Trying to lose weight? Let’s talk salad dressing.
Quick! Raise your hand if you know someone whose strategy for losing weight is to eat a salad for lunch every day. If you’re like me, you probably know multiple people who have decided to conquer their ever tightening pants by eating an entrée-sized salad each day for lunch. Sadly, for a lot of those folks, this strategy doesn’t work.
Here’s the deal: lettuce, spinach and other salad greens are all incredibly low-calorie and so are all the fresh fruits and vegetables that top salads—carrots, celery, tomato, cucumber and peppers, along with pear, apple, orange and berries. Then we add the extras—chopped nuts, dried fruit, cheese, bacon, olives and croutons with a big ladle or two of dressing. All of a sudden, that healthy salad isn’t healthy and the number on the scale doesn’t budge.
For example, a Dallas chain of Tex-Mex restaurants offers a popular salad that is a large plate of crisp romaine lettuce, topped with two or three baby cherry tomatoes, aged cheddar cheese, fried tortilla strips, a handful of bacon and about 3.5 ounces of sliced Fajita chicken or beef. The house dressing is a spicy blue cheese. The lettuce and cherry tomatoes are terrific salad options and the sliced grilled chicken breast is a great source of lean protein. However, the rest of the salad is full of extra fat and calories! Even with “dressing on the side,” this type of salad isn’t going to help you fit in those snug pants. Sadly, if we pull the salad back to the lettuce, tomato and chicken (with dressing on the side), we are going to be ravenous, which leads us to devour the accompanying basket of chips.
Chicken Caesar Salad is probably one of the most popular salads and is available at most restaurants, from fast food to upscale gourmet. Again, the salad starts with a large plate of crisp romaine lettuce and is topped with grilled chicken, Parmesan cheese and croutons (which are chunks of bread tossed in butter or oil, salt and spices and toasted). If you’ve ordered the dressing on the side, the serving is likely about 1/2 cup. This salad, which many dieters describe as “another (boring) day of chicken and romaine lettuce” can easily have 800 to 900 calories and an amazing amount of heart-clogging saturated fat from the cheese, croutons and dressing.
At Cooper Healthy Living, our goal is to make healthy eating simple and that includes a conversation about the nutrition of salads. A salad that’s a healthy salad is going to start with a plate of greens and then be topped (hopefully) with vegetables and/or fruit every color of the rainbow. This type of salad is a wonder in the world of healthy eating—full of flavor, fiber and the healthy benefits that at least five servings of fruits and vegetables per day provide. Our rules for salad dressing follow:
- Order salad dressing on the side, as this gives you full control over the amount of dressing that goes onto your plate. This rule includes vinaigrettes, which we tend to think of as healthier. While vinaigrettes typically contain healthy plant-based oil, oil has 120 calories per tablespoon and a normal vinaigrette recipe is typically three parts of oil to one part vinegar—so that serving of vinaigrette likely has around 400 calories in it.
- Ask for balsamic, red or white wine vinegar on the side. Several squirts of vinegar adds freshness and zest to a salad, which can then be augmented with a drizzle of oil, or whatever other salad dressing you have ordered.
- At Tex-Mex restaurants, boost salad dressings with salsa. A lot of salsa, which is low-calorie, plus a small bit of your favorite dressing tastes delicious and has far fewer calories than straight dressing. (Tip: with a thicker dressing, either dip your fork tines into the dressing first and then spear the vegetables, or use your fork to deposit a bit of the dressing strategically on your salad.)
- Bottled low-calorie dressings are generally pretty dismal, so at home, consider making salad dressings—they take mere minutes, cut calories and are wonderful! Our favorite all time dressing is this Rice Wine Vinaigrette, where we start with a package of Good Season’s Dry Italian Dressing Mix and then substitute water and dried parsley (for thickening) in place of some of the oil. This same recipe is also great switching out rice wine vinegar for balsamic! And this Caesar Salad Dressing, a semi-homemade combination of the low calorie bottled ranch dressing that’s not too tasty, full-fat bottled Caesar dressing, Worcestershire and Tabasco, to quick to make and is really delicious. In addition to using on your salad, the dressing is also terrific smeared on a sandwich or wrap.
This is Cooper Healthy Living, a series of baby tweaks and adjustments that help us live better and longer (and in pants that fit and fulfill our best vision of who we are)!