It’s Just a Salad…Right?

saladSalad Secrets

For many, taking the first step to a healthier lifestyle means paying closer attention to the foods we eat. Whether you’re dining out at your favorite restaurant, or cooking at home, salads are often a go-to meal in an effort to cut back on calories. While there are hundreds of different ways to create this simple dish, if you’re not paying attention to what ingredients you’re using, it may not end up being the healthiest option after all. Registered dietitian, Danielle Fiskars Byers, debunks some of the common secrets about salads.

Myth: Fat free dressing is always the healthiest choice.
Not exactly. There are two issues to using fat-free dressings. First, by removing the fat, manufacturers have to add other ingredients such as high fructose corn syrup, preservatives, and salt to make the product taste good. In addition, fat is needed for our bodies to absorb many of the vitamins found in a salad. By using low-fat or fat-free dressing, you diminish your body’s ability to use the nutrients of the meal.

Myth: All lettuce is created equal.
Lettuce or greens can range from crunchy to soft, sweet to spicy. The rule of thumb is that darker greens pack a bigger nutrient “punch.” For example, a serving of Romaine lettuce contains seven times more Vitamin A and C than iceberg lettuce does. In addition to being good sources of vitamins, some greens also contain folate, potassium, and fiber. Experiment with different varieties to find o a mixture that you like. For a peppery or spicy flavor try arugula, watercress, or mustard greens. Romaine, green cabbage, or iceberg lettuce provide a crisp and crunchy texture. Incorporate chicory or escarole for a bold, slightly bitter twist. Butter, Boston, or Bibb lettuce act as beautiful, mild bases for salads topped with berries.

Myth: Chicken is the only way to add protein.
From obvious swaps, like hard boiled eggs, to more creative ones, like chia seeds – the options are endless! Versatile and nutritious, beans make an excellent substitution for chicken and add both fiber and protein (around 7 grams) to your dish. You can also try roasted chickpeas (7 grams protein) to add a satisfying crunch and replace croutons. Think outside the box and sprinkle flax meal (3 grams protein) and chia seeds (3 grams protein) onto your next bowl of greens. Keep in mind chicken isn’t the only lean protein – fish and seafood are also great substitutes.

Myth: Salads are always the lowest calorie choice at a restaurant.
Most restaurant salads come tossed in the dressing and likely contain more than the recommended serving size – which is smaller than you may think (2 tablespoons). Toppings such as cheese, croutons or tortilla strips, fried chicken, or sweetened dried fruit can quickly add up. Ask for your dressing or calorie-dense toppings on the side so you can control what makes it into your salad. Another option is to use a plain side salad as a base then ask your server to add items you know are healthy as sort of a “create your own” option.

© Spectrum Health Lakeland 2021