First of all, that title isn’t totally true. Salad did not make me fat personally…just to clear that up (my love of cookies might though).
But what I want to talk about today is how deceiving some foods like salads can be. Typically most humans think of salad as being a “healthy meal choice”, and while it most definitely can be, there are huge misconceptions about what exactly comprises a healthy salad. I feel like I’m kind of a pro on salad talk since they are one of my favorite meals. I like easy and convenient, and how much easier can you get than bulk cooking proteins (meats) and adding them to a bed of lettuce at any time?! So today I give you my advice/knowledge as a professional salad connoisseur. I don’t think such a job title actually exists…but I digress…
When you start reading nutrition labels on foods, and googling the nutrition facts of your restaurant meals, you start to realize that all isn’t always as healthy as it seems. I can bet that most of you, myself included at one point in life, are guilty of going to the drive-thru and ordering a salad because (duh!) it’s healthier than ordering the double whopper burger and fries. But I want to debunk this “salad is always the healthiest option” myth. Let me give you some examples of salads currently on menus…
The new bacon ranch salad at McDonald’s comes with either grilled or crispy chicken. Choose the crispy and you’re in for a whopping 29 grams of fat! Opt for the grilled, and you’re still getting 14 grams. Plus, both are loaded in 1000+ grams of sodium!
Do you like eating at Applebee’s? I know I do. They have great salads. I love their Thai Shrimp Salad, so here’s the dirt on that little bugger…21 grams of fat, 30 grams of carbs, 24 grams of protein, and a huge 1951 milligrams of sodium. Now let’s break that down a little bit. Based on my current macros, that one meal takes half of my daily fat count, leaving me with a measly 20 grams to spread throughout the rest of my day’s meals. Not good! Otherwise, minus the massive amount of sodium, it isn’t the worst option out there.
Now here’s a real devastating one…TGI Friday’s Pecan Crusted Chicken Salad. This baby contains 71 grams of fat and 76 grams of carbs!! Wrap your mind around that monstrosity. Heck, you’re basically better off eating that Big Mac.
So now that we’ve proved that not all salads are made equal, let’s talk about how you can ensure that you’re truly eating a healthy salad whether you make it at home or you eat it at a restaurant. Here’s some quick tips to remember:
- Fries, croutons, breadsticks, and other grainy items quickly add extra carbs to your salad.
- Cheese and nuts can skyrocket your fat counts.
- Lots of fruits (like dried cranberries, etc.) can up your carb count, deceivingly enough.
- Creamy dressings and dumping a whole cup of dressing on your salad sucks up even more carbs and fat.
So, how can you choose healthier or make healthier at home?
- Always choose your chicken grilled. (or use grilled steak or fish) Breaded, crispy, and crusted can be considered BAD.
- Omit the fries…they are REALLY not necessary.
- Choose veggies like cucumbers, mushrooms, and green peppers instead of fruits. (those veggies are all super low carb and zero fat)
- Choose light or low fat dressings, or try none at all. (you’d be surprised how a well seasoned chicken breast can spice up a whole salad.
- Ask for dressing on the side, and dip into it instead of dousing the whole plate.
Never be afraid to ask your server at a restaurant how things are prepared, either. Ask how the meat is cooked. Many times you can request a plain old grilled chicken breast done without any sauces, butter, or anything else. You can also usually always choose double veggies instead of veggies and a starch, like fries. This is one trick I use all the time at my favorite hibachi restaurant. No rice or noodles for me please, just pile on the veggies. (totally unrelated to salad, but a good tip nonetheless) And always look up the restaurant you plan on going to before you get there. Being prepared is half the battle. If you arrive knowing exactly what you’re getting, then the chance of surprises is almost nil. Plus, you won’t look like a nerd sitting at the table researching nutritional values. I’m fairly certain that every chain restaurant has their menu with nutritional values posted online, which makes life so much easier. And if you’re going to a non-chain restaurant, like a little hometown grill, you can always compare what you’re getting to something a chain has and get an estimated, educated guess of what you’re eating. Furthermore, non-chain restaurants are more likely to use homegrown and less processed foods, which will typically lower the amount of sodium that you’re getting as well.