Sunday, September 2, 2012

Monthly Topic #2: The Salad Trap

~Image Source: Wikipedia~

Are salads really the healthy diet option? Could that salad you had for lunch be ruining your diet? Here's the dirt on the fat that's lurking behind those innocent looking lettuce leaves.

We've all been there and done that. You go out to a swanky new restaurant. Your dinner companions mull over the foie gras and the creamy bisque and the chateaurbriand, while you sigh and order a salad. But before you start to give yourself a pat on the back for effective weight-watching, look closer. Are you sabotaging your diet plans with that salad, smothered in chopped egg and blue cheese dressing? Read on.

Trap #1

Not making up the bulk
It's not how much salad you eat, it's how you eat it. Yes, everyone knows that lettuce has practically zero calories (welll, okay: the next-to-nothing 10 calories per cup don't really count unless you intend to eat a ton of it). But who actually eats lettuce without anything else on it? Low-calorie veggies lack taste, which we make up for with tasty trappings like Caesar dressing, pasta, meats and rice. And lo and behold! Fatsville!

Still think it's okay to eat lots of salad because it's “just veggies”? A meal-sized Caesar salad, complete with croutons, bacon, cheese and the infamous Caesar dressing, hits the scales at almost 1000 calories and packs a whopping 50 grams of fat on the plate. Do your math and you'll realize that's worth five slices of pepperoni pizza or a cheeseburger and fries!

Solution: As a guideline, stick to low-density foods like lettuce, carrots, corn and alfalfa sprouts. These veggies have a high water content and fill you up. Have a moderate amount of fillers such as rice, couscous and potatoes. Skip high-fat trimmings like croutons. They add hardly any taste, but are essentially bread cubes deep fried in fat. If it's texture you want, substitute these crispy fat sponges with crunchy veggies like steamed asparagus, celery or broccoli.

Trap #2

The "I'll just have a salad for lunch so I can have more dessert" syndrome
There are two good reasons why you shouldn't order a salad just to justify the sinful dessert at the end of the meal. For starters, it takes a hefty salad to satisfy hunger pangs. More often than not, you'll end up ordering a meal-sized chef's salad (800 calories, with ham, turkey, cheese, roast beef, egg and dressing) or Caesar salad (almost 1000 calories). Add a slice of apple strudel or crème brulee to the deal and you've taken in far more calories than you should be allocating per meal. Big mistake.

Solution: If, like most estrogen-driven women, you'd rather spend your calories on sweets rather than savouries, load up on volume. The bulk of your salad should add ... bulk. Leafy greens, cucumber slices, cabbage are extremely low in calories, have practically zero fat and boost a high water content which fill you up. If it's chef salad you're having, ask for a cheese-less, ham-free salad (roast beef is an acceptable choice, as long as it's lean and you trim off every visible ounce of fat). If it's Caesar salad you crave, ask them to hold the croutons. And always ask for the dressing on the side!

Trap #3

Dolloping the dressing
Be very careful with that ladle in the dressing bowl at salad bars. An average ladle holds about 200 calories from regular dressings, and you're not lightly to get light or fat-free versions when you eat out. Even then, “lite” versions of salad dressings can cost you a whopping 150 calories per ladle. Not significantly less than full-fat dressings.

Solution: So by now you should have the general drill: cut down on dressing and you shave off previous calories. Make a conscious effort to watch the amount of dressing that goes on top of your salad. Avoid pre-tossed salads like Caesars or Lawry's famous Spinning Bowl salad (incredibly yummy, but a diet-buster if you're already having that slab of roast beef!) if you want to be in control. Pick dressings with a thinner consistency. These spread easier and you're likely to ues less. Try French or Italian, in place of thick, creamy choices like blue cheese, Ranch and Thousand Island.

Now, I'm not about to suggest you do this at a fancy joint, but try this at home. Pour vinegar-and-oil into a spray bottle. If it's the creamy stuff you like, go for the reduced fat ones or dilute regular dressings with water. Spritz just enough to flavor your greens. That way, you avoid using too much. You won't be left with a pool of dressing at the bottom of your bowl either, which I often dip the remains of my salad in.

When dining out, order your dressing on the side (I've found the balsamic veingari-and-olive-oil mixture a tangy, flavorful replacement for creamier formulations). Forget about pouring it on and tossing your salad. Instead, dip your fork into the dressing before negotiating a bite of your salad.

Trap #4

The icing on the cake
It's not the salad that matters, it's what you put on top that adds up to a fatty meal. Diced ham, luncheon meat, cheddar cheese and bacon chips can add more than 400 calories and 30 grams of fat to innocent greens. As many calories as a deluxe cheeseburger.

Solution: Don't trade your greens for a steak just yet. Instead steer clear of fattening toppings like cold cuts (ham, salami and pepperoni, which are 60 percent fat), croutons (130 calories and 5 fat per grams per ounce) and cheeses. Cottage cheese, often fallaciously regarded as a diet-friendly food, hides more than two teaspoons of fat in every cup, while cheddar has 115 calories and two teaspoons of fat – per ounce. Not exactly guilt-free options, are they?

If you absolutely have to have cheese, try using low-fat cottage cheese options or grate a little Parmesan over your salad. Parmesan cheese adds tang and one tablespoon holds half a teaspoon fat, considerably less than other cheese options. Even avocado slices are oily and add 17 calories with every skinny slice, and oil-packed tuna can cause serious distress to your diet plans.

Building a sensible salad

Add bulk: At least 60 percent of your salad should consist of green vegetables. Load up on crunchy vegetables such as iceberg, red or romaine lettuce, zucchini and cucumbers.

Add color: Carrots, red, green or yellow peppers, tomato slices (or whole cherry tomatoes) and berries add taste and color.

Add protein: Bypass the processed meats and canned tuna, and go straight for skinless lean turkey breast, water-packed tuna flakes and hard-boiled or poached egg whites. If you're vegetarian, load up on legumes like chickpeas and kidney beans.

Add flavor: A light spritz of vinegar-and-oil or light dressing, a gentle sprinkling of sharp-flavored cheeses (so you don't use too much) like feta or parmesan – and you've got all the taste you need.

What do those labels mean?

Lite: Cuts fat by 33-50 percent when compared to a reference food. Typically, for dressings, this si the average of the three top-selling full-fat counterparts.

Low-Fat: Must have no more than three grams of fat per 50 grams. This works out to two grams of fat for every two tablespoons of salad dressing (the standard serving size).

Fat-free: Must have no more than 0.5 grams of fat per two tablespoons (30g) serving.


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