If you think a trip through the salad bar is the best way to help you lose a few pounds, you may want to stop and drop those tongs. “Today” contributor Madelyn Fernstrom, director of the Weight Management Center at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, was invited to appear on “Today” to share some advice on how to downsize those not-so-skinny salads. Here are her tips:
Are salads really thinning? Not usually! "Today" went to restaurants, grocery stores, and fast food chains in Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and New York City, and of the 14 salad bars tested, only one passed for being both low-fat and low-calorie.
For a salad to be low-fat it needs to be under 3 grams of fat. For it to be low-calorie it would need to be 40 calories or less per serving.
Salads can be a good choice
The biggest mistake consumers make is that we think everything can be unlimited because it's a salad. ALL greens and colorful veggies (carrots, celery, cucumbers, broccoli) are unlimited — so, you can get low calories and high fiber (very filling for hunger). Everything else is healthy, but stuff you need to see as modest add-ons.
Building your salad
Start with a base of greens, lean protein (ix-nay on the buffalo chicken, choose grilled), and raw veggies of choice. Everything else should be on the side. For cheese, aim for low fat, shredded is best. That way you get greater volumes with less amount instead of a chunk! Croutons, bacon bits, sunflower seeds: Think of all this stuff as decorations or flavor enhancers, rather than a real part of the salad. Limit these to a teaspoonful. That will give you flavor without lots of added calories. Items like garbanzo beans — legumes — are good; they're fiber-filled, but caloric. Use them sparingly. Stick with lean chicken, turkey or ham and grilled fish. Or if you are a vegetarian, choose tofu. You need some lean protein (and a small amount of fat) to balance out the salad for greater contentment. Watch out for portions — even for lean protein. Many salads have up to a half pound of chicken, fish, etc. Limit to a piece the size of your palm (or computer mouse, or four DVDs).
Salad dressings: We all love them — creamy, chunky with blue cheese. But don't fool yourself. A tablespoon of regular dressing is 100-120 calories. People don't know what to do with the dressing issue. We all know it's highly caloric, but can't stand a salad with lemon juice or only balsamic vinegar, and sometimes those options are not around.
What to do with dressings:
1. The "dip and scoop" method: Keep full fat or low-fat dressing on the side. Dip your fork into the dressing, and scoop up some salad. This will get some flavor in every bite.
2. Switch to low-fat dressing: Measure out two tablespoons (limit to 100 calories.)
3. Try the new "salad sprays": This reduced fat/reduced calorie dressing works well for light, easy distribution, but it can be expensive.
4. Stick with high quality balsamic vinegar.
5. Make your own dressing, and switch the ratio for oil and vinegar: Instead of two parts oil, and one vinegar, reverse it.
6. If you don't mind the taste of fat-free dressings, use them, but you can't pour on half a bottle. You should still limit consumption to 100 calories. This is for people who just want a lot of dressing and don't care much about flavor or texture.
Bottom line: Size matters
- Super-size the greens, but downsize everything else. For big salads, like those at Cheescake Factory, order the lunch size, or split a dinner salad with a companion, and order some soup to round it out.
- Most restaurants give tons of greens, and a lot less of the other stuff. Always get the extras on the side. This way you have control over the calories. It's much easier to add some calories in than to try to remove them (what a mess).