Is Caesar Salad Healthy? Nutrition, Benefits, Downsides

If you’ve bitten into a Caesar salad, you know it’s delicious and popular, but you may be wondering if it’s good for you. Even though it’s a salad, it does come with creamy dressing, cheese, and croutons.

In this article, we take a closer look at this beloved dish and provide more information about what Caesar salad is, what its nutrition profile looks like, and how to make it healthier.

Caesar salad’s origins are a bit of a question mark. While there’s some uncertainty around who invented the famous salad, we know the basic elements.

The salad typically includes romaine lettuce, croutons, Parmesan cheese, and a dressing made of anchovies, olive oil, garlic, lemon, egg yolks, and Dijon mustard.

But not all Caesar salads are created equal in today’s creative culinary world. Chefs and home cooks have been experimenting with the recipe, reinventing it in ways to simplify the process and in some cases, make it more nutritious.

Sometimes you’ll see kale and other lettuces used alongside or instead of romaine, or you’ll find croutons made from cornbread or a whole-grain ciabatta. You also might find additions, such as avocado, tomatoes, and bell peppers.

Caesar salad is often served with a protein source like grilled chicken, blackened salmon, nuts, or sautéed tofu.

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Caesar salad is traditionally made with romaine lettuce, croutons, Parmesan cheese, and a creamy dressing made with anchovies and egg yolks. You can add variety and nutrients by using other lettuces, vegetables, and lean proteins.

While the nutritional composition will vary based on the ingredients and dressing used, a prepackaged 100-gram serving (about 1 1/4 cups) of Caesar salad provides (1, 2, 3, 4, 5):

Traditional Caesar salads can be high in saturated fat, thanks to the dressing and cheese. Salads that use “light” dressing are lower comparatively, but can still be high in sodium.

Light Caesar dressings contribute fewer calories, so they can be good alternatives to full-fat versions.

Making your own dressing is also an option, and it allows you to choose your own ingredients and flavors.

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Adding chicken breast to your Caesar salad boosts protein. Consider using a “light” dressing to decrease calorie and fat content. Salad dressing in general increases sodium content, so keep portions small if you’re watching your sodium intake.

Caesar salad is typically served with its own dressing, which is called Caesar dressing. It’s made from anchovies, garlic, egg yolks, lemon juice, Dijon mustard, oil, salt and Parmesan cheese.

Several varieties of Caesar dressing are available, including regular, light, and fat-free. You can also find vegan dressings that are made with avocado oil or other plant-based oils instead of eggs. Homemade dressing is also an option.

Here are the nutritional profiles of 2 tablespoons (about 30 grams) of 3 types of Caesar dressing (4, 6, 7):

Nutrient comparison

What makes Caesar dressing so creamy?

Traditionally, the dressing gets its creaminess not from any cream, but from egg yolks, which get combined and emulsified with mustard and oil.

The use of raw egg yolks in traditional Caesar dressing can be a concern when it comes to food safety. That’s why you’ll find many modern versions don’t use them at all.

Raw eggs can contain salmonella, a bacteria that can be on the shell or inside of the egg that can make you sick.

If you want to make Caesar dressing with raw eggs but avoid this foodborne illness, it’s best to keep eggs refrigerated at 40°F (4°C) and to cook them until the whites and yolk are fully set. That happens when they reach about 160°F (71°C) (8).

Many of today’s commercially-available Caesar dressings use plain yogurt, kefir, or buttermilk to create the classic creaminess. Some versions add other emulsifiers, such as xanthan gum, to keep the dressing from separating.

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The creaminess in Caesar salad dressing comes from egg yolks emulsified with mustard and oil. To avoid salmonella concerns from raw eggs, some variations instead incorporate yogurt, kefir, or buttermilk for the same creamy texture.

Choosing a Caesar salad can be a filling way to get some extra vegetables into your day.

Salads provide opportunity for more vegetables

Consuming enough vegetables each day can be a challenge, but salads make it easier.

Caesar salad can be modified to maximize veggie intake by adding more veggies, such as carrots and cucumbers, or increasing the amount of lettuce.

More vegetables means more nutrients, including some essential vitamins and minerals many Americans are lacking. Those nutrients replenish and fuel your body, and they’re necessary for preventing illness and promoting good health (9).

Caesar salad can be satisfying

Caesar salads can be satisfying as a main dish or side. The fiber and water content in the lettuce and other added vegetables help you feel full.

Plus, the crunchy texture of the croutons and raw vegetables may make salads more enjoyable to eat, according to researchers (10).

Most salads are thought of as “health foods,” but that isn’t always the case.

Traditional Caesar salads are mostly lettuce and can lack variety

One of the main benefits of salads is that they offer an easy way to eat a lot of vegetables. Veggies are some of the best sources of many nutrients that your body needs — including fiber, vitamins, and minerals — while remaining low in fat and calories.

