Not All Salads Are Created Equal

Salad is a terrific way to make vegetables a large part of meals. That’s great for overall health and can support a weight management program. Several possibilities could explain why simply switching to salads at lunch hasn’t helped with weight loss. Maybe the salads haven’t reduced your calorie consumption at lunch as much as you assume. Or maybe your salad doesn’t have enough protein and fat, which may lead you to snack more throughout the day.

To limit calories in your salad, fill most of your plate with dark leafy greens (such as spinach, romaine or other mixed salad greens) and plain chopped vegetables (such as carrots, peppers, cucumbers, mushrooms and tomatoes). Include about a half-cup (picture a rounded handful) of unsweetened fresh fruit, such as pineapple or berries, too, if you like. If salad is your main dish, include protein from one or more of the following:  a half-cup of kidney or garbanzo beans, turkey, seafood chunks, chopped hard-boiled egg, or plain tuna; or one-third cup of nuts or sunflower or pumpkin seeds. If you want cheese, use just a little for flavor in combination with a smaller portion of one of these leaner sources of protein. Just a tablespoon or two of Parmesan or feta gives plenty of flavor.

Finally, watch salad dressing portions. Aim for one to two tablespoons of regular dressing. At a salad bar, a typical four-tablespoon ladle of regular dressing adds about 140 to 320 calories. A smaller ladle the size of a ping-pong ball contains two tablespoons. If you use bottled dressing, measure out the serving size so you can see the portion size and you’ll know how many calories it is. For even lower calories, dress your salad with lemon juice or vinegar and a couple of teaspoons of plain olive oil (often in a cruet at salad bars).  A little bread with your salad is fine, but a giant muffin or too many breadsticks can wipe out any advantage you had by choosing a healthy salad.

Also consider what you’re eating the rest of the day. Are you “rewarding” yourself for healthy lunches with high-calorie treats at other times of the day or on the weekends? If you’re making a real cut in calories at lunch without raising calories from other sources or cutting back on your physical activity, you should see a change in your weight or waist before long. Small cuts take a while to show results, but can be among the best sustained.

By Karen Collins, MS, RDN, CDN, FAND, American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR). The AICR fosters research on the relationship of nutrition, physical activity and weight management to cancer risk, interprets the scientific literature, and educates the public about the results. Visit the AICR website (www.aicr.org) to find delicious, healthful recipes and information.