The number one caution with salads is: Pay attention to the dressing. In researching my book Stop & Drop Diet, I came across a lot of restaurant websites that list the calories and nutrition in their salads, with and without dressing. What an eye-opener! Salad dressing can add hundreds of calories to a pretty innocent-sounding salad. Those little packets have too much dressing (of course it’s hard not to use it all), and the dressing tends to be packed with calories.
In fact, many of the salads I recommend don’t include dressing at all. I find that just the addition of a few flavorful ingredients like olives or artichokes can add enough oomph that dressing isn’t even needed. In other cases, just a few dashes of vinegar (try red wine vinegar or balsamic vinegar) or a squeeze of lemon juice does the trick. At home, you can give your salad a few sprays of oil from a Misto or pressurized can, toss it, and then sprinkle with vinegar and fresh herbs. The oil softens the sharpness of the vinegar. If you really miss having a creamy dressing, try my secret: 0% plain Greek yogurt blended with some fresh herbs!
My second caution pertains to toppings. Some salad toppings should come with warning signs because they’re so high in fat and calories and have very little that is good for health or weight loss. I’m talking to you, fried croutons, fried wonton noodles, crumbled bacon, shredded or crumbled cheese, and candied nuts. Instead, I enjoy a bit of avocado or nuts and seeds for MUFAs.
Finally, when I have a salad as my meal, it has to have protein to be balanced and satisfying. Nothing fancy here, maybe grilled chicken breast, lean steak, or salmon. My tuna is always packed in water, not oil, and I like to keep a couple of pouches handy for a quick addition to a garden salad.
Here, take a look the shocking number of calories you can save when you start making savvier salad choices.
Stop: Cheesecake Factory Small Salad Caesar with Chicken (980 calories)
Start: Au Bon Pain Chicken Caesar Asiago (no dressing, 250 calories) (pictured below)
Stop: Applebee’s Oriental Grilled Chicken Salad (1290 calories, 82 g fat)
Start: Half size California Pizza Kitchen Chinese Chicken Salad (395 calories 18 g fat) (pictured below)
Stop: Potbelly Uptown Salad, with Potbelly Vinaigrette (624 calories, 42 g fat)
Start: Denny’s Cranberry Apple Chicken Salad, with balsamic vinaigrette (360 calories 9 g fat) (pictured below)
Stop: Panera Chicken Cobb with Avocado, with BBQ ranch dressing (800 calories, 62 g fat)
Start: Cosi Cobb Salad—Lighter Version (538 calories 33 g fat) (pictured below)
Stop: Applebee’s seasonal Berry and Spinach Salad (620 calories)
Start: Panera Greek Salad, no dressing (370 calories) (pictured below)
Reader’s Digest’s Editor in Chief Liz Vaccariello calls her latest book, Stop & Drop Diet, her easiest plan ever. The book and online course teach you how to stop eating unhealthy versions of the foods you love so you can drop up to five pounds in the first five days—and keep losing. You’ll get a mix-and-match 21-day meal plan designed for weight loss and balanced nutrition, plus hundreds of easy weight loss tips and tricks via videos, quizzes, slideshows, and other interactive tools. Learn more and buy the book and course here.