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Stop Being Fooled by the Restaurant Salad

My current pet peeve is the restaurant salad. Too many of us are fooled into believing that just because something is called a salad it is the healthy choice. Do NOT be fooled—the salad is too often a perfect example of what I call an “unhealthy healthy” food—sneaky foods that seem healthy but that end up stealthily sabotaging progress! Unhealthy healthy foods—unlike ice cream—tend to slide under the radar and inadvertently sabotage progress.

So many people see “salad” and think “healthy” or “good for weight loss.” Wrong. Dressings are usually laden with sugar and filled with preservatives and unhealthy fat, and too often salads have additives like noodles, fried ingredients, taco chips, or dried fruits. Often in restaurants they are just a bunch of unhealthy ingredients assembled together—think taco salad. The other day my friend ordered a “squash salad.” What was it? A large piece of squash with a rich sauce and fried cheese.


I am not saying never order salads. Just know what you are eating. If you order an unhealthy salad because you love it, great. Have a small portion and enjoy it. I live by my “love it” rule: eat and enjoy small portions of the things you love. I just don’t want you to think you are making the healthy choice only to end up feeling bloated and unenergetic. KNOW what you are eating! Make an informed choice.

A few things to keep in mind:

-Be wary of dressings. They have hidden sugar and unhealthy fat. Either ask for dressing on the side or ask for olive oil, mustard, and balsamic so you can make your own dressing

-Watch for salads full of grains. I am not saying that grains are bad. Just know when you are ordering a grain bowl, not a mainly vegetable-filled salad. Own your choices.

-Read the ingredients carefully and ask your server questions. Watch for filler non-vegetable ingredients; set your antenna for sugar (candied nuts, dried fruit), fried foods (crispy nuts, tortilla chips), large portions of cheeses, unhealthy fats (sour cream), processed foods, vegetables drenched in oils (grilled vegetables), empty complex carbs (noodles), and salty foods (salted nuts, meats).

-Watch portion sizes. Salads can often be big enough to feed three people. Portion sizes count.

-Watch the amount and number of ingredients. A subcategory of “unhealthy healthy” foods is foods that are healthy in moderation (as in, if you eat one or two portions), but that are not healthy when consumed willy-nilly. Think avocado, almonds, peanut butter, crackers, high-GI fruits (mangos, pineapple), and hummus.

So many restaurant salads are humungous and too often contain not one but many of this subcategory of unhealthy healthy foods. For example, a salad with vegetables, chicken, and one serving of avocado is great. A salad with grilled vegetables (soaked in oil, so just unhealthy), chicken (drenched in a processed dressing, so unhealthy), PLUS multiple servings of foods that should be eaten in moderation such as avocado, nuts, and cranberries is NOT as okay.

Be particularly mindful of the “moderation” category if you’re trying to lose weight. The key to weight loss is not only food selection but portion control. Too often, when one knows something is healthy, one is less mindful and doesn’t worry about portion control. Almonds are healthy, but too many of us grab handful after handful in a day. An entire large bag is not part of a nutritionally balanced day—especially if one of your main goals is to lose weight.

Don't misinterpret my words. Obviously, blatantly unhealthy foods like doughnuts are still unhealthy. All I am trying to say is, don't try to “scam the system.” A gluten-free cookie can be made of as much crap as a regular cookie. Plus, no matter what you are eating, portion control is key! Don't stand at a party or at your kitchen counter and snack mindlessly. Sit down and enjoy what you are eating. If you decide to have an amazing piece of cake, great. Enjoy your treat. Just have one small slice, not seven.