Choosing salads because you think they’re healthier? Think again

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English: Chinese chicken salad. Español: Ensal...

Why Salads may NOT be your best option

It’s not uncommon for someone to think ‘salad’ when trying to watch their weight. Making salads at home with fresh wholesome ingredients is great but ordering what I call ‘designer’ salads at restaurants? That’s another story. Certainly there are healthy ones that indeed would be a good option but that’s not always the case and sometimes it’s very difficult to tell. When possible seek nutrition information online and be informed (or forewarned). Watch video or read transcript (click continue reading).

Last summer when registered dietitian nutritionist Melissa Mendez was interning with me we made a video. Here is the transcript. To watch the video click here.

Neily:I’m with my intern Melissa Mendez from Texas Woman’s University. She’s taking counseling classes at school and we were talking about the common things someone might do if they wanted to watch their weight or try to eat healthier. What do you think they might do, Melissa?
Melissa:I think the first thing they think of is salads.
Neily:Yes. And honestly, in my practice, when somebody comes in and says, I don’t understand why I’m not losing weight. I’m eating a lot of salads. For me, the red flags go off. Because I know the anatomy of a salad and what can make them not the best choice.Many of them can be over 1000 calories. So, they can really be gut-busters and not your best choice. I just want to take a look at a couple of salads from Chili’s (Bar & Grill) and show how the calories can really add up. And then we have a better option.This is the Quesadilla Explosion Salad. Just saying the word ‘explosion’ in the name of a salad should probably tell you something. But when you start taking apart the layers, you have tortilla strips that are fried, then you have cheese, and corn-bean relish. You have chicken, which is grilled and that’s great. Then you have lettuce, tomatoes and cilantro and so forth. You also have the quesadilla, which adds a significant amount of calories. And the real kicker are dressings. Dressing can really add a lot of calories and put it over the edge. This particular salad has (over) 1300 calories. Which probably won’t be in somebody’s healthy meal plan for lunch or dinner. It also has more than one day’s worth of saturated fat (29 grams*). So, probably something that would not be the best option.Good news, though, is that there is a better option on Chili’s menu.
Melissa:This is the Grilled Chicken Salad. There are no flour quesadillas, no fried tortilla strips and it doesn’t have the two dressings that one does. So, it cuts down on the saturated fats for sure.
Neily:And how many of those salads (Grilled Chicken) could you have for the same caloric cost as this one (Quesadilla Explosion)?
Melissa:You could get 3 salads to one. (430 calories versus 1360)
Neily:Exactly. So this is not significantly different. Really, you want volume and here you have lots of greens and you actually have a little more chicken in here (Grilled Chicken). When looking at volume, this is going to fill you up just as much as this will. And for significantly fewer calories.That’s just one example. You want to look at lighter fare on the menu when looking at salads but also look at other things. Looking at the ‘designer salads’, look at the descriptions, things you want to watch out for:

  • Anything that is crispy (that is going to be code word for fried)
  • Guacamole and nuts—very healthy fats but they can really pack on the calories. So, watch out for that.
  • Pecan-crusted. Pecan-crusted chicken or something like that is really going to add a significant amount of calories to something.
  • Dressings, of course. Ask for a light dressing (on the side). Most restaurants always have a light dressing. (Or get the regular on the side and dip fork into dressing, then salad just to get a taste.)
  • Cheese is a big one. And there might be multiple types of cheese so that can really add up.
  • Croutons. Some restaurants make their own, which can be higher in calories and higher in fat than other ones.
  • Meats, processed meats like pepperoni (bacon), deli meats and things like that can add up. Eggs are another.

Start adding up those layers—look at all the different components, they can really be the death of a diet.

Here are examples of other salads to be aware of:

  • Applebee’s Santa Fe Chicken Salad: 1280 cal, 24 g sat fat
  • California Pizza Chicken Waldorf Chicken Salad: 1370 cal, 28 g sat fat **

And again choose wisely!

So, just a couple of things to watch out for when ordering salads. Sometimes, you’re better off just getting another option on the menu. Beware of those salads. Keep it simple.

Thanks Melissa. It was great having you. Thanks for watching Neily on Nutrition and we’ll see you in the next video.

*Values were current August 2012 when video produced and obtained from company website. According to Chili’s website Sept 2013, calories of Quesadilla Explosion Salad are now 1,430.

**Values were current August 2012, current calories (Sept 2013) are 1,230 and 18 g sat fat.


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