Stop judging your best friend who just ordered a bacon cheeseburger with sweet potato fries. That salad you asked for might pack more calories than her greasy carb-fat fiasco.
“Bigger is better” seems the operative word in restaurants, and nowhere does size matter more than kitchen-sink salads. Despite the halo effect it can mentally create, many restaurant mega-salads come loaded with sugar, damaged fats, and four-digit calorie counts that would take countless burst training to burn off.
Let’s count calories and name names here:
- Cheesecake Factory: Caesar Salad with Chicken — 1,513 calories.
- California Pizza Kitchen: Waldorf Chicken Salad with Blue Cheese Dressing — 1,570 calories.
- Chevy: Fresh Mex Tostada Salad — 1,720 calories.
More from JJ Virgin: Do Calories Really Count?
What pushes these salads into high-calorie purgatory? One culprit is candy. Yes, restaurants love to top salads with dried fruit, candied walnuts, and other bombs that pack as much sugar as a pack of M&M’s. Restaurants also pile enough cheese on salads to fill a large pizza. We’re not talking a sprinkle of Parmesan here, but rather gigantic bleu cheese boulders. Besides triggering or exacerbating food sensitivities, cheese can add hundreds of calories to an otherwise healthy salad and seriously stall your fast fat loss.
Dressing, however, might prove the biggest restaurant-salad violator. Despite how innocuous many of them sound (raspberry vinaigrette, for instance, or zesty lemon pepper), most salad dressings come loaded with fat and sugar. Drowning a healthy salad with a sugary, creamy dressing is akin to breading and deep-frying broccoli: you kill most of its nutritional value.
So how do you navigate restaurant salad menus healthily? Remember nothing on that menu is set in stone. Customize your salad. Very nicely ask your server to leave off the sugary, calorie-laden ingredients (be specific here) and substitute healthier ones.
Ask for green vegetables or fresh berries rather than dried fruit. Avocado also adds good fat to a salad. If you’ve got to add cheese, ask your server to substitute a goat or sheep cheese. And swap the croutons for walnuts.
Ask for an olive oil and vinegar. Restaurants often offer imported extra-virgin olive oil that can liven up the most lackluster salad. If you’re dying to try a restaurant’s world-famous paprika-ginger dressing, ask for it on the side and sparingly dip your salad in it.
Even without a menu, you can make these salad lateral shifts. Leftovers, for instance, can energize some three-day-old Romaine in your fridge and make a perfect, easy meal. Roasted vegetables, black beans, and lentils kick up your salad’s fiber quota. If you need some crunch, sprinkle some organic bacon crumbles. Top it with fresh salsa or guacamole to give your stand-by dressing a break.
© 2011 JJ Virgin & Associates, Inc.
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