Which Has Fewer Calories — a Ham and Cheese Sandwich or a Salad?


Do you feel virtuous when you order a salad for lunch?

So many of us think a salad, instead of a sandwich, is the way to go if we’re trying to be healthy and/or calorie conscious. Somehow we’ve embraced the idea that salads are always a light and healthy choice. Sometimes they are – but all too often they aren’t.

Sometimes a sandwich is the clear winner in terms of calories and fat. A ham and cheese sandwich ranges from 350 to 450 calories depending upon how much ham and cheese there really is, the type of bread, and whether it comes with mustard or mayo (and, of course, without fries or chips).

And sometimes the salad is a better choice — depending on what goes into it. The nutrient rich plant foods that make the base of a salad are high in antioxidants — especially the dark green, orange, and red vegetables. Most of the vegetables are full of fiber – good for your cholesterol, your GI functioning, and as a way to feel fuller for a longer period of time. Salads take a long time to eat – much longer than sandwiches or pizza that you can scarf down far more quickly.

The Green Base For Salads

The green stuff that’s the base for most salads isn’t the problem. Most greens are very low in calories and pretty nutritious.

  • 1 cup shredded Romaine: 8 calories, 1 gram fiber, 1 gram protein, 0 gram fat
  • 1 cup of Arugula: 6 calories, 1 gram fiber, 1 gram protein, 0 gram fat
  • 1 cup raw spinach: 7 calories, 1 gram of fiber, 1 gram protein
  • 1 cup chopped kale: 32 calories, 1 gram of fiber, 2 grams of protein, 0 gram fat

Calorie Savers

High calorie add-ons and dressings can make salads a “no thank you” choice.

  • Generally, at least ¼ of a cup (frequently more) of dressing is added to a tossed salad. A ladle of creamy dressing has about 360 calories and 38g of fat (a cheeseburger worth).  Vinaigrette dressing, usually 3 parts oil to one part vinegar, adds its own fat blast.
  • Tuna, macaroni, egg, and chicken salads, the holy grail of delis and salad bars, are loaded with mayonnaise. On average (for a half cup): chicken salad has around 208 calories, 16g of fat; tuna salad has 192 calories, 9g fat; tuna pasta salad has 250 calories, 9g fat; macaroni salad has 170 calories, 9g fat. (Remember, ½ cup is pretty small.)
  • Then there’s cheese. A ¼ cup (which is really small) serving of shredded cheddar has 114 calories, 9g fat; blue cheese has 80 calories, 6g fat;  feta has 75 calories, 6g fat.
  • Croutons and Crispy Noodles: ¼ cup of plain croutons has 31 calories, 0g fat; 1 serving of McDonald’s Butter Garlic Croutons has 60 calories, 1g fat; ¼ cup of crispy noodles has 74 calories, 4g fat
  • Dried cranberries: ¼ cup has 98 calories, 0g fat
  • Nuts and seeds: ¼ cup sunflower seeds: 210 calories, 19g fat; chopped walnuts:  193 calories, 18g fat
  • Avocado, ¼ cup: 58 calories, 5g fat
  • Bacon bits, 1 tablespoon: 25 calories, 2g fat
  • Bread (often used to sop up leftover dressing): 1 piece of French bread has 82 calories, 1g fat; 1 dinner roll, 78 calories, 2g fat. Dressing sopped up by the bread or roll:  lots of extra fat calories!

Should Salads Go On Your “Not a Good Choice” List?

Absolutely not. The healthy stuff in salad tastes great, fills you up, and is good for you.  There are plenty of ways to cut down on the fatty and caloric add-ons and still end up with a really tasty salad.  There are even good choices in fast food and chain restaurants (and plenty of really, really bad ones).

Sandwich Tip

Having a sandwich for lunch?

  • Substitute mustard for mayo and save 100 calories.
  • Leave off the slice of Swiss cheese for another 133 calories.
  • Ditch the two slices of bacon for another 84 calories.
  • Put your turkey, ham, or roast beef along with lettuce, tomato and onions on a whole grain pita (74 calories) instead of between two slices of rye (180 calories).
  • you’ve saved a total of 423 calories.
  • Walk to and from the deli or around the block several times and you’ve easily saved yourself 500 calories.

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