Sunday, August 21, 2011

When is a Salad Not a Salad?

The conditioning we have received is to tag certain words in our brains as good, and others as bad. For example, if I said the word ‘burger’, you would immediately think juicy with tons of calories. And if I said ‘salad’, you would think dainty, few calories, possibly tasteless, and good for you. If you’ve ever been to a Nigerian 10-year old birthday party and looked at the mayo-infused coleslaw being served, you’d think again. Some salads are worse than a Double Whopper. The word salad is just that, only a word. Restaurants can get away with a lot if they just name an item a salad.

The same theory goes for a burger. If you make it absolutely greasy with greasy onions, tons of cheese, and tons of fatty dressing, of course it is unhealthy. But if you stick to lean meat, get a low calorie bun, skip the cheese, and minimize the dressing, a burger can actually contain less calories than some salads out there.

So what should you look out for when choosing or making a salad? What defeats the whole purpose of having a salad? Here are some of the items:

Bacon: I don’t even need to point this one out to you. Bacon is pretty greasy and salty, and although it’s, you know, bacon, and it’s delicious, a few strips can defeat the purpose of having a salad. It is really not that filling as well, so it just feels like eating empty calories. Try to stick to other forms of lean meat.

Dressing: Rather than use creamy dressings, I would stay try to stick to small servings of vinaigrettes or olive oil. If you absolutely must use a creamy dressing, serve it on the side so you can use just a tad as you eat the salad. There is no point if the number of calories in the dressing is more than the whole salad.

Nuts: Be very careful here. People like to throw in some nuts here and there to spruce up a salad, but when it starts to take over the salad, then there’s a problem. Nuts are great for you, but just like anything, they do contain calories too, and so we can’t eat them endlessly and expect to get away with it. Oh, and stick to nuts with low salt content.

Greens: All edible greens are great for you. But some are better than others. I live by the rule: the greener the vegetable, the better it is for you. Greener vegetables have more vitamins and antioxidants than bland-colored vegetables. So to all the lettuce lovers, come to the spinach side!

Meat: Let’s face it; a plain salad is just blah. You can make your salad taste better and be more filling by adding in some meat. But it’s important to be careful with the type of meat you use in a salad. I once saw a salad with bacon bits, sausage, and chopped burger patties. You may as well just eat a few pizzas. With salads, try to stay in the lean meat or fish category: chicken or turkey breast, lean beef, salmon, etc.

Dried fruit: I love love love fruit in salads. They help to naturally sweeten the vegetables. But please pay attention to the number of calories in the fruit you use when using dried fruit. Some dried fruit are caramelized with sugar and syrup, and that could multiply the number of calories in the raw fruit. If possible, stick to fresh fruit like berries, peaches, oranges, and apples with a low number of calories and tons of other benefits.

Now, just to give you an idea of real-life salads out there that contain over 1000 calories. These are all American restaurants, so if you’re outside the US, these may not apply to you. But I just want you to see how easy it is to pick a bad salad.
  • Cheesecake Factory Grilled Chicken Tostada Salad (contains corn tortillas, avocado cream and sour cream) – 1130 calories
  • Chili’s Quesadilla Explosion Salad (contains cheese quesadillas) – 1400 calories
  • Outback Steakhouse Queensland Salad (contains bacon, cheese, croutons, and mustard vinaigrette) – 1410 calories
  • IHOP Chicken & Spinach Salad (contains fried chicken, bacon and garlic bread): 1600 calories
If you make a spinach salad with turkey breast and some blueberries with balsamic vinaigrette, you could eat about 200 to 300 calories depending on the size. See the difference? The summary is it's easy to assume it's great because it has the word salad in it, but ALWAYS PAY ATTENTION TO THE CONTENTS OF YOUR SALAD!

Cheers Eights & Weights!


  1. lol. I was just chatting with my friend about the 'salads' at many Mexican places. Rice, beans, pork, guacamole, you name it with a few shredded lettuce leaves. A friend got me such a salad once and I was able to stretch it into 3 meals! perfectly full after each third I ate. There's definitely more to a salad than just the label 'salad'

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