It’s sad but true, your salad habit may be backfiring on you. Like the words natural, fresh, fat-free, sugar-free, and organic, salad is often instantly associated with healthy. Unfortunately, our waistlines are paying for it.
The prevailing assumption is when you swap a burger or fried food for a salad, you have to come out ahead. But do we really come out ahead? It depends.
When I first started researching the nutrition information of my favorite meals in 2008, the calorie content of a typical Chick-fil-a salad without dressing, it rocked my world. It was then that I began to realize that salads aren't always what they are cracked up to be.
The bottom line: What your put in your salad matters. Before you eat another salad, check out my “diet derailer” list.
7 Salad Toppings that are Sabotaging Your Diet
1. Bacon Bits:
We already know bacon isn't the healthiest food but when you're eating a plate full of lettuce it's easy to reason that a little won't hurt :). 2 tablespoons is ‘only’ 50 calories. The challenge is it’s easy to get carried away with bacon bits! Before you know it, you can easily rack up 3-4 tablespoons pushing the total to 75-100 calories.
Tam’s Tip: If you love bacon (like I do), add 1 level tablespoon to your salad and stop there or skip it altogether and top with turkey instead.
2. Croutons: 10 garlic croutons weigh in at 100 calories. Not only that, croutons are refined carbohydrates (a food group we'd like to minimize) and are often high in sodium. Like bacon bits, they are hard to portion control; easily contributing 150-200 calories per salad.
Tam’s Tip: Crumble up two small multi-grain crackers, sprinkle them over your salad and save about 75 calories.
3. Creamy Dressings: Our favorites - Blue cheese, Thousand Island, French, Ranch, Honey Mustard and Caesar - taste great but pack a whopping 60-80 calories per teaspoon! And let’s face it, add little here and a little more there and next thing you know you’re at 180-240 calories easy.
Tam’s Tip: Use a small amount of extra-virgin olive oil with balsamic vinaigrette instead. If you aren't ready to part with your fav just yet, look for the fat-free salad version and aim for <5g of sugar per serving. Or dip your fork in the full fat version and drizzle it over the salad to lessen the damage.
4. Fried Protein: It’s easy to convince ourselves that forgoing fries and a bun in the drive-thru makes the fried chicken salad a reasonable indulgence…until you consider that a ½ cup of fried chicken strips is a shocking 190 calories. Fried shrimp is even worse at 274 calories per ½ cup.
Tam’s Tip: If you really want the fried chicken sandwich, you may be better off eating it! A Chick-fil-a Chicken Sandwich on wheat with no butter will run you approximately 400 calories, the same as the Cobb Salad without any dressing!
5. Cheddar cheese: Get this - just a ½ cup of cheddar cheese, the amount added to many large restaurant salads, contains 18 grams of fat and 225 calories!
Tam’s Tip: Substitute cheddar with a ½ cup crumbled feta cheese and save 135 calories, even more if you find a low fat version.
6. Tortilla Shells: While the exact numbers vary by brand, one large taco salad shell could contain anywhere from 250-400 calories. To make matters worse, more than half of those calories may come from fat and account for as much as one-third of your daily fat allowance.
Tam’s Tip: Eat only half the shell (or less) and skip the high fat ingredients like ground beef and sour cream.
7. Craisins: Craisins, a term used to describe dried cranberries, add a delightful flavor to salads but contain both added sugar and oil. Like raisins, craisins are very high in calories because of they have a high sugar content. One forth cup is 130 calories and an incredible 33 grams of carbohydrates, of which 29 grams (the equivalent of 7 teaspoons) are sugar.
Tam’s Tip: Save major calories by swapping craisins for fresh fruit like apple slices or strawberries.
So how did you do? Do you have some opportunities to improve? If you do, here’s my advice: remember small changes can make a big difference. You don't need to give up all of the above. Just modify your salad content so that it aligns with your goals.
coach tam's Blog
40-something who loves food, fitness, and fun!