When you hear or think the word diet, does the idea of eating salad soon follow? It is a common scenario to link the two together, but not always the best decision for health or weight loss. Whether you are seeking a healthier way of eating or want to lose a few pounds, and think salads are the way to go, be careful not to fall into "the salad trap". Many salads contain nearly a day’s worth of calories and are full of unhealthy fats and high sodium counts.
Salads are a great way to get your daily dose of greens and veggies, but not all salads are created equal. Here’s a quick breakdown of some of the worst salad traps.
California Pizza Kitchen Waldorf Salad has 1370 calories and 28 g. of saturated fat
Cheesecake Factory Caesar w/ Chicken has 1,510 calories.
Red Robin Crispy Chicken Tender salad has 1450 calories and 96 gr. fat
Applebee’s Oriental Chicken Salad 1380 cal. 99 gr. fat
Yard House BBQ Chicken Salad – 1580 cal.
Baja Fresh Tostada salad – 1120 calories
Wedge Salad - one of the biggest charades in the salad world. This salad might not have as many calories as the others, but it is nutrient deficient. There is nothing healthy about its ingredients (iceberg lettuce, bacon, blue cheese). It will fill you up with ingredients that don’t do much but curb hunger.
Here are some of the biggest offenders and healthier alternatives:
Salad dressing is a main killer of a potentially healthy salad. If it’s creamy, it’s probably not healthy and if it’s fat-free, then it’s loaded with sugar. Even pre-made vinaigrettes have a lot of added sugar (and that means more calories).
· At home make your own vinaigrette (recipe link) or when eating out, ask for olive oil and vinegar to dress your own.
Salad bars and restaurant salads have a ton of unhealthy ingredients and many have a high sodium content.
· Select items that are fresh cut and nutrient dense (broccoli, carrot) vs. coming from a can (corn, mandarin oranges). And don’t overfill your plate.
Iceberg lettuce – A "no nutritional value" super cheap lettuce.
· Replace with dark green lettuces, spinach or chopped kale (or a mix of those).
Candied nuts – These add sugar and calories.
· Replace with plain toasted nuts and only use a tablespoon size.
Dried and canned fruit – highly processed and high in sugar.
· Instead seek out fresh fruit like berries, apples, pears, or pomegranate seeds.
Croutons, fried tortilla strips, fried onions – Having something crunchy in a salad is a requirement for some, but these come with unwanted fats and deficient calories.
· Get your crunch from things like carrots, jicama, celery or plain toasted nuts and roasted chickpeas.
Cheddar cheese- Cheese in general adds unhealthy fat and a lot of unneeded calories to salads.
· Leave it off completely. If your will-power is weak, then skip the cheddar and Monterey jack and instead choose cheese from goat’s milk (goat cheese) or sheep’s milk (manchego, feta). Fresh mozzarella is a good swap, too, just remember to keep portions small (1-2 oz) for any cheese you choose.
Unhealthy proteins - crispy chicken, mayo-laden tuna, chicken or egg salad, salami and bacon all really bring down what could be an otherwise healthy salad.
· Choose grilled chicken or salmon for a protein, or keep it vegetarian with black beans, lentils or organic edamame.
Portion size! Many salads contain nearly a day’s worth of calories and portion size is one of the contributors. Ask for a side portion, split with someone else or only eat half.
Other healthy options to add to any salad: fresh, steamed or roasted vegetables; quinoa, avocado, chickpeas and beets (not from a can!).
Going out to eat? Almost every major restaurant has their menu with nutritional facts available online. Do some homework on your favorites and “know before you go”. Ask your server about ingredients and don’t be shy to ask for substitutions or omissions.
Eating at home? Make the most of each season by choosing the freshest produce and combine it into a salad with homemade vinaigrette.
Rule of thumb for any salad: lots of dark leafy greens, pile on the veggies, limit the 'extras' and choose dressings carefully. The photo above is a great healthy option :)
Here’s a simple salad recipe to share that incorporates a little red, white and blue for 4th of July…
Fill a bowl with organic spinach and romaine lettuce. Add roasted asparagus, cooked quinoa, avocado, toasted slivered almonds, fresh sliced strawberries, fresh blueberries and some crumbled goat cheese. Toss with a homemade balsamic vinaigrette. Yum!
Salads are a great way to be creative! What will your next salad creation look like?