too much dressing
While the creamy dressings often come to mind first as high-calorie offenders, don’t forget about oil-based dressings, which can add literally hundreds of calories to your salad. It helps to know that one single tablespoon of almost any kind of vegetable oil—including olive and canola oils (aka “the good ones”)—contains approximately 120 calories. So adding a lot of oil-based dressing to your salad can add hundreds of calories to your salad too! AND, if you think you’re better off with fat-free dressing, guess again. These dressings don’t offer the benefits of fat that we do need in small quantities and they make up for the lost flavor with sugar, salt and starch.
piling on croutons
The average croutons are basically pieces of white bread that have been soaked in oil (which adds about 120 calories per tablespoon, remember) and then baked or toasted or even fried. So, a ½ cup serving could have as much as 200 kcal - not to mention the added sodium.
Cheese, bacon bits, sesame seeds, nuts… you name it. Salad bars have everything these days. However, a little goes a long way. While cheese and nuts offer great nutrition benefits and help with satiety, 1oz of cheese and 1TBSP seeds adds 150 calories to your salad. It’s easy to see how things start to add up quickly, so go easy on these items by adding just enough to give you the flavor – maybe 1-2tsp at most.
On average, you want to get about 500-600 kcal at your meal. As we move through all these different salad bar items, it’s easy to see how they can all add up to over twice that… meaning you could be eating half your day’s intake in one sitting. Here are some helpful tips when it comes to portioning. Go heavy on the non-starchy, undressed veggies like greens, tomatoes, broccoli, carrots and cucumbers. Be mindful of portions when you start adding on toppings like protein, dressing, croutons, etc. Once again, use your hand as a guide and select an amount of protein the size of the palm of your hand or roughly 3-4 ounces. Use high fat toppings sparingly - or not at all - and limit dressing to 1T total.
Various sources of animal and vegetarian proteins are often added to salads to make them entrees. While we need the protein to help satisfy hunger and provide energy and replace lost stores, be selective with your choices. Red meat, fried options, highly processed or dressed meats can turn a salad into a cardiologist’s worst nightmare. If you would like a main-meal salad with animal protein, consider grilled salmon, which is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids - not to mention vitamin B12, vitamin D, and selenium.