Chicken salad is a versatile dish that typically uses chopped or shredded chicken as the main ingredient and comes together with a binder such as mayonnaise, sour cream, yogurt, or a vinegar-based dressing.

Many people undoubtedly consider it delicious, but because it sometimes uses higher-calorie ingredients, you might wonder if chicken salad is good for you.

Absolutely — chicken salad can be healthy. Just how healthy comes down to the ingredients used, the portion eaten, and the other foods it’s paired with to make a meal.

This article explores how chicken salad can affect your health, the nutritional content of chicken salad, and some suggestions for making a healthier chicken salad.

chicken salad on a bed of greens on a white plateShare on Pinterest
Cameron Whitman/Stocksy United

The first thing that may come to mind when you hear “chicken salad” is the classic creamy American-style dish that dates back to the mid-1800s.

This version of chicken salad often uses a standard set of ingredients like boiled eggs, celery, apples, grapes, and almonds or pecans. These staples are combined with cooked chicken and typically held together with mayonnaise.

Chicken salad can have many different flavor profiles and ingredients mixed in. It’s typically served cold and made with cooked chicken, a dressing, and sometimes extra vegetables, nuts, seeds, or fruit for flavor and crunch.

For example, chicken salad can be Thai-inspired, combining chopped chicken and cucumber with the flavors of peanut, ginger, garlic, chili oil, and rice vinegar.

A traditional Mexican chicken salad, known as ensalada de pollo, uses sour cream and mayo to bind together chicken and mixed vegetables such as beans, corn, and potatoes.

You can find chicken salad at delis and restaurants, buy it premade at the grocery store, or make your own chicken salad at home.

SUMMARY

Chicken salad uses a binder like mayonnaise, yogurt, or salad dressing to combine cooked chicken with various other fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, herbs, and spices.

Chicken salad is packed with lean protein, vitamins, and minerals, and it can certainly be part of a healthy meal and an overall healthy diet.

Just how healthy is chicken salad? That boils down to the ingredients used to make it and the amount you eat at one time.

Certain ingredients, like the type and amount of mayo used, may significantly increase the calorie and saturated fat content of chicken salad, which may ultimately make it less nutritious than it could be.

Just one small 1/2-cup (about 4-ounce) serving of chicken salad often contains 400 calories or more. And despite having “salad” in its name, it’s often served on bread or in a wrap, rather than on a bed of leafy greens.

Here’s an example of how the nutritional value of chicken salad varies based on its ingredients (1, 2, 3):

Chicken salad made with mayonnaiseChicken salad made with light mayonnaiseChicken salad on a croissant
Serving size1/2 cup (113 grams or 4 ounces)1/2 cup (108 grams or 3.8 ounces)1 sandwich (187 grams or 6.6 ounces)
Calories266164600
Protein (grams)161525
Carbs (grams)3529
Total fat (grams)21942
Fiber (grams)001
Sugar (grams)235
Saturated fat (grams)4211
Cholesterol (mg)7568100
Sodium (mg)542594630
Calcium2% of the Daily Value (DV)2% of the DV4% of the DV
Iron3% of the DV3% of the DV15% of the DV
Potassium5% of the DV5% of the DV6% of the DV

Chicken salad tends to be is relatively low in carbs, fiber, and sugar and higher in protein, calories, and fat.

The role of saturated fat in nutrition remains somewhat controversial, but many experts agree that replacing saturated fat in your diet with polyunsaturated fats — like those found in nuts and seeds — could help reduce your risk of heart attack, stroke, and heart disease (4, 5, 6).

Nevertheless, these are only general estimates of the nutritional value of chicken salad, as the nutrients vary depending on how it’s made.

Adding ingredients such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds or using a lower-calorie binder like yogurt could easily change these values.

SUMMARY

Chicken salad is a good source of lean protein. Additions such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds provide even more nutritious vitamins and minerals. However, chicken salad typically contains a fair amount of calories.

Aside from being so tasty, chicken salad has a number of other benefits, such as being relatively affordable and simple to make at home.

Its benefits don’t stop there, though — chicken salad has a few noteworthy positive health effects.

Chicken salad is high in protein

Protein is one of the primary nutrients your body needs to build and maintain bone, muscle, cartilage, and more (7).

Most adults need to eat 45–65 grams of protein each day, though factors like age, sex, physical activity, and general health status could further increase or decrease those requirements (8).

Thus, just one portion of chicken salad could account for nearly one-third of your entire protein requirements for the day.

In addition to being essential for bone health and muscle strength, protein:

Chicken salad is nutrient-dense

Chicken salad also contains many beneficial micronutrients, such as vitamins and minerals.

One 3-ounce (85-gram) serving of roasted chicken is a particularly good source of (15):

  • niacin: 51% of the DV
  • selenium: 36% of the DV
  • phosphorus: 17% of the DV
  • vitamin B6: 16% of the DV

Therefore, eating chicken salad could help you meet the daily recommendations for many nutrients.

SUMMARY

Chicken salad is an affordable and nutrient-dense source of lean protein that is easy to make at home.

Chicken salad often starts out with a healthy foundation of lean protein, crunchy vegetables, and nutrient-dense fruits, nuts, and seeds.

