Another gem from my newsletter:
The perfect salad, with just the right combination of nutritious vegetables and filling protein, can be one of the healthiest meals you can eat. The imperfect salad, on the other hand, can be a diet disaster. While some toppings just aren't as good as their healthier counterparts, others can tack on hundreds of extra calories and unnecessary grams of sugar and fat, transforming your meal from power lunch to flab trap. That's exactly why Eat This, Not That! Supermarket Survival Guide has developed this Salad Bar Survival Guide--read it, learn it, and know for sure that when you choose to eat healthy, you're doing it right.
While not bad for you, it's the least healthy of common salad bar lettuces. Its high water content makes for a low nutrient density. If you can't skip it, mix it in with darker, healthier greens.
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Pick darker greens for the base. Spinach, on the greenest side of the spectrum, is bursting with vitamins and nutrients, like folate, which helps ward off mental decline, and beta-carotene, which helps protect your skin and eyes.
The diversity of leaves assures you a bowl filled with a wide variety of nutrients and active compounds. The delicate nature of these little lettuces, though, means they don't hold us as well to heavy ingredients and dressings.
Compared with iceberg, romaine contains 3 times more folate, 6 times more vitamin C, and 8 times the beta-carotene. Makes a good, sturdy bed for more substantial salads.
There are too many nutritionally superior vegetables at the salad bar to invest the calories on corn. Corn isn't a definite no, but if you choose to use, make it a sparing amount.
They're not bad for you per se, but they only have half the vitamin C as their red and yellow counterparts. If the other versions are available, what's the point of going green?
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The scarlet crusaders help to lower blood pressure, maintain your memory, and fight cancer.
Red or Yellow Peppers
As said above, they have twice the amount of vitamin C as green peppers. Think of it this way: the more colorful your salad, the grater variety of nutrients you'll take in.
Vitamin C, fiber, calcium, and few calories. Need we say more?
These feathery salad additions have a cache of vitamins unrivaled by nearly anything else you can put in your body. Get in the habit of topping off your salad with these.
Throw some on for lycopene, which has been linked to reduced risk of cancer and heart disease. Tomatoes also provide vitamins A, C, and K.
You'll love them for their sweet crunch and their vision-boosting beta-carotene.
Bacon's gotten some bad press over the years, but one strip has only 40 calories and less than 200 milligrams of sodium. So a pinch of bacon bits is permissible; a handful, however, is not.
Eggs aren't bad for you, but there are better, healthier, less caloric alternatives. Then again, if you're sick of chicken and it means the difference between eating a salad or opting for take-out, you can mix an egg with chickpeas, avocado and red peppers for the closest thing to salad perfection. Just don't overdo it.
Avocados provide a ton of heart-healthy fats and a rich, creamy bite to any salad. But just because monounsaturated fats are good for your heart doesn't mean they won't still make you fat. Try to choose between avocados and nuts.
Yes, they are absolutely jacked with omega-3s and antioxidants, but they're incredibly dense with calories. Keep it down to a tablespoon or two.
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Lean protein is the key to making filling salads, and none come much leaner than chicken. If you're banking on the bird, thought, remember that a healthy portion is the size of a deck of cards.
Like all legumes, chickpeas bring to the table both protein and fiber, the sultans of satiety. Add to that a healthy dose of antioxidants and you have the makings of a salad-topping superstar.
Tuna fish on a salad, as opposed to tuna salad swimming in mayonnaise, will provide protein and heart-helping omega-3 fats without the heavy caloric price.
The type of dressing you use is the single most important decision you make at the salad bar. These three represent the most destructive dressings, clocking in around 150 calories and 15 grams of fat per serving.
The trio of orange dressings are only marginally less problematic than their white counterparts. That's because they're based on low-grade oils and excess sugar. Expect at least 150 calories for 2 tablespoons of one of these.
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Oil and Vinegar
Your best bet, since you control the ratio. Slick your salad with equal parts oil and vinegar, but be sure to add only enough to lightly coat the greens.
Assuming the vinaigrette is based on olive oil, you'll be getting a big dose of monounsaturated fats. Even so, since most vinaigrettes abide by the three parts oil to one part vinegar ratio, you're still looking at 100 calories per serving.
The worst cheese at the salad bar. Not only is it high in calories and sodium, but the minuscule shreds tend to bury themselves in the bowl, making portion control a challenge.
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A smarter pick than blue cheese, being that feta provides that same crumbly bite for fewer calories and less sodium. Still, only in moderation and only with a colorful crew of vegetables to back it up.
