The salad has earned the reputation as the king of nutritional prowess in the health and wellness sector. They are quick and easy to make, they are highly customizable, and they are readily available at most restaurants and fast food chains. People resort to them out of familiarity, but does that realllllyyyyy make them better for you than other less nutritionally sound options like cheeseburgers, pizza, or even your mom’s famous lasagna? Let’s dig right in and examine the truth behind the salad, and its claim to fame as the holy grail of health food!
ARE SALADS HEALTHY…
There is no doubt that salads CAN BE healthy. What makes a salad healthy or not ultimately boils down the ingredients that you add to your salad.
INGREDIENTS TO AVOID:
Eliminate oil or cream based dressings like ranch, dairy products like cheese, unnecessary starchy carbs like croutons, and highly processed ingredients like bbq sauce.
INGREDIENTS TO ADD:
Add a ton of colorful veggies. If you can get your salad to look like a rainbow, then chances are it’s probably pretty healthy. Add bell peppers, carrots, onions, cucumbers, bean sprouts, etc… the more colors the better! Add salsa for flavor and to prevent your salad from being too dry and to cut down on your desire to douse your salad in dressing! Add avocado, but do not overdo it because avocado is very high in fat.
Note that there is a big difference between eating healthy and eating to lose weight. Eating healthy means prioritizing micronutrients like vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, putting calories and macronutrients on the back burner. Eating to lose weight requires the opposite, prioritizing calories and macronutrients over micronutrients. Since both are important, I recommend using both healthy and low calorie ingredients to construct your salad.
CAN SALADS HELP YOU LOSE WEIGHT:
If assembled properly, salads are a great nutritional option for weight loss! With lettuce or mixed greens as a base, salads can add a ton of volume or bulk to a meal, allowing you to fill up while consuming only a fraction of the calories. Add several ounces of a lean protein like chicken, a light or calorie free dressing like Walden Farms chipotle ranch, salsa and/or low carb bbq sauce for an extra kick, and a handful of colorful mixed veggies, and you just might have to undo a notch on your belt… and all for under 500 calories! Now before you crucify me for recommending bbq sauce and artificial dressing, recall what I mentioned earlier about the difference between eating for better health and eating for weight loss, and take a chill pill!
MY ISSUE WITH SALADS:
While salads can be assembled using high quality, better for you ingredients, restaurants and fast food chains have to make them taste good to sell! After all, they are businesses… and if people do not buy their menu items, then they won’t survive! In an attempt to make salads taste good, restaurants typically add unhealthy ingredients that skyrocket their caloric value. Now your healthy menu item is both more calorically dense and unhealthy than that cowboy burger and fries combination that you originally wanted. So why not just buy the burger and fries instead?
Only order a salad from a restaurant if it is in a designated “low calorie” section of the menu. If a restaurant doesn’t have a “better for you” section and you are concerned about whether or not the salad that you are eyeballing on a menu is worth ordering, then check the nutritional facts. Most chain restaurants have their nutrition information posted for you to compare and contrast menu items.
HEALTHY SALAD FIXINS:
Chicken, fish, steak, avocado (not low cal), olives, legumes (not low cal), corn, salsa, eggs, Pepita’s, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, couscous, quinoa, farro, dried fruit, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, cucumbers, endive, escarole, green onions, lettuce, mushrooms, peas, bell peppers, chili peppers, radishes, romaine, spinach, kale, tomatoes, watercress, arugula, beets, artichoke, onions.
LOW CALORIE FIXINS:
Everything above (unless designated otherwise), Walden Farms calorie free dressings, some vinaigrette dressings (check label beforehand… should not exceed 5g fat per serving), Taco Bell mild sauce, Rays sugar free bbq sauce, fried onion crisps (just enough to add a crunch)
If you just absolutely cannot eat a salad without your favorite high calorie dressing, then opt for a ramekin of it on the side, and dip a corner of your lettuce into the dressing each bite. You’ll end up capturing the flavor of the dressing the same while using way less of it!