This is one of my favorite questions to answer, but you may find that the answer is quite surprising!
Calories in Salad
The best thing about a salad is that it’s made almost entirely from vegetables! Sure, adding a bit of cheese, ham, or bacon may make it delicious, but the true purpose of a salad is to give you that roughage and those greens that you need.
Salad is VERY easy for your body to digest, and you’ll find that eating salad will help you to fill up quite easily. After all, the vegetables in your salad are made almost entirely out of water and fiber, so they will expand in your stomach quite nicely.
Here are the calories you can expect to eat in your bowl of salad:
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Pretty nice, low calorie stuff, right?
The Danger of Salad Dressing
The real danger in your salad lies in the salad dressing. All salad dressings are made with oil, as that’s what gives them the rich, thick flavor that we know and love. Without the oil, it would be a thin, acidic dressing that just isn’t as enjoyable as a hearty dressing.
But check out how many calories are in your salad dressings:
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What the heck? How is the dressing loaded with more calories than the salad itself? It’s all about the oil, and, in some cases, the cream!
Fat has 9 calories per gram, while carbs and protein only have 4 calories per gram. That means that you’re eating a lot more calories when you put oil on your salad. The salad dressing itself is going to be fairly high calorie just from the oil, and then some people go and mix in heavy cream–such as in Ranch, Blue Cheese, and Caesar dressings. (Don’t even get me started on Thousand Islands!)
Making your own dressings is important, though you can usually find low calorie (not low-fat) dressings in the supermarket. Look for any dressing that is made with vinegar instead of cream, and definitely look for olive or sesame oil-based dressings. These oils are loaded with healthy fats that will be worth adding to your diet!
What Else is in Your “Salad”?
One thing to keep in mind when ordering a salad at a local eatery is that you may not be getting as few calories as you expect. Think about it:
- In a Caesar salad, the lettuce is accompanied by croutons, Parmesan cheese, and often chicken.
- In a Mediterranean salad, feta cheese is usually sprinkled liberally.
- Spinach salads are often served with goat cheese and dried cranberries.
- At a salad buffet, many people heap their plates with bacon, cheese, ham, eggs, and other high calorie proteins.
- With a Southwest style salad, crispy fried tortilla chips top the salad, while there is often cheese and beans mixed in.
The truth is that it’s hard to find a proper salad with very few calories. Most restaurants serve salads with a bit of extra protein or fat in it, as that’s what their customers demand. If you’re going to eat a salad and a proper meal as well, you’re going to end up eating A LOT more calories than you should.
So, you have two choices: 1) eat JUST the hearty salad, and enjoy all those filling toppings, or 2) order a side salad and make sure that it only contains veggies. When at home, make your salads with ONLY vegetables, and leave the bacon, cheese, ham, and chicken strips for the main meal!