Dressing, cheese, and bacon add calories and fat that can sabotage your healthy eating plans. Therefore a seemingly diet-friendly bowl of salad could, in fact, be loaded with calories. New salad bars and restaurants are popping up weekly across the city, and while I am an advocate for healthy eating and think it’s amazing that this healthy eating way of life has taken over.
HOWEVER, I also think it’s time that the topic regarding ‘hidden calories’ is brought to light.
Let’s take for instance – the standard go to salad for those afraid to step outside their comfort zones – the Caeser salad. How healthy is your standard Caeser salad?
Iceberg lettuce typically used has few nutrients and is essentially fibre and water. With salad leaves, the darker the green, the more nutritious it is. This salad is also laden with fat thanks to the Parmesan cheese, creamy dressing and croutons, which are high in both fat and calories. Add some bacon bits and fried chicken, and bobs your uncle, you’re healthy salad just became very unhealthy.
Let’s look at another one – one of my favourites – The Waldorf Salad
The original Waldorf salad was made only with apples, celery and mayonnaise, but its popularity increased with the addition of chopped walnuts.
Nuts are frequently frowned upon because of their high fat content, added to the use of mayonnaise – usually full fat for added taste – you see where I’m going here…
Another example – a classic Cobb salad
Loaded with chopped bacon, egg, blue cheese, avocado, and creamy dressing, or a standard restaurant chef’s salad loaded with Swiss cheese, roast beef, eggs, and dressing can cost you more than 1,000 calories and 80 grams of fat! For some people, that’s more than half their day’s worth of calories (and all their fat).
Pouring dressing all over your salad is the quickest way to sabotage your efforts at eating healthily. Recently a friend of mine asked the nationwide food chain Chopped for an insight into the nutritional values of their sauces. I am not going to rain on anyone’s parade because I myself do love a good chopped, but we were left shocked. Some servings of their sauces added upto 400 calories to the salad mainly coming from fat sources. Just two tablespoons of Thousand Island dressing, for instance, add up to 194 calories and 20 grams of fat. Blue-cheese dressing is the worst culprit: two tablespoons are 228 calories and 23 grams of fat. Chopped usually don’t measure their sauces; it’s poured by eye…. How sure can you be how much you’re eating?
That said, don’t give up on salads — they can be a filling, low-cal option and a great way to satisfy your daily vegetable requirements. Just follow my guidelines for making the perfect healthy salad — and you’ll never have to worry again:
Start with a strong foundation.
First things first: Start by upping the nutritional ante by choosing a base for your salad that provides important nutrients like folic acid and lutein. Give up the iceberg for mesclun greens, baby spinach, or a spring mix that includes a variety of dark green lettuces. For less than 20 calories per two cups you can have a tasty, nutrient-rich base.
Pile on the Veggies:
Take advantage of fresh vegetables and load them on top of your greens — at 25 calories or less per 1/2-cup serving you can’t go wrong. Choose a variety of colors to get the most health benefits — red bell peppers, broccoli, carrots, sugar snap peas, cucumbers, and red onions are all great choices. Be sure to stick with raw or lightly steamed vegetables and steer clear of ones that are fried or swimming in oily marinades.
Don’t forget the protein.
Your salad becomes a meal when you add the protein! If you’re opting for animal protein, select one lean source (or two if you’re extra-hungry), such as four egg whites or three ounces of skinless chicken or turkey breast, water-packed chunk light tuna, wild salmon, or lean sirloin steak. If you’re vegetarian or just want to mix it up, choose half a cup of cubed tofu or three-quarters of a cup of chickpeas, kidney beans, pinto beans, or other legumes. Stay away from caloric or processed meats like bacon and salami, and definitely skip anything fried or drenched in heavy sauce.
Choose one extra.
Extras are those items that typically add another dimension and flavour to your combo of greens, vegetables, and lean protein. While some of these extras are packed with nutrients, they’re also packed with calories and fat, so they should be added sparingly. Luckily, a little of these high-fat goodies goes a long way, so you won’t need more than one of the following (each of which is between 40 and 70 calories): 2 tablespoons cheddar, Parmesan, goat, Swiss, or feta cheese; 1 tablespoon chopped walnuts, pecans or sliced almonds; 1 tablespoon sunflower or pumpkin seeds; 1 ounce avocado; 10 small olives (canned/jarred in water); 1/4 cup croutons; 2 tablespoons dried cranberries or raisins.
Dress it up lightly.
Some people eat salad only if it’s doused with dressing. Unfortunately, dressing can take a salad from fresh and nutritious to downright unhealthy. One tablespoon of your average vinaigrette is about 80 calories and one tablespoon of creamy ranch is almost 100 calories. Ask for the dressing on the side when ordering, and if the restaurant only offers regular (full-fat) varieties, limit your usage to one and a half tablespoons for an entrée salad and one tablespoon for a side salad. Whenever possible, choose light, low-calorie, or low-fat options. You can also make your own light vinaigrette using one part oil and three parts vinegar with some mustard, lemon, 100 percent fruit jam, or spices for added flavour.
Go check out my Instagram page for sons of my healthy salads 😍