The Most Overrated “Healthy” Meals, and How to Fix Them.

This might be something you have never heard a dietitian mutter before, but salads aren’t necessarily that good for you.

What?!?!? Salads?!? The FIRST thing people gravitate towards when it is time to lose weight? Yes, salads.

As soon as someone decides to lose weight they start eating salads. Loaded with healthy veggies, and minimal calories, salads are a sure fire way to drop some lbs…maybe.

A client sent me this accurate depiction of a classic dieter’s week yesterday:

Pretty accurate I must say.

So why am I hating on salads?

1) They can be more calories than you think.

Just because it’s mostly veggies, doesn’t make it the healthiest choice. Depending on what else is on it, the salad option can be one of the heaviest options at a restaurant.

Toppings that aren’t necessarily “bad”, but can lead to the calories adding up are:

  • The dressing
  • Cheeses
  • Type of meat
  • Nuts
  • Candied nuts
  • Dried fruit
  • Avacado

Here are some examples of calorie levels of some hefty salads:

  • Applebees Asian Chicken Salad – 1440
  • Wendy’s Spicy Chicken Cesear – 720
  • California Pizza Kitchen Waldorf Chicken – 1310 (below)

(Looks pretty healthy, doesn’t it?)

Again, not saying this is necessarily a bad thing, but being aware of the fact that JUST because something is a salad, doesn’t automatically make it a healthy option.

Also, most salads on the menu’s at fast food joints come in around 350-600 calories, but these calorie listings DO NOT include the dressing, so make sure you are aware of that, and aware of how much dressing you put on it.

2) They can be too little calories and not enough nourishment.

As seen in the week;y diet picture above, eating salad everyday lead to a weekend binge.

This can also be the case with salads. They don’t pack enough nutrition to really be considered a meal.

Veggies are great, yes. But, if it is mostly iceberg or romaine lettuce, then you really are just eating a bunch of semi-fibrous water. Not much nutrient quality to be found in those “veggies”

Sure, maybe the salad fills you up physically because it takes up a ton of volume in your stomach, but you might find yourself hungry an hour or 2 later because eating only vegetables is not a real meal.

Google “low-calorie salads” and you will see articles spewing the most ridiculous garbage about 200-300 calorie salads that they claim are excellent meals to help you lose weight.

Sorry, but if you consider 200-300 calories a meal…yikes…

Now, one “meal” a day in that range might work for you, and isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially if you like to have more food at dinner… but having 3 meals at that range is not a healthy approach to weight loss! You won’t just lose water weight and some fat, but also muscle mass and your mind! Not good!

Undereating through willpower can only get you so far, and eventually, your body will fight you back. So please please please, do not go around eating the 200 calorie salad and calling it a meal.

How to make salads work for you

Now that I have shredded and diced apart salads, I’m going to come back and make peace with the salad.

They can be fantastic meals.

After a weekend of eating crap, our go-to Sunday dinner is this amazing salad: http://makinloveinthekitchen.blogspot.com/2012/07/famous-chopped-chicken-salad.html

However, to make sure that they actually align with your goals you need to first be aware of a few things:

  • How many calories are in this salad?
  • Is their protein?
  • Does it align with my goals?

First, knowing the calories is key. Don’t just assume that it is low. If you make it at home, measure out the added ingredients like nuts, fruit, dressing, etc. These things can add up FAST and if you are just guesstimating them, your calculations can be WAY off. (for example, a Tbsp. of walnuts is about 2 walnut halves…you probably put more than 2 walnut halves on your salad)

Second, protein. Protein is the most satiating macronutrient, and you also need a certain amount of it to maintain muscle mass, and muscle protein synthesis (MPS). This is the bodies process of building and maintaining muscle, and the threshold has been found to be about 30g of protein per feeding time to reach max MPS.  This isn’t just for meathead bros, but for anyone who wants to live a long, healthy and independent life…that should be all of us!

Look for salads with grilled, not breaded, chicken. These will usually be your best option – and ask for a double serving of protein.

Third, make sure it aligns with your goals. If you are trying to become a better athlete, a salad might not be the best option. Athletes need carbs, and they are usually pretty short when it comes to a salad. Also, if you train hard, and are just trying to maybe look more like an athlete, or a beach babe…you need carbs! I’m not saying Michael Phelps level carbs, but you need some to fuel your training, so you can get the most out of your time at the gym.

One of my online coaching clients went from 23 to 19% body fat as we INCREASED her carbs slowly (currently eating 270 grams per day)…and she’s still going! 

Salads aren’t always the best thing you can eat, but they definitely can be better than many options out there. Like anything else when it comes to nutrition, awareness and some education are KEY for making foods work for you, without having to stress so much about eating things that you don’t like.

Do you need to eat salads to lose weight? Nope, but you can if you want – just make sure you are salad-ing responsibly.

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Stay healthy my friends,