A salad often seems like a healthy choice, but many are loaded with high-calorie ingredients.
When I think of a salad, I picture a beautiful bowl of leafy greens tossed with other colorful veggies like orange carrots, purple onions, bright red tomatoes and yellow bell peppers. A salad like that is the picture of health. But there’s an unhealthy side to salad, too. We use the term salad so loosely now that we call almost anything tossed together in a bowl a salad, as long as there’s something coating it, flavoring it or holding it together.
I’ve seen entrée salads on restaurant menus without a veggie in sight—just an overload of meat, cheese and heavy dressing. Some salads start out with good intentions, in the form of leafy greens and mixed veggies. But then they’re loaded down with crispy noodles, fried chicken strips, cheese or bacon. And if you were to eat at my grandmother’s house, a “salad” invariably consisted of a square of neon-red gelatin nestled in a single lettuce leaf (which was usually not eaten), topped with a dollop of mayonnaise.
The problem with many entrée salads is that they’re loaded down with fat, so it helps to know where all that fat is coming from. Next time you’re in a restaurant and decide to have just a salad, here are a few things to consider.
When you choose a restaurant salad, be on the lookout for these high-fat ingredients, and make adjustments accordingly. Most of the time, it’s as simple as asking that an ingredient or two be left out. And maybe swap out a creamy dressing for oil-based vinaigrette and having it served on the side. Just a few simple changes can make a huge difference.
A Southwestern-style salad with lettuce, grilled chicken, a few spoons of black beans, a dab of guacamole and some salsa can be a healthy choice. And it will probably only cost you about 400 calories. But get your salad fully loaded with cheese, creamy dressing and served in a fried tortilla shell, and the calorie count triples to more than 1200.
Similarly, a Chinese chicken salad might sound healthy, since it usually includes greens or cabbage, grilled chicken, some mandarin oranges and toasted almonds. But it’s the crispy fried noodles and the huge amount of dressing that sends the fat and calorie count soaring. Leave out the fried noodles and keep your dressing portion to around a tablespoon, and you’re looking at a reasonable 450 calories or so. If you eat the salad as the restaurant serves it, you’d be eating more than 1000 calories. That’s the fat equivalent of a huge slice of cheesecake and large fries.
Use the same principles when choosing side salads, too. A mixed green salad is usually a great choice if you use just a dab of vinaigrette dressing. Fruit salad—as long as it’s not loaded down with sugary syrup or a sweet creamy dressing—also makes a great side salad. But watch the side salads that are creamy or starchy. Even a small portion of potato salad, pasta salad or mayonnaise-heavy coleslaw can cost you several hundred calories.
When it comes to choosing a salad, the bottom line is this: just because a dish is called a salad, doesn’t automatically make it healthy. So, don’t let the word salad sway you. When making your choice, pay a little less attention to what it’s called and a lot more attention to what’s in it.