So you're out for lunch, you're on a diet, and look at the salads on the menu. You order one. You win the game right?
Granted, your heart was in the right place, but you fell into a trap all the same. A lot of salads include things like dried fruit, croutons, cheese, avocado, and even bacon. Those can be full of sugar, fat, carbs, and calories. If you eat them in the wrong portions, you can be severely crippling the effectiveness of your diet. You'd be shocked to find out how many calories and how much fat can be loaded into just two tablespoons of salad dressing! To make matters worse, in most restaurants, they use WAY more salad dressing than a standard serving.
To give you an idea of what I'm talking about, let's take the Signature Salad from Cosi. On their menu, this is described as:
Mixed greens tossed with red grapes, pears, pistachios, dried cranberries and Gorgonzola. Tossed with sherry shallot vinaigrette.
I used to order this ALL the time as a healthy meal. Usually I'd do the half soup/half salad deal at Cosi and pair it with their tomato basil soup. It was absolutely delicious and I thought I was making a great choice as far as nutrition.
So what's the calorie tally? The soup is 216 calories and the salad packs a WHOPPING 647 calories. Together, that meal is 863 calories. When I added it all up, that figure shocked the hell out of me! To give you an idea, my breakfasts and lunches tend to be around 200 calories each and my dinners are about 350. Do the math. I regularly eat my THREE MEALS of the day for less calories than are in that Cosi meal. For those of you keeping score at home, I also have a morning and afternoon snack and a desert worth approximately ~160 calories. All together I eat between 1200-1300 calories a day on my diet, just to give you some perspective.
Other "salads" that are far from healthy include Taco salad, Cobb salad, and yes, even Caesar salad.
How can you avoid this? Stop assuming that salads are inherently healthy. Start looking into your favorite salad ingredients and find out how much fat they have, how many calories- find out how they fuel your body! Some calories are better for you than others, after all. Then start using the ingredients that give you the most benefits, the best taste, and the least detrimental calorie counts.
For example, before I knew better, when I went to the deli for a tossed salad, I would choose feta cheese as one of my ingredients. Then I looked at what a serving of feta cheese is and at its nutritional value. Suffice to say, one of those deli salads uses WAY more than a serving and "that shit ain't cheap" calorie wise. Now instead of ordering cheese, I order another veggie or a double serving of a veggie I've already included. Another trap CAN be corn as it's actually a carbohydrate, however, if I choose veggies likes carrots, cucumber, or peppers for the other ingredients, a serving of corn is totally fine with me.
When it comes to the meat, I always go with chicken. It's lean and it tastes great with almost any dressing.
Even if you make all of those choices well, the devil is in the dressing. I've seen balsamic vinaigrette for anything from 20-120 calories per 2 tablespoons. Salad dressing is an INSANE place to spend that many calories. Everyone has different tastes and some diet dressings are way better than others. Experiment at the grocery store and find what works for you. Personally, I go with a low fat, low sugar raspberry vinaigrette thats 30 calories/serving. I measure it out every time. If you order at a restaurant, make sure you get the dressing on the side. If you're used to measuring, you'll be able to visually gauge what a serving is. Otherwise you could easily consume over 200 calories of dressing without even realizing you're doing any damage. When eating out, I go with a low fat vinaigrette or just simple oil and vinegar.
No matter what the food, it's always best to make it at home if you can. Salads are no exception. You have way more control and you can properly measure out the right serving sizes. Plus, you can be sure to have all the ingredients you love and not be shocked to find the deli is out of carrots or low fat dressing. Spend a little extra time to be prepared and you'll set yourself up for success by minimizing curve balls!