Salads are the quintessential weight loss food.  However, grouping all salads together and assuming they are healthy is like presuming all siblings are alike because they’re in the same family (and that’s complete nonsense). In February’s Allure I was interviewed for a fun story called “Eating Amnesia”. It’s all about the calories that sneak into our mouths that we forget about or never even realize. One section of the article discusses salads, “a bed of lettuce isn’t a magic wand that turns anything low calorie. 
There are the obscene salads at chain restaurants across the country with “crispy” aka fried chicken and noodles that I have to think everyone knows aren’t a nutritious choice. Chili’s Quesadilla Explosion salad with 1300 calories over 2000mg of sodium and Applebee’s Chicken Bruschetta Salad also almost a day’s worth of calories and a day and half of sodium are not uncommon on chain restaurant menus. Salads with Steak, Mexican and Asian salads tend to be high calorie. Aside from the flagrantly unhealthy salads, there are the salads that I find more deceptively damaging. These are salads that seem OK but are just a little too interesting. The popular Cosi Signature Salad has chicken and cranberries and vinaigrette. It seems like a decent option but has 623 calories. Le Pain Quotidien, a place I love, has a shrimp salad that’s over 500 calories.  These are the salad traps more of my clients fall into.
A salad doesn’t have to be unhealthy to be too much. Dried fruit is going to run you at least 100 calories and 2-3 tablespoons of sugar.  Cheese in your salad will be 150-200 calories and can be, in case of feta, up to 800 mg of sodium. In terms of dressing- most condiment cups hold 2 to 2.5 ounces. For various establishments this is 200-350 calories from dressing alone. Restaurants and salad bars sometimes use more than a condiment cup’s worth. And that piece of bread that’s so small and free with your salad is 100ish calories but I know, you never have the bread (wink, wink). So you can easily be at 500+ calories before the lettuce, veggies or protein.
Sometimes, what I call an “entrée” lunch is a cleaner choice:
Grilled Chicken, 2 cups of broccoli and a little olive oil = 345 calories
Poached Salmon, 2 cups of asparagus and some oil for cooking is 400 calories.
These calculations use a Blackberry-sized (no iPhone for me) piece of protein or 5oz. Many restaurants will give you a gross amount of protein- ½ to ¾ pound is “normal” ick. And a sandwich on 1-2 pieces of sprouted bread with lean protein and veggies can be a nice lunch option too.
If you’re a salad enthusiast or saladophile my suggestions are:

  • Choose a good green as your base. I love dinosaur or lacinato kale, butter lettuce (Gotham Greens are fantastic in NYC) or escarole.
  • Add a minimum of three other veggies.
  • Keep “treat” ingredients: nuts, seeds, avocados, dried fruit, avocado, chickpeas to 1 per salad. You can have walnuts and dried cherries and goat cheese but not on the same day.
  • Protein should be Blackberry not laptop sized.
  • Don’t eat ingredients in your salad you don’t generally eat (chips, croutons-greasy white bread, bacon).
  • For dressing, use olive oil and lemon or olive oil and vinegar with 1 tbs of oil.
  • Your whole salad shouldn’t be the size of your head or in a bowl you would use for a family of 4.
One of our Foodtrainers’ favorite salads is Gotham Greens butter lettuce, jarred tuna, red onion, jicama and cabbage, 1/3 avocado sliced, olive oil, lemon juice and of course hot sauce, salt and pepper.
If you’re looking to loose weight keep salads at around 400 calories give or take. If you watch size and “treats” they can be a healthy choice, as long as you don’t have eating amnesia.
What’s your favorite salad green? Overall salad? Favorite “treat” ingredient? How similar are you to your siblings?

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