Monday, February 9, 2009

To eat a salad, or not to eat a salad. That is the question

Salads are such a misleading food. 

Ever since it became attractive to weigh under 100 pounds and constantly look hungry, salad-popularity has been like stock in Apple: on the rise. Salad sections on menus have grown. Fast food venues have begun to offer their quick and convenient spin on the sought-after dish, and restaurants completely devoted to the lettuce-based meal are opening across the country (my favorite: Ingredient. It's super trendy and Oh! so delicious.)

I think this is great. I love salads. I eat them about once a day, and I began developing my salad-making talents when I was in high school. My friends and I would get drunk and crave food, but instead of making a pizza, I would mix a giant salad. We would fulfill our hunger without feeling guilty about the binge the next morning. 

Like I said, I love salads. But I still think that they can be painfully deceiving. True, lettuce has very few calories, but once the fried chicken and cheese and egg and ranch and bacon and pecans get thrown into the bowl, whoever is eating the salad would be better off heath-wise with a burger and fries. Caesar dressing? Croutons? Steak? All these things make a salad yummy but aren't going to help you lose weight. Unfortunately, salads from restaurants--you know, the ones we order when we are trying to be "good"--are often the ones that are the worst for us.

But, alas! I have tips that will help you eat a salad guilt-free, the way it ought to be.  

1. If you need to add some crunch to your salad, try using saltine crackers or baked croutons. These are lower in fat, yet just as satisfying.

2. Low fat dressings are the way to go. My favorites are Zia's fat free raspberry vinaigrette and Fortels' low fat Italian, both available at Schnucks.

3. If ordering a salad from a restaurant, ask to get the dressing on the side. A lot of times they will overload the salad with more than enough. Also, ask what their low fat dressing options are. If they do not carry any low fat dressings, choose a dressing that is oil-based, like balsamic vinaigrette or oil and vinegar. Cream-based dressings will add on a crazy amount of fat grams. 

4. Darker lettuce, like Romaine or spinach, have more nutritional value than iceberg. Go with these types to make the meal even healthier.

5. Worried that skipping out on the fattier toppings is going to make your salad taste bland? Try adding flavorful yet healthy substitutions, like corn, black beans, snow peas, raspberries, onion, or fresh garlic. 

6. Try to avoid adding cheese to your salad, but if you must get some dairy in there, try to use low fat mozzarella or grated parmesan.   

7. Use lean fish or chicken to add protein to the dish. If you like a little spice, add some Frank's Red Hot or Tabasco to your fat-free vinaigrette dressing. It is like eating a delicious buffalo chicken salad, minus the fat!         

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