I’m here to tell you that the salad you’re currently munching and crunching on, isn’t exactly the healthiest choice. Confused? Let me explain.
When you decide to eat a salad for lunch or an in-between meal snack just because you want it to be ‘healthy’, it only takes one or two bad decisions to make it the most unhealthiest meal option. From dressings to portion sizes, there are so many ways you can turn a superfood-rich and vitamin-heavy meal into something more calorie-dense than a creamy plate of white pasta.
The salad bar can be a tough thing to navigate — use these tips for what to avoid on your next lunch break for a healthy, low-calorie meal:
- NO creamy dressings: These are probably the worst dressings you can choose. Take ranch dressing, for example, one serving of two tablespoons has 140 calories — and 130 of those calories are coming from fat. Other dressings like blue cheese, Caesar, parmesan, or chipotle all fall under this category of dressings to avoid. Not only are they loaded with fat, but they also have high levels of sodium and very little nutritional value.
Healthy Alternative: Stick to vinaigrettes — though even some of these can be high in sodium levels, too. I prefer to use just a small amount of extra-virgin olive oil with balsamic vinaigrette. You could also use this old trick: Dip the tip of your fork into the dressing before you put it in the salad to get just enough taste with each bite without drowning it in dressing.
- NO glazed nuts: Nuts are healthy fats and a great addition to any salad, that is, until they’re kettle-cooked and glazed with sugar or spice. Are these the worst topping on this list? No, but they’re not that great for you either.
Healthy Alternative: Stick to dry-roasted nuts to save on calories. I like to add sliced organic almonds to my salads, but chopped organic pistachios, pecans, and walnuts are a good addition too. Remember: Add nuts as a light topping — don’t overdo it.
- NO chips-on-the-side business: A very American speciality, when you order a salad at a restaurant, chefs feel they need to decorate the plate with deep-fried potato chips. They couldn’t be more wrong! And if you find yourself in a Mexican restaurant, their versions of salads are loaded with cheese, creamy dressings, and high-calorie tortilla chips – or worse, served in a tortilla bowl.
Healthy Alternative: You can still order a Mexican-inspired salad, just make some modifications. Request balsamic dressing on the side instead of ranch and hold the tortilla chips and cheese, but keep the rest of the healthy goodies like black beans, corn, and tomatoes. And if it’s a regular restaurant, ask them for no chips-on-the-side, instead get some protein on the plate instead, if viable.
- NO Fried chicken or fish: Speaking of protein with salad, I’m all for getting some sort of meat on the plate along with the salad, but steer clear of anything fried. These additions are packed with unnecessary calories and loads of sodium. It’s not just fried chicken I’m referring to here, this covers fried onions, fried falafel balls, fried seafood, and anything else fried. They will turn your healthy salad into a total caloric splurge.
Healthy Alternative: If you’re going to add some protein to your salad, choose grilled items only. Consider healthier protein options like shrimp, tuna, egg whites, or a veggie burger.
- NO Croutons: Croutons are easiest and fastest to ruin your Caesar salad by adding refined carbohydrates. Croutons from a popular brand are about 30 calories for just six pieces. Do most people put only six croutons on their salad? Not likely. These toppings can also have high sodium levels depending on how they’re prepared.Healthy Alternative: Bread isn’t bad if you’re eating 100 percent whole wheat or whole grain. You can definitely get a bread roll to accompany your salad, but keep it healthy and put it down when you’re full.
- MAYBE Cheese: OK, cheese isn’t all that bad, hence why last in the list, but some people add cheese to their salad as if it were ‘cheese’ salad! Three or four daily servings of low-fat dairy products can boost your body’s fat-burning potential. Some cheeses are more nutritional than others, and there are healthier ways to add them to your salad. All I’m saying is be careful of the type of cheese you pick.
Healthy Alternative: Feta is a great choice for salads because it’s lower in fat and calories than most cheeses. Another idea is to buy string cheese (part-skim mozzarella) sticks and have them along with your salad.
What do you think spoils a perfectly healthy bowl of salad? What ingredients do you tend to avoid? Join the conversation below.