Eating a large portion of chicken salad at one time or adding a lot of higher-calorie ingredients may reduce some of the health benefits of the dish.

May be high in calories

Mayonnaise is often the chosen binder for chicken salad. Though it provides a creamy, rich texture, it may also add a significant number of calories.

Though many of the nuts and dried fruits added to chicken salad are plenty nutritious — rich in fiber, healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals — they also tend to be higher in calories than other fruits and vegetables.

In addition to the ingredients in the chicken salad itself, what you serve your chicken salad with will affect the calorie content of the dish.

Serving a chicken salad sandwich on a buttery croissant or another refined grain product, such as white bread, adds more calories without a lot of nutrition. Serving your chicken with nutrient-rich vegetables might be a better option.

Risk of foodborne illness

Chicken salad recipes tend to contain a few foods in particular — cooked chicken, fresh vegetables, and the dairy- or egg-based binders that hold the salad together — that may cause food poisoning if contaminated with certain types of bacteria (16).

In fact, there have been multiple instances in which chicken salad in particular has been deemed the culprit in outbreaks of Listeria and Salmonella (17, 18, 19, 20).

Listeria and Salmonella infections from contaminated foods can cause severe illness, hospitalization, and even death in some cases for high-risk individuals (21, 22).

Thus, it’s important to use caution when preparing, storing, and serving chicken salad.

Ready-to-eat prepared salads should always be stored in the refrigerator at 40°F (4°C) or below and eaten within 3–4 days of opening (23, 24).

Also, to prevent food poisoning, chicken salad should not be kept outside of refrigeration temperatures for longer than 2 hours, or for longer than 1 hour if the temperature outside is 90°F (32°C) or higher — which might be the case at a picnic or potluck event.

SUMMARY

The main downside of chicken salad for health is its high calorie content. Otherwise, the greatest risk of eating chicken salad is the potential to get sick with a foodborne illness if the dish is not handled and stored properly.

Chicken salad is a food that has both pros and cons when it comes to weight loss.

Chicken salad might help some people lose weight, while it could hinder the process for others.

The protein content of chicken salad may help keep you feeling full longer. It might also assist in regulating your appetite and food cravings — each of which can help with weight loss (9, 10, 13, 14).

Some studies have even found that high protein diets are particularly helpful for losing weight and maintaining weight loss long-term (25, 26, 27).

Still, even though chicken salad is high in protein, one dish alone isn’t super impactful for weight loss.

Instead, eating an overall healthy diet that is within your daily calorie needs and is rich in lean protein, healthy fats, fiber, and nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables is best for weight loss. In moderation, chicken salad easily fits into a diet like this.

SUMMARY

Chicken salad is most helpful for weight loss when eaten in moderation and combined with a variety of other nutrient-dense and healthy foods.

Chicken salad can be part of a filling meal that contains lean protein, fiber, and many vitamins and minerals.

Here are some suggestions for making sure the positive health effects of your chicken salad outweigh the downsides.

Keep your protein lean

Chicken and other types of poultry, like turkey, are naturally lean, or lower in fat.

Using chicken that has been poached, broiled, baked, grilled, microwaved, or steamed helps keep calories lower since these cooking methods typically do not require much added fat.

On the other hand, fried, breaded, canned, and processed types of chicken tend to be higher in fat, salt, and calories per serving.

Choose better-for-you dressing ingredients

If you’re looking for a chicken salad with fewer calories, you may want to avoid binders like mayonnaise.

Instead, you could try using Greek yogurt, avocado, sour cream, Dijon mustard, or a vinaigrette dressing.

Though some of these alternatives also contain fat, they tend to be lower in calories and saturated fat than mayo.

Mix in fruits, veggies, and more

Veggies, nuts, and seeds not only add flavor, crunch, and color to chicken salad, but they’re also a big part of what makes the dish nutritious.

Nuts, seeds, and fruits do add calories, but they also provide extra fiber, vitamins, and minerals that make them a healthy addition when eaten in moderate portions.

Plus, this is where you can get creative with your chicken salad recipe.

The usual grapes, celery, apples, and pecans are a great starting point, but you might also want to explore other ingredients like fennel, radishes, chickpeas, cucumber, shredded cabbage, artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers, and more.

Pair it with a good source of fiber

Chicken salad is often served on bread or crackers.

While they’re certainly tasty vehicles for the dish, breads or crackers made with refined grains don’t add a lot of nutrition to your meal.

Choosing a whole grain bread that is high in fiber will not only fill you up faster than crackers or a croissant would, but it may also provide more vitamins and minerals.

Alternatively, chicken salad served with lettuce or other salad greens is lower in calories than chicken salad served on bread yet still high in fiber and micronutrients.

SUMMARY

You can make chicken salad healthier by using lean chicken and a better-for-you dressing, mixing in plenty of fruits and vegetables, and combining it with high fiber foods like lettuce or whole grains.

Chicken salad is rich in lean protein and a decent source of iron.

Depending on what other ingredients it contains, it might also provide fiber, vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients.

Still, using ingredients such as mayonnaise or serving the salad on a croissant adds calories and fat.

Therefore, it’s best to enjoy chicken salad occasionally in moderate portions and as part of a well-rounded diet.