Forget Salads for Slimming: Eat Lean Protein Instead

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"If it tastes good, just spit it out." Too many times, that's how people feel when they are trying to lose weight. Unfortunately, too often those things that taste good are full of calories, fat and/or sodium. And while you might think salads are better for you than other foods, think again.

According to Laura Acosta, a registered dietitian with the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, three types of salads often come with lots of calories and are laden with fat and sodium: taco salads, chef salads and Caesar salads. One trick to a healthier salad is to pay attention to how much and what type of dressing you put on it, Acosta said in a research article from the University of Florida.

“People trying to get in beach body shape for the summer often head for the salad bar at restaurants,” Acosta said. “But many of those salads contain more calories, sodium and fat than consumers may want.”

The Big Three
According to Acosta, there are three types of salads consumers should especially watch out for as having more calories, in addition to fat and sodium.

1.  Taco Salads: Because these salads often come in a shell and are served with sour cream and guacamole, they’re likely to be on the high end of the calorie count. One taco salad the researcher studied had 760 calories, 39 grams of fat, and 10 grams of saturated fat, “which is known to contribute to heart disease and other health problems,” Acosta said in the article. “It also contains 1 gram of trans fat, another, even less healthy, type of fat.


“One gram doesn’t seem like a lot, but when you consider that organizations like the American Heart Association recommend that even 2 grams of trans fat per day is too much, it helps to put it into perspective,” Acosta said.

She adds that the salad also contained 1,330 milligrams of sodium, which can contribute to high blood pressure and displace other minerals like potassium in the diet.

“A taco salad from another franchise contains 930 calories, 58 grams of fat, 20 grams of saturated fat and 1,250 milligrams of sodium,” she says. “The 20 grams of saturated fat constitutes 100 percent of the recommended saturated fat limit for most people, and the 1,250 milligrams of sodium is more than half the recommended daily limit.”

2. Chef Salads: Chef salads aren’t just greens – they often contain meats, cheeses, eggs and bacon. The meats in these salads are often processed and contain nitrite preservatives, which some experts believe shouldn’t be consumed on a regular basis. Acosta said that “while cheese can be a good source of calcium and high quality protein, it is also high in calories, saturated fat and sodium.”

3.  Caesar Salads: A Caesar salad is typically fairly simple, Acosta pointed out, since it is made with romaine lettuce tossed with Caesar dressing but it’s usually topped with parmesan cheese and croutons. Even more of a problem, Acosta said in the article, is that most varieties of Caesar dressing are heavy, creamy and add a lot of extra calories.

“Since Caesar salads are usually pre-dressed, you don’t have a lot of control over the amount of dressing, and restaurants are usually pretty heavy-handed,” Acosta noted.

Some Solutions to Consider
Read the description of the salad or list of ingredients, Acosta said in the article, which can tell a lot about how healthy the salad may be.

“As a very general rule of thumb, house salads and garden salads tend to be fairly basic – lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, onions – and good bets if you’re watching your weight or calorie intake,” she said. “If cutting calories is a goal, be aware that the main source of calories in many ‘house’ or ‘garden’ -type salads is going to be the dressing, so aim for about two tablespoons of dressing.”

She said that most dressings will have between 120 to 180 calories per two tablespoons, so using more than that amount can add up quickly.

She suggested another idea: “Rather than pouring dressing over the salad, dip your fork in the dressing before taking each bite. The amount of dressing on the fork will be minimal, and likely won’t add up to very much by the time you’ve finished the salad.”

It’s worth noting that these recommendations depend on one’s individual health goals, Acosta said.

Here’s a Better Idea
Instead of a large salad, why not have a three ounce serving of pork tenderloin and a small side salad with a low-calorie, low-fat dressing? Pork tenderloin is one of the healthiest cuts of pork, providing just122 calories and only three grams of fat per three-ounce serving, says the National Pork Board.

An additional benefit is the 22 grams of protein you’ll receive, as opposed to no protein in a lettuce salad.

An acquaintance once provided a rule of thumb regarding food and lowering your caloric intake: “If it tastes good, just spit it out.”

Fortunately, a lean, juicy cut of pork can be consumed guilt-free.