Salads: One to Toss, Ones to Toss Out
Salad. It's one of those words that just screams "healthy", doesn't it? I picture a beautiful bowl of colorful greens, some purple onion, grated carrot, bright red tomatoes and purple beets.
But there's a dark side to salad, too. The term is used so loosely now, that we call almost anything tossed together in a bowl, as long as there's something coating it, flavoring it, or holding it together - a salad.
We still have green salads, to be sure, but I've seen entrée salads without a veggie in sight – just an overload of meat, cheese and heavy dressing. There are salads that start out with good intentions, but then they're loaded down with crispy noodles, fried chicken strips or sausage chili. We've got gelatin 'salad', and there's even a Snickers salad made with diced candy bars, apples and whipped topping.
Next time you're out and decide to have "just a salad", here are a few things to consider.
Salads suffer when there's too much fat added to them, so in choosing a healthy one, that's what you want to focus on first. When you see the word "crispy" – as in "crispy" noodles or "crispy" chicken strips, it's just a nicer way to say "fried". So if you're having an entrée salad with protein in it, ask for the chicken or fish grilled, rather than fried. Also watch the fatty additions, like cheese, bacon and other high fat meats, fried tortilla strips or noodles, sour cream and oily croutons.
A southwestern style salad with lettuce, grilled chicken, a few black beans, a dab of guacamole and some salsa is a healthy start. But load it down with cheese, toss it with a creamy dressing and serve it in a fried tortilla, and you're staring at about 1200 calories.
The same goes for healthy-sounding Chinese Chicken Salad. Greens or cabbage, grilled chicken, some mandarin oranges and a few toasted almonds is great. And, even with just a tablespoon of dressing, it would only be about 450 calories. But pour on all the dressing and the crispy fried noodles, and you're eating the fat equivalent of a huge slice of cheesecake and large fries, to the tune of over 1000 calories.
Creamy salad dressings are big offenders when it comes to taking the calories over the top. Few of us can, or should, afford the additional 600 calories and 60 grams of fat that a half-cup of ranch dressing adds to the mix. Lighter oil and vinegar-based dressings can also add up so you should use those sparingly, too.
Always order your dressing on the side, avoid the creamy ones, and try the fork-dip method: dip your fork into your dressing, take a stab at your salad, and repeat. You'll get a little taste of dressing with each bite, but you'll be surprised at how little you actually use.
Susan Bowerman is a paid consultant to Herbalife.