People will often say they order salads in restaurants when they are trying to lose weight. They believe eating a salad will decrease their calorie intake … but not all salads are created equal. If you are not careful, your salad could have as many calories as a burger! However, the right kind of salad can offer a weight loss advantage. It will provide a large plate of food with relatively few calories and will contribute to the feeling of being full.
You can judge how healthy your salad is by looking at the color. The more color in the salad, the more vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants it should contain. Colorful salads have fewer calories and less fat, especially if the vegetables are primarily non-starchy such as lettuce and spinach, tomatoes, carrots, celery, cucumbers, broccoli, cauliflower, mushrooms, and a variety of colorful peppers.
Many salad additions can provide a source of lean protein. Grilled chicken, fish, garbanzo beans or other dried peas or beans are examples of lean proteins that tend to slow digestion and help you feel satisfied longer. Dried beans and peas also provide fiber, which contributes to your feeling full. Adding high fat items like cheese and bacon bits may add color, but they increase the calories without any added health benefit.
The biggest challenge when ordering a salad at a restaurant is avoiding high-fat, high-calorie ingredients. Mayonnaise based foods, like pasta salad, contribute a tremendous amount of fat and calories. Adding ½ cup of pasta salad adds 180 calories compared to ½ cup broccoli which adds 15 calories.
Salad dressing can turn a healthy salad into a high calorie meal choice. For example, ranch dressing has 140 calories per two tablespoons, which is the size of a golf ball. Salad bar ladles usually contain twice that much (four tablespoons). Do you ever use more than 1 ladle-full? Healthy fats like nuts, olives, and avocados can be added in moderation, but be aware that these items are also high in calories.
One last suggestion: If you eat out frequently, take time to use the nutrition facts posted on a restaurant’s website to evaluate menu items before you enter a restaurant. You may be surprised at the calorie range!
As an example, Chili’s offers three popular salad choices….
- Boneless Buffalo Chicken with ranch dressing has 1010 cal, 49g carb, 68g fat, 48g protein
- Caribbean Salad with Grilled Chicken and dressing has 610 cal, 64g carb, 25g fat, 35g protein
- Classic Sirloin Guiltless Grill with sides has 370 cals, 20g carb, 8g fat, 53g protein
As you can see, the sirloin salad has about 1/3 the overall calories of the buffalo chicken salad, with less than half the amount of carbohydrates, a fraction of the fats and more protein – the best option by far!
So remember, ordering a salad is a good choice to limit fat and calorie intake, but only if you choose your ingredients wisely.