When faced with the difficult decision of what to eat while managing your weight, salad often comes to mind. They’re frequently touted as the gold standard of “diet food” because they’re associated with fruits and vegetables galore. But is salad always the healthiest option?
Salads Can be Deceiving
Sure. Restaurant, fast food and grocery salads are packed full of power foods such as spinach, kale, cranberries, tomatoes, avocados and grilled chicken. They sometimes help us meet our daily recommended servings of fruits/veggies, and they can be a great source of diverse nutrients compared to other convenient foods. But if we’re not careful, salads can pack-on the calories.
The trouble really lies in the toppings. As consumers, we’ve gotten creative with salads over time. Take a look at the food industry and you’ll see salads doused in dressings of all kinds, bacon bits, candied nuts, fried meats, starchy veggies such as corn and even “bowls” made out of tortillas. Looks can certainly be deceiving, as many people order high-fat, high-calorie salads under the assumption that they’re choosing the healthiest option available. That’s not always the case!
What to Watch For
All of this isn’t to say that salads are a no-go if you’re trying to manage your weight. They can certainly be a great source of nutrients that power you through your day. But before you order a salad or whip one up, consider these important factors:
Dress it, Don’t Drench it
If you’re adding dressing to your salad, make sure to do so in minimal amounts. A half cup of ranch or chipotle mayo dressing can tip you over your calorie range for the day. Go light on the dressing, check ingredient labels and choose those which are lower in fat and calories.
Get it Grilled
Adding meat to your salad? Opt for grilled varieties such as grilled chicken or salmon. A bowl topped with fried chicken or smothered in bacon isn’t the best way to cut back on calories. Grilled meats are also lower in fat, sodium and cholesterol.
Watch Your Sugar Intake
Salad ingredients are often filled with hidden sugars found in dressings, whole fruits, dried fruits and granola. While these toppings can be okay in moderation, they can derail your weight management goals in large amounts. Stick mostly to veggies and proteins.
Be Wary of Added Crunch
To add-in an extra crunch factor, many salads are prepared with toppings such as croutons, tortilla strips, salted or roasted nuts, etc. Some salads even come in tortilla bowls. If you’re trying to cut back on calories and carbs, get your crunch by way of toasted pumpkin seeds, crispy quinoa, roasted chick peas, Parmesan crisps, raw veggies, etc.
Watch Your Portions
As with any other food, always watch portion sizes when it comes to salads. Many restaurants and grocery stores prepare them in large quantities. You can also accompany your smaller-sized salad with a healthy side dish or lean protein.
Case in point, salads aren’t always the healthiest option. Sometimes it might be wiser to choose a plate of grilled chicken, seasoned broccoli and a small portion of sweet potato. But don’t think you’re limited to basic, repetitive foods just because you have weight management goals!
Remember, moderation is always key. Look for ways to spice things up and add extra flavor whenever possible. Just be mindful of hidden calories, sugars and carbohydrates that have a way of creeping in. An informed consumer is a healthy consumer! Staying mindful is the trick.