Eating a sufficient amount of vegetables is associated with lower risks of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, some forms of cancer, and other conditions (11, 12, 1314).

It’s recommended to consume around 400 grams of fruit and vegetables per day, which equals about 3 servings of veggies and 2 servings of fruit. Consuming a variety of fruits and vegetables can be the most beneficial (14).

Caesar salads, however, offer little in vegetable variety. While many salads provide a mix of vegetables, Caesar salad consists primarily of romaine lettuce.

Romaine is plenty healthy, but that lack of variety means you’ll be getting less of a mix of nutrients. We recommend modifying the recipe to add more vegetables if you eat Caesar salads often as a vegetable source.

Consider adding some of these healthy vegetables to your next Caesar salad to help boost your veggie intake.

It can be easy to overdo it on the dressing room

Caesar dressing is made with egg yolks, salt, and oil. These ingredients produce a dressing that is often high in saturated fat and sodium.

While light and fat-free Caesar dressings exist, they typically only reduce fat and not sodium.

Of course, enjoying Caesar salad dressing in moderation shouldn’t pose any health concerns.

Just remember that it can be easy to consume large amounts of it at once, which may lead to over-consuming saturated fat or sodium. Consider using smaller portions of dressing or making your own if you’re watching your intake of those nutrients.

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Choose your salad ingredients in a way that can maximize nutrition. Opt for a bigger portion or mix of lettuce, and add vegetables. Keep your salad dressing portion to 1–2 tablespoons if you want to keep saturated fat and sodium low.

It’s easy to make a few simple changes to boost the nutritional value of your Caesar salad.

Make your salad at home or adjust pre-made versions

Prepackaged salad kits make creating salads at home simple, but consider making a modification or two:

  • cutting back on dressing provided or mixing it with Greek yogurt to add protein
  • replacing croutons with a more nutrient-dense crunchy topping, such as nuts or seeds
  • buying a bag of mixed greens or other veggies to pair with it

Go heavy on the veggies

Yes, traditional Caesar salad only contains one vegetable: romaine lettuce. However, it’s your salad, so you can build it how you want.

Most vegetables taste great with it, such as tomatoes, baby lettuces, cucumbers, and radishes.

Those veggies are packed with vitamins, minerals, fiber, and other nutrients your body needs. At the same time, they’re low in calories, which means they’re considered nutrient-dense (15).

Add a source of protein

Tossing in some protein ensures your salad is satisfying, thanks to the boost of protein they provide (16).

Some lean protein options include:

Make homemade croutons

Croutons are delicious, but many store-bought varieties are made with refined grains and can be high in both saturated fat and sodium. Not to mention, serving sizes can be small — usually 6-7 croutons — so they can be easy to consume in excess.

Try making your own croutons with a loaf of whole-grain bread and a little olive oil. You could also skip the bread and use other crunchy toppings, such as roasted chickpeas or nuts, instead.

Go light on the dressing room

Too much salad dressing can overpower the flavors of the other, more nutritious ingredients in your salad and can contribute more calories, saturated fat, salt, or added sugar than you may have been planning on.

It’s best to stick with about 1 tablespoon (14 grams) of dressing per 1 1/2–2 cup (375–500 mL) serving of salad. And if you need a little extra flavor after that, consider a squeeze of lemon juice or add a bit lemon zest.

Making simple modifications like these can help you reduce your sodium and saturated fat intake, which can benefit heart health (17).

don’t skip the cheese

Parmesan cheese, the type traditionally used in Caesar salads, adds flavor and provides a bit of calcium.

A two-tablespoon serving of shredded Parmesan cheese provides 10% of the daily value (DV) of calcium, contributing to the goal of 1,300 milligrams per day (18).

Because the cheese is so flavorful, you won’t need a lot. A tablespoon or two is likely all you’ll need for your salad.

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Caesar salad can be more nutritious with a few modifications. Consider adding more vegetables, keeping dressing portions small, making your own croutons or using another crunchy topping instead, and adding some lean protein.

A classic Caesar salad can fit into any healthy eating plan, but modifications to make it more nutritious may be a good idea if you eat them often.

Choose a salad dressing that’s low in saturated fat and sodium and consider using a 1-tablespoon (14-gram) serving. Load up on lettuce and other veggies, and keep the croutons to a 1/2 ounce (14 grams) serving.

You could even swap the croutons for whole-grain version or another crunchy topping like roasted chickpeas or nuts.

If you want to make it a meal, add a lean protein such as chicken, salmon, or tofu.

Remember, Caesar salads can fit into your healthy diet without any of these modifications. But if you eat them often or are looking for ways to boost their nutritional profile, some small yet delicious adjustments may help.

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