How to Spot an Unhealthy Wrap at the Salad Bar

Ever been at the lunch counter, utterly indecisive, and order a wrap instead of a sandwich because it’s “right” and “healthy”? Yep, us too––and why not? As opposed to thick, bread-laden sandwiches, wraps seem like a fairly healthy and low-cal, low-carb alternative. Heck, most of them are even variations of salads.

Although the wrap looks better for you, according to some of the experts we talked to, the opposite is oftentimes true. “It’s easy to think you’re making healthy decisions by choosing a wrap,” explains Trish Kellogg, a registered dietician and founder of Feed to Nourish. “But if you don’t pick carefully, you can wind up with a wrap that’s 1,000 or more calories!”

One thousand calories?! Gulp.

Before that number urges you to swear off wraps forever, trust us (and the experts we interviewed) that not all wraps are so high in calories. In fact, it’s a lot easier to spot an unhealthy wrap than you might think––if you keep these considerations in mind.

What does the wrap look like?

While the thickness of a slice of bread might lead to you believe it has more calories than a wrap, despite their appearance, tortillas are pretty deceptive. “Flour tortillas can be extremely high in sodium (often 500mg of sodium or more per tortilla) and can be high in fat as well,” says Rebecca Lewis, in-house dietician at HelloFresh. “Not to mention, they often contain a huge list of ingredients with additives, hydrogenated fats, preservatives, dough conditioners, artificial flavors and artificial colors.”

Instead of flour, Lewis recommends opting for a wrap made of corn, leafy greens or seaweed.

Where’s the meat?

While your wrap may be jam-packed with veggies, quinoa and other healthy additions, if it doesn’t contain a source of protein, according to Kellogg, you’re neglecting an absolutely critical macronutrient from your meal. “Make sure the wrap includes some type of lean protein, like turkey, grilled chicken breast, fish or tuna,” she says.

But as Lewis also explains, not all meat types are made the same. “Deli lunch meats are highly processed and loaded with sodium, often 500mg or more per two ounces,” she warns. “Instead, opt for freshly cooked or grilled meats. Shrimp or tuna are great lighter meat-based options as well.”

A non-meat eater? Stick with protein-rich vegetarian add-ins like chickpeas, black beans, edamame or tofu.

Is the wrap leaking at the edges?

Like salads, it’s not typically the dry ingredients that cause a “good” wrap to go “bad,” says registered dietician Tracy Lockwood. And more often than not, the calorie and fat tipping point lies in the juices you’re mixing in.

“Unhealthy wraps are usually overflowing with fatty sauces,” says Lockwood. “When possible, ask for the sauces on the side so you can determine how much you want. Grocery stores and fast-casual restaurants can dump nearly a fourth of a cup of dressing into a wrap without even thinking twice.”

If you still need your creamy wrap fix, Lockwood suggests hummus, avocado or Greek yogurt.

It’s stuffed––but with what?

Naturally, the point of a wrap is that it can hold a lot. But instead of filling wraps with leafy greens, fiber-rich beans and mounds of protein like they were meant to, it can be all too common to see wraps jam-packed with cheeses, croutons, mayonnaise or other fatty add-ins.

“If possible, keep fats to a minimum of two,” says Kellogg. “Either it can have cheese, hummus, avocado or olive oil––but not all four. But stay far away from bacon, cream cheese, mayonnaise and guacamole if you can.”

Use your best judgment

One of Lockwood’s favorite tips for keeping the calorie-count of wraps down? Use a little better judgement. “By far my most practical tip, regardless of the type of wrap, is to always peel off and discard the extra pieces of the wrap that aren’t used to hold your ingredients together,” she says. “It’s unnecessary, added carbs. Trust me, you won’t miss it!”

Julia Sullivan is a freelance writer and editor in New York City. When she's not picking heavy things up and setting them down again (more commonly known as weight lifting), trying to prepare healthy meals in her doll-sized Manhattan studio or writing about the latest fitness craze, she chronicles her zany adventures as a new New Yorker in her blog, Jules & the City. You can also follow her on Twitter.