It seems like the safest thing on the restaurant menu when you’re dieting: a nice, leafy green salad. Order the large size, complete with chopped chicken, and you’ve got a meal that melds well with your weight-loss plan. Right? Not always. Factor in popular add-ins – shredded cheese, nuts, croutons, seeds, dried fruit – and top it off with thick dressing, and that “healthy” bowl of greens becomes as loaded with calories and fat as one of the off-limits entrees.
Building a smarter salad, whether it’s from pickings in your fridge or based on what’s available at your favorite lunch café, is easy when you do the following:
Ditch the dressing
Two tablespoons of a creamy-style Ranch, blue cheese or other dressing can add up to 200 calories – not to mention fat, sugar, salt and unwanted ingredients like preservatives – to your salad. Instead, choose a low-fat dressing or opt for lemon juice, balsamic vinegar or a creative, diet-friendly topping like salsa.
Ask for dressing on the side
If a naked salad is too hard to swallow, request dressing on the side. This way, you’ll be in control of exactly how much lands on your lettuce. Another way to reduce the amount of dressing is to dip your fork into dressing before taking a bite, rather than dumping out the contents of the cup.
Say no to cheese
A simple sprinkling of cheese may add flavor and texture to an otherwise-ordinary salad, but is an extra 220 calories per half-cup really worth it? If you crave the taste, try nutritional yeast as an alternative topping. A quarter cup has only 45 calories and adds 6 grams of protein to your bowl.
Choose the house salad
Ordering the simplest salad on a menu is a good way to ensure a salad stays light. For example, at one popular, upscale restaurant chain, a house salad will only set you back 310 calories, while choosing the chopped brings that number to 520 and the Caesar to 860! Look for house, mixed greens or tossed salads for the lowest calorie counts.
Don’t cave on croutons
A little crunch can easily add a lot of extra calories. If you’re serving salad at home, try crisp freeze-dried, flavored edamame (only 90 calories in the entire bag!), oven-roasted chickpeas, crushed rice cakes or crumbled kale chips as an alternative topping.