Are You Being Fooled by Salads?

The Salad Trap

Salad’s popularity is skyrocketing.  I was recently in New York City and saw a different salad shop on every block: Just Salad, Chop’t, Fresh & Co., Beans & Greens, Sweetgreen, Mulberry & Vine…

Just look at this:

As people become increasingly health conscious, the words “I think I’ll have a salad for lunch” are said more and more each day.  Salads are a great way to eat healthy and fill yourself up with less calories.  But here’s the thing: most salads are a trap.

Contrary to popular belief, salads are not a no-brainer.  Most salads are either doing too much or not enough.  I want to give you some tips to plan and create salads that work for you.  It’s not enough for salads to make us feel healthy; they should help us be healthy.  Plus, with these tips your salad will taste great too!

Proper Proportions.

Let’s start with some simple math.  Don’t worry; we’re just working with estimates.

55% -- Your green, leafy base should only make up a little over half of your salad. 
30% -- A nice variety of veggies should make up the other bulk of your salad. 
6% -- To make a meal out of your salad, you’ll need to add protein.
4% -- Fruits are a great addition to any salad, but they bring a lot of sugar with them.
4% -- Fun toppings like nuts and seeds should accentuate, not overpower.
1% -- With a properly diverse salad, you’ll find that a little dressing goes a long way.

That’s 100% of a tasty and nutritious salad.  If you’re not a numbers person, don’t worry about it.  These are just loose guidelines and I go into a lot more details below.

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Avoid iceberg lettuce.

Iceberg lettuce has a longstanding reputation as the premiere filler ingredient in salad.  I’ve seen “salads” made up of only iceberg lettuce and fatty dressing.  But here’s the scoop (or fork-full, let’s say):  Iceberg lettuce, much like an actual iceberg, is mostly just water.  The amount of vitamins and fiber in this lettuce is negligent.

Instead, load up your salad with darker greens.  Kale is one of the most popular superfoods of the decade, and for good reason.  Unlike iceberg lettuce, kale is chockfull of Vitamins A, C and K.  It’s also a great source of iron, magnesium, calcium, folate, and potassium.  Spinach, arugula, romaine lettuce, and basil leaves are other great substitutes for iceberg lettuce.

chickpeas

Don’t forget the protein.

I see so many people opt for salad because they’re trying to eat healthier or get “beach body ready”.  First of all, you’re always beach body ready!  Confidence and self-love is always sexy.  But if you’re looking to drop some pounds or add a little chisel to your frame, you’ll want protein. 

Everyone knows protein builds muscle, but it also helps you shed that extra weight.  Protein helps you feel fuller, longer.  So you’ll be less likely to crave that snack a couple hours after lunch.  Additionally, your body uses more calories to break down protein than other foods like carbs.  And here’s a real surprise: The British Journal of Nutrition published a study that showed eating protein reduces weight regain!  That’s right, if you’ve succeeded in dropping some extra pounds, eating protein will help keep that weight away.

So let’s put some protein in that salad.  It’s important to remember though, not all protein is created equal.  If you’re craving meat, be sure to take the skin of your turkey and chicken, or consider using fish.  Avoid bacon.  If you want to keep your salad meat-free, beans and egg whites are a great source of protein.  My personal favorite protein-packed addition to any salad is a three-quarters cup of chickpeas (the main ingredient of hummus).  Yum!

mixednuts

A little bit goes a long way.

This slogan is not about vegetables.  By all means, chop up all the cucumber, peppers, tomatoes, broccoli, and red onions you desire!  (When people tell you that a great salad has many colors, they’re talking about the vegetables.)

There are a lot of classic salad ingredients that are admittedly delicious, but often overused.  Try to limit yourself to just a tablespoon or two of cheese and salad dressing.  If cutting back on salad dressing is proving difficult, try squeezing a little lemon or lime on your dish.  1/4th cup of croutons is plenty – they’re just empty carbs (and carrots are a great alternative crunch).  One tablespoon of walnuts, pecans, almonds, sunflower seeds, or pumpkin seeds is a great way to add something special to your salad.  While dried cranberries are a decent source of potassium, the only other thing they add to your salad is sugar. 

Finally, Fruits.

Fruits work wonders in salad!  Because the sweet flavor *pops* in a salad, a little bit of fruit goes a long way.  Plus, because most fruits are deliciously juicy, adding a little fruit makes it easier to cut back on unhealthy salad dressing. 

Fruits are sweet because of their high concentration of glucose, AKA sugar.  This is the main reason we don’t want to overdo it.  That said, the health benefits of fruit are undeniable.  Berries, oranges, grapes are great sources of antioxidants – which help our body fend of diseases and cancers by boosting our immune system.  Bananas are a great source of potassium and Vitamin B6.  Melons tend to be an amazing source of Vitamin A, and everyone knows oranges as a beloved source of Vitamin C.

http://womenlaughingalonewithsalad.tumblr.com/

http://womenlaughingalonewithsalad.tumblr.com/

So that’s it!  You’re a salad professional now.  Help yourself and help your friends avoid The Salad Trap.  (Soon you may even find yourself the star of a post on the popular Women Laughing Alone With Salad blog.)

 

 

References:

http://ndb.nal.usda.gov

http://ajcn.nutrition.org

http://journals.cambridge.org