A common entrée in restaurants, Caesar Salad seem to be enjoyed by those who usually hate salads. It’s creamy, crunchy and Parmesan-y, but it’s still salad. There is, after all, lettuce in there.


Let’s start with the croutons. These are traditionally made with cubed pieces of bread, spiced and buttered and then baked. The stuff you find in restaurants is made with the usual offenders: refined wheat flour, partially hydrogenated soybean and/or cottonseed oil, high-fructose corn syrup and wheat gluten. It doesn’t matter if it’s whole wheat, organic or baked: Croutons add unnecessary calories, salt and potentially harmful compounds to your Caesar salad. If you like the crunch of croutons, add almond slivers or chopped walnuts instead.

As for the cheese, Parmesan is actually very natural, very healthy and very consistent — if it’s the real stuff. Parmesan is the English name for Parmigiano-Reggiano, and it should contain just three ingredients: milk, salt and rennet. To add anything else would be illegal in Europe, where the name and formula are protected by law. But in the States, the rules are more lax and manufacturers can name any old powdered processed cheese “Parmesan.” Kraft 100% Grated Parmesan Cheese, for example, contains an additional three ingredients that would be shunned in Europe: cellulose powder, potassium sorbate and cheese cultures. It’s not that it’s particularly bad for you — it’s that it’s not the real thing.

The dressing, not surprisingly, is the major contributor to calories and fat. Traditional Caesar dressing is made with real Parmesan cheese, white wine vinegar, anchovies, salt, garlic and olive oil. The commercial stuff uses vegetable oil (corn, Canola or soybean), sugar, stabilizers and preservatives. Two tablespoons of dressing contains 163 calories and 17 grams of fat, but most places add significantly more that. To reduce the damage, ask for the dressing on the side.

If you’re ordering salads to keep your waistline in check, Caesar salads are not the way to go. Choose something with more vegetables and less creamy dressing.