Undress your salad

Salads are great if you avoid the biggest mistake people make when eating them…

Plate with salad

For most people, going on a weight-loss diet means eating only salads till they lose the excess weight. Piling all our hopes on salads often governs our eating habits even outside of home. And opting for a salad while eating out can be both good and bad.

The good and bad

Studies show that eating 19 vegetable servings a day can dramatically alter your waistline. This is because when you add several different types of vegetables to your salads, it increases your intake of appetite-reducing fibre as well as various vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. And salads are the best way to include raw vegetables in your diet.

What’s more, eating plenty of salads can enhance your complexion greatly and even help reduce your waistline. Starting a meal with a salad satisfies 50 per cent of your hunger right at the beginning. As a result, even if you do order a calorie-dense main course, you will end up eating a smaller portion of it. This will automatically help you cut down your calorie intake.

However, salads are not always low-calorie. What vegetables you choose can dramatically increase the fat content and thereby the calories in your salad. And the right choice of vegetables can help you considerably increase your fibre intake.

Fibre is the undigested carbohydrate present in most vegetables, fruits, cereals and pulses that helps add bulk to the diet by absorbing water and increasing in size. It is therefore, of great help in easing constipation.

Fibre is also responsible for binding excess cholesterol and throwing it out of the body. A fibre-rich meal causes the blood sugar levels to rise slowly, preventing you from experiencing a sudden drop in blood sugar levels known as a ‘sugar crash’.

Lettuce, tomato, cabbage, carrots, French beans, spinach, rocket leaves, onions, cucumber, corn and zucchini are great for salads.

However, people often make the mistake of assuming that if it’s a vegetable, it can go in a salad. If your goal is to lose weight, or eat light, the not so great vegetables for a salad include all starchy vegetables [potatoes for instance] that give you more calories than nutrition. And they don’t even make you feel full.

The salad dressing is another important and often ignored ingredient that plays a key role in determining how ‘light’ your salad is. Dressings such as Thousand Island, Ranch and mayonnaise are high in calories, and if you are looking at trimming the fat from your diet, these salad dressings are not the answer. However, there are several other low calorie options that help to make your salad more interesting:

  • Yoghurt: If you use a strainer to drain the whey from the yoghurt, and keep it for 4 – 5 hours, add a little salt and pepper, yoghurt can taste almost as good mayonnaise. It is even low in fat and gives you some protein.
  • Lime juice or vinegar: These are completely calorie free and will add a tangy zing to your salad.
  • Fat-free mustard dressing: If you don’t like the sour tasting vinegar or lime, this is another great option. This dressing can help spruce up things a little.
  • Honey: You can add a little honey to mustard sauce and make a sweet and salty dressing.

Eating out?

Remember this:

  • Salads are good for you only if the vegetables are fresh. If they look wilted or look like they have been lying there for a long time, there is no point in eating them. Greens should be crisp and bright. Vegetables like tomatoes should be firm and not runny. If vegetables are not cut and served fresh, they are not going to provide you the nutrition they should.
  • Avoid a doubtful looking salad especially in the monsoons if it is served at room temperature. This is the temperature at which micro-organisms thrive; eating such a salad is inviting food poisoning.
  • If you aren’t able to resist the tasty but high-fat salad dressings, ask for them to be served separately and add them not-so liberally. The best thing to do is just dip your fork in it before you take a little of the salad to ensure getting the taste but avoid eating them in excess.

Make your salad a meal

You can make a meal of your salad on the days you want to keep your diet light by adding a boiled egg or a little grilled chicken or fish or even sprouts. This will make it filling and give you a good supply of protein as well. You can even stir fry or sauté the salad vegetables lightly, leaving them half-cooked and serve them as a side dish.

Dressing Amount Calories Calories from fat
Thousand Island dressing 4 tbsp 240 180
Ranch dressing 4 tbsp 300 280
French dressing 4 tbsp 292 260
Italian dressing 4 tbsp 172 152
Mayonnaise 4 tbsp 360 360

This was first published in the June 2012 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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Samreedhi Goel
Samreedhi Goel is a Nutritionist and Personal trainer & fitness columnist who has been a part of the fitness industry since 1999. She has helped hundreds of people shape up, lose weight, achieve the body of their dreams, become fitter and healthier individuals and overcome chronic health problems through her fitness studio Size Wise.Her fitness columns and interviews appear on a regular basis in prestigious publications like Complete Wellbeing, Sunday Midday, Rediff.com, Seventeen India, Mumbai Mirror, Spice Route, The Hindu, Emirates Evening Post (Dubai) and Savvy to name a few.


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