When trying to lose weight, what is one particular food that everyone tells you to consume more of? Salad. Yes, everyone assumes you need to eat like a rabbit in order to tighten your waistline and drop body fat. While salad isn't the only nutritional change you should be making to your diet, when used incorrectly, it could actually cause you to GAIN weight unexpectedly.
To help you better utilize salad during your weight loss journey and allow these green leafy gems to work for you rather than against you, there are five things you need to be aware of so you aren't left frustrated when looking at the scale. I also provide a bonus tip at the end for good measure. But first, let's dive into the reasons you need to watch out for.
1. You Don't Pay Attention to Your Dressing
This is one of the simplest things to change yet one of the hardest for people to fully grasp and understand. If you were looking at salad dressing and wanted to reduce the number of calories you consume, there are two things you need to focus on (1. The type of salad dressing you are using and 2. The amount of salad dressing you are using)
Seems so simple, right? Wrong. The first thing people tell you is to stop using regular salad dressing as it is full of fat. They tell you to opt for the "fat-free" versions instead to drastically cut down how many calories are coming from your dressing alone.
I'm here to tell you that's a terrible idea. For starters, a little fat with your salad can help you better absorb some of the nutrients found in your salad. Also, depending on the kind of fat you use, it's not necessarily "bad" for you.
Because both lettuce and fat-free salad dressings are low in calories, you probably won't feel satiated from the meal – this will cause you to overeat later in the day. Also, most fat-free salad dressings are using corn syrup (when you look at the ingredient list, it's normally one of the first ingredients listed) to replace the fat for it to taste good.
Skip the fat-free dressing, stick with the regular. All you need to focus on is reducing the amount you use, and if possible, choose some sort of vinaigrette which includes some healthy fats. If you are getting a salad when you're out and about, ALWAYS ask for your dressing on the side. Otherwise, you're at the mercy of however much (generally WAY too much) dressing they pour on top.
2. Adding Croutons
While adding some texture and crunch to your salad, croutons are one of the worst things you can add as a topping. Essentially, all the store-bought croutons you find are full of nothing but processed white flour that provides you with no health benefit at all. Many times, croutons are fried, which adds unhealthy fat to your diet.
Sure, you could use bread and make your own croutons at home, but again, all you're doing to your salad is adding carbohydrates which increases the total calorie count.
My suggestion? Skip the croutons altogether. When you go to a restaurant, ask the waiter if you can have your salad without croutons. They will be more than happy to accommodate your request.
3. Skipping the Protein
As mentioned earlier, lettuce does not contain many calories. It's mostly made up of water. Even after adding a little vinaigrette to your salad and tossing in some healthy vegetables like tomatoes, onion, carrots, cucumber, and even some peppers, you're still not left with a satiating meal that provides any sort of bulk to your meal. If you want to increase satiety, consider adding some protein to your salad.
Protein is necessary for building lean muscle mass as well as needed to maintain and preserve it. Protein is also very filling and can add some quality macros to your salad.
Additionally, protein has the highest thermic effect of food (TEF), which means it takes your body more energy to digest, absorb, and utilize this macronutrient than any of the others. What this means is that your body will burn more calories when you consume protein with your meals.
Consider adding some lean cuts of steak on top of your salad, some hardboiled eggs, shrimp, grilled salmon, or even the most commonly used protein source, which is grilled chicken. If animal protein isn't your thing, you can use tofu or other plant-based protein alternatives to add to your salad to increase the overall protein content.
Another topping that includes protein that many people forget about is chickpeas. These delicious little balls of protein goodness can spruce up any salad you add them to.
4. Using Too Much Cheese
While not the worst offender when it comes to toppings on your salad, cheese quickly causes the calorie count to shoot up due to the fat content. If you get a salad from a restaurant, they tend to go a little overboard with how much they put on top. When putting cheese on your salad at home, many people have a difficult time eyeballing the correct serving size and don't necessarily want to weigh or measure everything out.
The best thing to do would be to skip cheese as a topping with your salad or put on a TINY amount just to add a little flavor if you absolutely must have cheese on your salad.
5. The Type of Salad Matters (They're Not All Created Equal)
Without getting into the plethora of names given to salads these days, I just want you to think about what's available and what you generally find in all of the various salads out there.
A salad can come with a taco shell, glazed nuts, dried fruit, wontons, nuts, seeds, processed meat, fried toppings – the list goes on and on. Every little thing added to your salad will alter the macros and calorie count.
Many of the toppings mentioned can definitely alter and improve the flavor of a salad and make it more palatable, but at the expense of causing your salad to become more calorie-dense.
If you're packing a salad for a meal on the go or for lunch, there are a few things you need to know. First, ALWAYS wash and dry your greens before you package them in a container to take with you. If you pack them up wet, your salad will go limp, and it can ruin the flavor and texture of your salad.
The second tip is to never add your dressing on top of your salad if you don't intend on eating it right away. Similar to what happens when you don't dry off your greens, the leaves will wilt, and the flavor will be altered. Pack your dressing separately and take it with you to add when you're ready to sit down and eat.