Salads are a dieter’s best friend, right? Not necessarily. It all depends on what’s in that salad bowl.
Truth be told, some salads contain more calories and fat than a cheeseburger and a small side of fries! That’s what happens when you pile not so healthy stuff on top of your leafy greens and chopped veggies. It’s easy to do if your favorite salad bar offers a candy shop–like array of tempting toppers.
It’s your salad barista’s job to satisfy your whims —so if you are eating salad thinking it’s weight-friendly then it’s up to you to pick and choose your toppings with care. Here’s how:
Upgrade Leafy Greens
In the nutritional pecking order of salad greens the old standard iceberg lettuce ranks pretty low. Start building your salad with a much better base by switching to darker leaf lettuces like baby spinach or kale, which are tastier, higher in fiber, and significantly richer in vitamins and minerals.
Keep Protein Lean
What could be wrong about adding protein to your salad? Plenty, if it’s loaded with fat. Always choose a clean, lean protein like grilled chicken, grilled salmon or egg whites. Stay away from anything fried like crispy chicken tenders, bacon, mayo-based egg or tuna salads, and even those not-so-innocent croutons. If you are a cheese person, steer clear of full-fat cheeses like goat cheese, blue cheese and cheddar; shreds and bits are no less fatty than the big cheese blocks they come from. Your best bet for cheese is one that’s hard and sharp like parmesan because just a little packs a lot of flavor.
Fill Up on Chopped Vegetables
Go wild on your favorite fresh vegetables. Raw or steamed broccoli, carrots, cucumber, bell peppers, and red onion are all naturally low in calories while adding plenty of belly-filling volume to your meal. Make yours a colorful mix of vegetables because eating different colors means you are getting more variety in vitamins and minerals. Definitely pass up veggies that are cooked or fried in oil or soaked in a greasy marinade.
Limit Salad Candy
It can be hard to resist those tasty bits that transform a sensible salad into a medley of crunchy flavors. We’re talking about dried fruit, nuts, seeds, and crispy extras that are full of calories that add up really fast. Case in point: Craisins (dried cranberries) are filled with sugar. Just two tablespoons has 60 calories and for that I’d rather enjoy a full cup of juicy, nutritious fresh raspberries. As for nuts, it’s true that they are a great source of healthy fats, but keep in mind that one serving - just one ounce – has about 160 calories. The truth is a handful of nuts on your salad can easily add 300 extra calories. And forget about croutons or crunchy noodles, which are deep-fried calorie balls with zero nutritional benefit. Get the taste and crunch you want with a 1/3 cup serving of shelled edamame that has 120 fewer calories and 15g less fat.
The surest way to ruin an otherwise perfectly healthy salad is to drench it in fattening dressing. Whether your dressing choices come from a bottle or get ladled from a canister, be sure to avoid creamy and fatty dressings, such as blue cheese, thousand island and ranch. If you can, check the nutritional information so you know what you are getting. When you know that two tablespoons of balsamic vinaigrette has about 130 calories it’s not hard to go with a “light” dressing, a spray of lemon juice, or a few shakes of quality balsamic vinegar.