A Sad Ballad About Salad
By Anna Sachse
Salad—it’s the quintessential diet food. Most vegetables are low, low, low on the calories, and yet super-sized on the fiber, vitamins and nutrients. Nothing beats a bowl of spinach, purple cabbage, yellow bell peppers, carrots, tomatoes and a little bit of olive or flaxseed oil-based salad dressing (a small amount of fat helps you better absorb nutrients from your food) for subtracting inches from your waistline while adding years to your life.
However, my dear Americans, notice that I didn’t include macaroni salad in that mix. Just because food is piled in a bowl and labeled “salad,” doesn’t mean it’s good for you or, at the very least, good for weight loss. Here are four tips for navigating the no-no’s in the magical land of the salad bar.
1. If it’s creamy and white, it isn’t good for you.
Every time you take a bite of potato salad, macaroni salad, crab salad, coleslaw and, for that matter, creamy salad dressings like ranch, blue cheese and even Russian, you should imagine that bite traveling through your arteries like a blood clot, on up to your brain and voila! You have an aneurysm and you’re dead. All of these items are essentially flavored mayonnaise and/or sour cream, but it is a lot easier to unthinkingly eat a cup of macaroni salad (approximately 440 calories and 30 grams of fat!) than a cup of mayonnaise. If you must indulge, keep your portions to a fourth- or half-a-cup and skip the dressing entirely. One exception, however, is cottage cheese, which has about 116 calories, five grams of fat and 14 grams of protein in just half a cup.
2. If it involves Jell-O, it isn’t good for you.
Although Jell-O has zero fat and less calories than creamy things, it also offers zero nutrition, thus all the calories are “empty” calories comprised of sugar. Add in whipped cream or cream cheese or fruit that’s been canned in sugary syrups, and the calories skyrocket. Jell-O “salads” are really just dessert, so treat them that way.
3. Iceberg lettuce is Styrofoam that grows in the ground.
I like the way that Jennifer Haigh put it in an article on salad for Men’s Health: nutrient-wise, iceberg lettuce helps your diet as much as real icebergs helped the Titanic. In my opinion, it’s kind of like someone took real lettuce and wrung out everything good, and then dipped it in bleach. Iceberg is low in calories, but it also offers next to nothing in terms of vitamins or fiber, and it tends to just sit in your stomach retaining water and making you look bloated. You are far better off with darker leafy greens—spinach contains seven calories per cup, a laundry list of vitamins and at least 13 different flavonoid (anti-oxidant) compounds that help fight osteoporosis, heart disease, colon cancer, arthritis and other diseases.
4. If it isn’t a vegetable, watch your portions.
This rule includes croutons, sunflower seeds, raisins, olives, eggs, bacon bits and all those strange, salty tidbits at the end of the salad bar, as well as cheeses, beans and meats. Raisins, olives, eggs, sunflower seeds, beans and even some meats actually have many healthful properties, but they are also calorie-dense (a quarter cup of sunflower seeds has about 210 calories and 19 grams of fat) so try to stick with just a small portion of one or two. And, finally, remember that chocolate cake sitting on a platter at the end of the salad bar is still chocolate cake—eat some pineapple instead (it’s supposed to make your nether regions taste better anyway, so it could end up win-win for you!). Enjoy.