sodium intake to the recommended limits as part of an overall healthy diet.

Choosing grilled chicken and going light on the dressing would reduce the sodium content somewhat. But the beans, chicken and cheese still contribute high amounts of sodium regardless.

High in Carbs

With 44g net carbs per salad, the carb content is on the higher side, mainly due to the tortilla strips.

A low carb diet recommends consuming less than 130g carbs per day. So the 44g of carbs in just this one menu item takes up a substantial portion of the daily total carb amount.

Going without the tortilla strips would reduce the carb content to a more moderate level. But overall the Southwest salad is one of the higher carb salad options on the McDonald’s menu.

Low in Fiber

Despite being high in net carbs, the Southwest salad is relatively low in fiber with just 7g per salad.

Getting adequate fiber is important for digestive health, cholesterol levels and satisfying hunger. The daily fiber recommendation for adults is 25-30g per day.

So the 7g of fiber in the salad is providing around a quarter of the recommended daily fiber intake. Adding some additional veggies to the salad could help increase the fiber content.


While the Southwest salad is high in calories, fat and sodium, it does provide a good amount of vitamins, minerals and protein:

Vitamin A 15% DV
Vitamin C 45% DV
Calcium 8% DV
Iron 15% DV
Potassium 15% DV
Protein 37g

The salad provides high amounts of vitamin C from the tomatoes and peppers. It also contains 15% DV of iron and potassium, mostly coming from the beans.

And with 37g of protein, the grilled chicken provides plenty of satisfying protein to help you stay full.

So although it’s high in calories and sodium, the Southwest salad does provide a good vitamin and mineral boost.

Healthier Customization Options

If you want to make the Southwest salad a bit healthier, here are some customization options:

– Choose grilled chicken instead of crispy chicken to reduce fat and sodium

– Skip the tortilla strips to lower carbs

– Ask for dressing on the side and use just a little to lower calories, fat and sodium

– Add extra veggies like onions, spinach or avocado to increase fiber

– Opt for balsamic vinaigrette instead of southwest dressing to reduce sodium and increase flavor

Making some of these simple swaps can help improve the nutrition profile of the Southwest salad. While it will still be relatively high in sodium, calories and fat can be reduced substantially.

Healthier Salad Options at McDonald’s

Here are some healthier salad options at McDonald’s that are lower in calories, fat and sodium:

Salad Calories Fat (g) Sodium (mg)
Side Salad 15 0 5
Grilled Chicken Salad 250 8 730
Fiesta Salad with Grilled Chicken 340 12 790
Caesar Salad with Grilled Chicken 340 19 790

The side salad with lettuce and a few vegetable toppings is very low in calories, fat and sodium.

The grilled chicken salad and fiesta salad also have much lower stats for calories, fat and sodium compared to the Southwest salad. They make for healthier and lighter options.

The Caesar salad is a bit higher in fat due to the dressing, but still contains far less fat and calories than the Southwest salad.

Healthier Dressing Options

To make any McDonald’s salad healthier, opt for low-fat dressing options like:

– Balsamic vinaigrette
– Reduced-fat Italian
– Low-fat balsamic vinaigrette
– Red wine vinaigrette

These options are lower in calories, fat, and sodium compared to creamy dressings like ranch, Caesar, and Southwest. Using dressings sparingly can also help reduce the calorie and sodium content.

Is the Southwest Salad Healthy Overall?

The McDonald’s Southwest salad does contain some healthy ingredients like romaine lettuce, vegetables, beans and grilled chicken. However, the additions of cheese, crispy tortilla strips, fried chicken and creamy southwest dressing make it quite high in calories, fat, saturated fat, sodium and carbs for a salad.

Customizing the salad by choosing grilled chicken, skipping tortilla strips, using just a drizzle of dressing and adding extra veggies can help improve the nutrition profile. But even then, the sodium content remains quite high.

Overall, the Southwest salad would not be considered a truly healthy meal option, especially if eaten frequently. Going with lighter salad options and dressings can make for a more well-balanced McDonald’s salad. Enjoying the higher calorie Southwest salad only occasionally as part of an overall healthy diet would be recommended.


The McDonald’s Southwest salad does contain some nutritious ingredients like lettuce, beans, peppers, and grilled chicken. However, the additions of crispy chicken, cheese, tortilla strips and creamy dressing give it a high calorie, fat, and sodium content compared to typical salads. Customizing the salad can help reduce calories, fat, and sodium somewhat. But the Southwest salad would still not be considered a very healthy meal choice, especially for regular consumption as part of an overall healthy diet. Going with lighter salad options like the side salad or grilled chicken salad more often would be a healthier recommendation.