Delicious blue cheese comes at a caloric price. If you absolutely must have it, limit yourself to just one meat or other protein and load up on low-call veggies.
Think of these oil-soaked, enriched flour cubes as salad bar grenades-they'll blow your healthy salad away.
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One of nature's finest sources of vitamin E, a fat-soluble antioxidant that helps fight inflammation and lower cholesterol.
Raisins or Craisins
They're fruit, yes, but they're likely to be coated in sugar. Opt for fresh fruit whenever possible.
Now for the worst Salads out there:
Worst Salad: On the Border
Grande Taco Salad w/Taco Beef and Smoked Chipotle Vinaigrette Dressing
121 g fat (40 g saturated)
2,660 mg sodium
When a restaurant exchanges the salad bowls with a deep-fried tortilla trough, you know something’s amiss. With as much saturated fat as 40 strips of bacon (two days’ worth) and more calories than 11 Taco Bell Fresco Beef Tacos.
Worst Salad: Chevy's Fresh Mex
Tostada Salad with Chicken
94 g fat (37 g saturated)
2,840 mg sodium
Steer clear of Mexican-themed salads; they invariably suffer from the caloric impact of fried tortillas, shredded cheese, and ice-cream-size scoops of sour cream. This particular Mex mess has nearly two days' worth of saturated fat and more than an entire day’s sodium.
Worst Salad: Chili's
Caesar Salad w/ Grilled Chicken & Caesar Dressing
76 g fat (13 g saturated)
1,910 mg sodium
The top three words you never want to see sharing a space with “salad” on a menu: tuna, taco, and yes, the mighty Caesar. Consider that tangle of romaine a hapless vehicle for the troubling trinity of croutons, parmesan cheese, and viscous Caesar dressing. Chili’s version is the worst; the elephantine portion yields a salad with more fat than a dozen Oreo Ice Cream Sandwiches from Breyers. (Maybe Brutus was right to take a knife to him, after all.)
Worst Salad: Einstein Bros.
Bros Bistro Salad with Chicken
71 g fat (12 g saturated)
810 mg sodium
Chicken, mixed greens, walnuts, raspberry vinaigrette: Sounds like good eating, right? Too bad the walnuts are candied, the dressing alone has 14 grams of fat, and the leaves are strewn with salty hunks of Gorgonzola cheese. Want a survival plan? Ask for a half salad and politely decline the free bagel.
Worst Salad: Macaroni Grill
Seared Sea Scallops Salad
91 g fat (25 g saturated)
2,860 mg sodium
Macaroni Grill manages to take two normally healthy foods — salad and seafood — and turn them into the caloric equivalent of 29 Chicken McNuggets. Not to mention more than one day’s worth of sodium, fat, and saturated fat. There’s an important lesson here: Sea creatures, just like leafy greens, are at grave risk when they fall into the hands of the restaurant industry.
Worst Salad: Quiznos
Chicken with Honey Mustard Flatbread Salad
74 g fat (14.5 g saturated)
2,030 mg sodium
Surprised to see a Quizno’s salad with nearly as many calories as five packages of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups? Don’t be. Half the salads on the menu top 1,000 calories, and 330 of those calories come from the flatbread alone.
Worst Salad: T.G.I. Friday's
Pecan Crusted Chicken Salad
Fat: unknown (The company refuses to disclose the nutritional content of the food they’re serving you.)
Turns out Friday’s monster salads aren’t much better than their burgers. Six out of the seven we analyzed topped out with more than 900 calories, which means that lunchtime can be the start of something big — namely, your belly.
Salad Hall of Fame
Now that you’ve been warned of the greenest nutrition follies in the nation, here are seven salads worthy of their healthy reputation.
Premium Asian Salad with Grilled Chicken
10 g fat (1 g saturated)
890 mg sodium
Classic Café Salad
11 g fat (1.5 g saturated)
270 mg sodium
Au Bon Pain
Butternut Squash Salad
6 g fat (4 g saturated)
570 mg sodium
Jack in the Box
Southwest Chicken Salad with Grilled Chicken Strips
12 g fat (5 g saturated)
840 mg sodium
Charbroiled Chicken Salad
8 g fat (3.5 g saturated)
580 mg sodium
Grilled Chicken Salad Deluxe
10 g fat (5 g saturated)
770 mg sodium
Martha’s Vineyard Salad
9 g fat (4 g saturated)
609 mg sodium