How to Avoid Salads that Sabotage Your Diet

Healthy Fresh SaladHow are your salad smarts?  Despite popular belief, many salads aren’t waistline-friendly and can pile on more calories than a fast food burger and fries. 

Here’s how to make sure your salad satisfies without becoming a diet disaster.

Eating salad can be a great way to boost important nutrients in your diet. One study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, found that just one salad serving per day boosted blood levels of folic acid, vitamins C and E, lycopene and carotenoids in the bloodstream and another study found that eating a large salad as your starter can reduce the overall calories you eat in that meal by 12 percent!

But salads aren’t always the best choice when watching your weight. You can easily build your own salad from a salad bar that tops 1,000 calories and many restaurant salads are drowning in dressing, sending calorie counts sky high. Consider: An Applebee’s Grilled Shrimp ‘N Spinach Salad has 960 calories and 65g fat and California Pizza Kitchen’s California Cobb with Ranch Dressing carries 940 calories and 72g fat.

Toppings that make salads rich in calories and unhealthy saturated fat include full-fat dressing, cheese, croutons, and mayo-rich options like tuna or egg salad. The best choices are obvious: salad greens, any raw or cooked veggies; beans; lean proteins like chicken or turkey and a light (not fat free) dressing.

Let’s compare two salads created from the same salad bar. Each contains the same portion of salad greens, six different toppings and dressing.

 

Calorie-Rich Salad

2 cups salad greens, 16 cals, 0g fat

Croutons, ¼ cup, 50 cals, 2g fatapplebees shrimp n spinach salad

Black olives, 5 pieces, 25 cals, 2.4g fat

Cheddar Cheese, ¼ cup shredded, 114 cals, 9.4g fat

Sunflower seeds, 2 Tbsp, 100 cals, 9g fat

Bacon bits, 2 Tbsp, 50 cals, 3g fat

Sliced almonds, 2 Tbsp, 100 cals, 9g fat

Ranch dressing, ¼ cup, 218 cals, 23g fat

Totals: 673 Calories, 58 grams fat

Salad BarBuild a Skinnier Salad

2 cups salad greens, 16 cals, 0g fat

Tomatoes, 5 cherry, 15 cals, 2g fat

Cucumber, ¼ cup sliced, 5 cals, 0g fat

Yellow bell pepper, 5 rings, 15 cals, 0g fat

Red kidney beans, 2 Tbsp, 24 cals, 0g fat

Carrots, ¼ cup shredded, 11 cals, 0g fat

Mushrooms, ¼ cup sliced, 4 cals, 0g fat

Ranch dressing, reduced-fat, 2 Tbsp, 59 cals, 3.7g fat

150 calories, 6 grams fat

Clearly, the toppings make a heavy difference. Salad #1 stacks up with over four times as many calories and almost ten times as much fat as Salad #2!

Use this salad toppings guide to choose leaner choices to build a better salad.

Salad Toppings Guide

Calories

Fat (grams)

Croutons, ¼ cup

50

2

Chinese noodles, 2 Tbsp

30

2

Bacon bits, 2 Tbsp

50

3

Sliced almonds, 2 Tbsp

100

9

Pumpkin seeds, 2 Tbsp

148

12

Sunflower seeds, 2 Tbsp

100

9

Raisins or dried cranberries, 2 Tbsp

70

0

Black olives, 5 pieces

25

2.4

Sliced mushrooms, ¼ cup

4

0

Red onion, 5 slices

29

0

Tomato, 5 cherry

15

2

Carrots, ¼ cup shredded

11

0

Bell pepper, 5 rings

15

0

Cucumber, ¼ cup sliced

5

0

Blue cheese, 2 Tbsp crumbled

60

4.8

Feta, 2 Tbsp crumbled

50

4

Cheddar cheese, ¼ cup shredded

114

9.4

Red kidney beans, 2 Tbsp

24

0

Chickpeas, 2 Tbsp

36

.3

Tofu, ¼ cup diced

91

5.5

Chicken, ¼ cup diced

58

1.2

Hard boiled egg, 2 Tbsp

26

1.8

Light tuna, water-packed, drained, ¼ cup

45

.3

 

–Janet Franklin

Janet Franklin is a dietetic intern from San Francisco State University.

 

 

Comments

  1. Wonderful post! Just one question.. can you give me the references of the two articles you mention in this post? Thanks!!

  2. Citation for the first study: J Am Diet Assoc. 2006 Sep;106(9):1394-404.
    Salad and raw vegetable consumption and nutritional status in the adult US population: results from the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.
    Su LJ, Arab L.
    Source

    School of Public Health, Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center, 1600 Canal St, Ste 800, New Orleans, LA 70112, USA. lsu@lsuhsc.edu

  3. Reference 2: Salad and satiety. The effect of timing of salad consumption on meal energy intake.

    Roe LS, Meengs JS, Rolls BJ.

    Appetite. 2012 Feb;58(1):242-8. Epub 2011 Oct 8.

    PMID:
    22008705
    [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]

    Related citations

  4. Thank you for the salad toppings guide!

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