It’s the time of year. You’ve gained a few pounds over the holidays and now the resolution is to take them off, and more. If you plan to cut the calories by eating salad, you might want to rethink that plan just a little. Salads are often the answer to everything from waistlines to health. But are those big bowls of rabbit food really calorie-free answers to a ravenous appetite and a sure-fire way to beat the odds on cancer and heart disease?
Yes and no. Crispy greens are one of life’s little fat-free pleasures. However, many fatty concoctions are guzzled under the guise of “salad fixings.” The fact that salad dressing is the number one source of fat in women’s diets attests to the confusion over what is really a healthful salad and what is a fat-laden disaster. Here are a few survival skills for surviving the salad bar mine field that can help you cut the fat, sodium and sugar, yet keep the taste, nutrition and pleasure of the meal.
First, heap your plate with greens, the greener the better. Spinach is better than leaf lettuce, which is better than iceberg. Other raw-and-crispy “freebies” include: grated carrots, mushrooms, raw broccoli flowerets, alfalfa sprouts, tomatoes, radicchio lettuce, purple cabbage, cucumber, and sweet red pepper. Avoid the avocados slices and use the salty olives sparingly.
Second, add ½ to 2/3 cup of beans, such as kidney, garbanzo and black beans, or black-eye peas, lentils and split peas. Other low-fat protein sources include sliced, plain chicken or turkey breast or cooked egg white (whole egg contains more than a teaspoon of fat, while the white is fat- and cholesterol-free). Avoid the luncheon meats, such as salami, ham and pepperoni, which contain up to 60% fat calories and too much salt. Low-fat cottage cheese is another healthy option and can be mixed with a low-calorie dressing to make less dressing go farther. Avoid the creamy cottage cheese that contains more than a teaspoon of fat for every ½ cup.
Third, skip over anything mixed with oil, mayonnaise, cheese or whipped cream. This includes potato or pasta salads, Mexican meat or cheese sauces, tuna mixed with mayonnaise, egg salad, macaroni and cheese, tartar sauce, and Waldorf salad. A one-ladle serving of these foods could contribute up to three tablespoons of fat to the meal. Grated Parmesan is a tasty alternative when used sparingly (one tablespoon contains about ½ teaspoon of fat).
Fourth, complement your salad with soup and bread. Vegetable, split pea, Manhattan clam chowder, or chicken noodle soups are usually low fat, although they also often are oversalted. A slice of whole wheat bread or a plain bagel can add flavor without fat to the meal, but limit your intake of muffins or any baked item that has a shiny appearance, which is a red flag for too much fat or sugar.
Fifth, approach the salad dressing with a wary eye. Remember that one small ladle drizzles 2 tablespoons of dressing onto your plate, or up to 4 teaspoons of fat and 170 calories. In essence, too much of the wrong dressing can transform four cups of low-fat vegetables into a 70% fat calorie lunch! Choose low-calorie dressing and use them sparingly. Select watery versions, such as Italian and French, rather than thicker blue cheese and thousand island dressings, since they spread more evenly over the salad. Better yet, portion out a ½ to 1 scoop serving into a separate container and lightly dip your fork into the low-calorie dressing first and then into the salad.