Last week, I got this email from my friend Farah Shouli:
I am trying to enjoy a healthier life by choosing healthier foods. So, I thought I am in need for a salad and thought of the healthy option of chicken Quesadilla salad at Chilli’s. So I bought the salad and went to work happy at my choice. I was curious how many calories would be in the salad so I checked Chilli’s website and found that they had a complete nutrition information on their menu.
You can’t believe my shock, disappointment and frustration when I found how many calories were in this salad. Not only calories (1400cal), but the fat content, carbs and sodium were all very high. I was so sad that I had consumed my daily caloric needs for a whole day. The salad dressing was vinaigrette and they give away a side mayonnaise-based dressing. They also add 4 slices of cheese quesadillas. I sent a message to Chillies and asked what the calorie and fat content would be without the second dressing and cheese quesadilla, and they are still very high:
Cals 600, Total Fat 31g, Sat Fat 9g, Carbs 38g, Protein 45g, Fiber 8g, Sodium 990mg
This is an example of how easily we can be deceived. Can’t believe I thought I was safe using a vinaigrette dressing neglecting other factors.”
I wasn’t too surprised from this email. Many ‘healthy’ promoted salads are worse than you expect. For example, Applebee’s grilled chicken, grilled steak, or crispy shrimp Cesar salads are 800+ calories unless you get them without the dressing or eat half the portion. At Panera Bread, the BBQ chopped chicken, the grilled chicken Cesar, Fuji apple chicken, chopped chicken cob, and orchid harvest chicken are all more than 500 calories for the full serving, without the dressing. Add dressing and a side of bread, and you’ve consumed half of what you need for the whole day.
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These are not the only two places with large calorie dense salads. Since I can’t list every salad in every restaurant, but I’m going to give you my tips for choosing salads when eating out.
More than Lettuce
Ok, nothing wrong with lettuce, but you need more! Choose a salad that also has tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, spinach, artichoke, mushrooms, beans, etc. The more vegetables, the better.
Choose your Fats
Nuts, seeds, cheese, olives, guacamole, sour cream, dressing–and protein foods such as chicken, steak, fish, eggs too–all have fat. Some are better than others, but the main point is not to load your salad with all! Other than your protein, choose two source of fat at max.
Watch your Carbs
Some are better than others as well. Croutons, tortilla shell or strips, noodles (in Asian salad), and the side of bread or crackers add to the carb content. So do fruits and beans. But the latter two have more fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Beans will fill you up because they have protein too. Regardless of what you’re in the mood for, carbs add up, so watch out.
Get Some Protein and Fiber
You want your salad to fill you up, not keep you asking for more and grazing afterward. And that’s why you need fiber and protein. Choose lean proteins so you do add too much fat.
Read, Read, and Read
Restaurant nutrition information. Even with the best attempt to make the right decision, your best judgment might miss. Most restaurants have the nutrition information online, or purchase a book such as the Calorie Counting for Dummies and keep it in your car, pocket, purse, etc. Identify one or two healthy options at the places you hit often, so you don’t have to do the research every time. Check the serving size of the salad for which the information is listed, and whether the dressing or any sides are included.