Salads. They are the probably the number one food people think of when they want to lose weight or go on a diet. There is a perception that salads are super healthy, and they can be, but you have to be careful.
For example, check out these two items on the McDonald’s menu. The salad has more calories and more fat than the burger!
How could this be? Salad dressing plays a big part. Creamy salad dressings are often packed with loads of fat your salad’s calorie count to skyrocket. Watch out though, low fat salad dressings can be filled with salt and sugar to make up for the missing flavor. Your best bet is to choose a salad dressing that is oil based, not cream. The first three ingredients on the label should be oil, water, and some kind of vinegar. But, even if you pick the healthiest dressing, it doesn’t entitle you to use half the bottle. Always ask for dressing on the side and drizzle it on (don’t drown your lettuce). Better yet, dip your fork into the dressing and then get a fork-full of salad so you aren’t using any more than you need. Making your own salad dressings is also a great way to make sure there isn’t any extra preservatives or additives.
With all that being said, a high calorie salad isn’t always bad. Yes, if all those calories are coming from creamy dressing and fried chicken then there is a problem, but high calories sometimes means high nutrients.
I started thinking about this last weekend when I was in Toronto while I was eating one of many huge (and delicious) salads. It had kale, quinoa, poached eggs, curried cauliflower, chickpeas, sweet potato, cashews, nori, and avocado. Obviously I don’t know the exact nutritional value of it, but I’m guessing it was around 700 calories. You could easily eat 700 calories worth of cookies or ice cream, but you would be missing out on so many nutrients. That salad was packed with so much good fuel for the body — ie. Vitamin K in kale, vitamin A in sweet potato, healthy fats in avocado, iron and protein in quinoa, and the list goes on.
The moral of the story is that it is not always about the sheer number calories. Two salads, both with 700 calories, could have very different health effects. The one with fried chicken and creamy dressing are NOT going to help you lose weight and WILL contribute to heart disease. The one with lots of vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats will keep you full longer and give your body nutrients that it needs.
The next time you eat a salad, or any food, don’t just think about the calories; think about what is in it and how those ingredients will or won’t be good for your body.