Many people who are trying to lose weight turn to salads. This is reasonable, when made correctly, salads can be a meal that is both nutritious and filling without being dense in unwanted calories and fat. However, certain ingredients can transform salads from healthy options into weight-loss detriments. It is important to cover some of the worst salad ingredients for people attempting to drop a few pounds, and also provide some alternative ingredients and strategies for making salads that are still satisfying.
Bacon is the first offender on this list, and with good reason: According to health coach Malia Frey, bacon can add 30 grams of fat and 400 calories to a salad. Those numbers will vary based on the amount of bacon, but there is no way around the fact that bacon introduces large amounts of calories and fat. Processed toppings that imitate bacon are not much better as they usually contain fat and salt, but little in actual nutritional value.
If you are craving the crunch that bacon provides, you are not out of luck. Frey suggests adding radishes and peppers to fill the void. Another option, covered by Prevention’s Kelsey Kloss, is to create bacon from sources of food that aren’t pork. She points out that there are recipes for alternatives such as bacon made from tempeh (which is related to tofu), eggplant, and mushrooms.
Croutons seem airy and puffy, so it may be a surprise to see them on a list of worst salad ingredients. They belong, though, because they offer nothing in the way of real nutrition while adding calories in the form of processed grains. In the case of fried croutons, they also bring additional fat to the table. The calorie count varies from crouton to crouton, but Nutritionix gives an estimate of 66 calories per half-ounce, meaning these tiny toppings add up quickly.
There are many satisfying alternatives to croutons, however, and Cooking Light’s Jill Waldbieser has covered several of them. She suggests cubing and roasting root vegetables, baking chickpeas, and making kale chips as three ways to produce healthier options that fill the crouton void.
3. Fried Foods
Many restaurants sport salads that are mainly vehicles for fried foods. A dead giveaway is if the salad has the word “crispy” in its name. Other words to watch out for include “battered” and “crunchy.” Ingredients like fried shrimp, fish, and chicken are chock full of calories and fat, regardless of the type of oil used to create them. Luckily, there will often be a grilled version of the same item available. If you don’t see it on the menu, ask the server.
Opting for grilled food instead of fried food can make a huge difference. One estimate published by HealthiNation pegged three ounces of grilled chicken breast as containing 110 calories and just two grams of fat. The same amount of chicken breast skyrockets to 220 calories and 11 grams of fat when fried. That is double the calories and more than five times the fat.
4. Processed Deli Meats
Processed deli meats also make an appearance in Frey’s article about the worst salad ingredients. She points to salami as a particularly problematic choice, as it packs 43 calories and three grams of fat per slice, and that is if the slice is thin. Piling a few slices of salami onto a salad can quickly boost its calorie count and fat content. For example, just three of those 43-calories slices would come in at 129 calories and nine grams of fat. If you compare that to the aforementioned grilled chicken, a three-ounce serving of the chicken contains fewer calories and less than a quarter of the fat.
Among deli meats ham, turkey, and chicken are better choices than salami, albeit they are ultimately still high in sodium. Look for offerings that have not been processed. Also keep in mind that in general, grilled meat tends to contain much less sodium than processed meat. That is important because some studies have linked excess sodium intake to weight gain.
Though cheese is on this list, it’s possible to enjoy cheese on your salad without sabotaging your weight-loss efforts. The key is moderation. Cheese is typically high in calories as well as saturated fat. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), excess saturated fat can have a detrimental effect on lipid and cholesterol levels. It can also boost your risk of heart disease. The AHA recommends consuming no more than 120 calories per day of saturated fat, assuming a 2,000-calorie-per-day diet.
Frey points out a couple of strategies for enjoying cheese without dinging your health. One is to use a digital scale. One ounce of cheese is one serving, so sticking to that amount is a way to moderate how much ends up on your salad. Frey also recommends sticking to real cheese, which does have some nutritional value. For instance, according to Sara Ipatenco of SFGate, a one-ounce serving of cheddar cheese packs roughly seven grams of protein.
Also consider pairing your salad with a lighter dressing. If you enjoy feta cheese, use a light greek dressing instead of a typical full fat option.
6. Ground Beef
Ground beef rounds out this list of the worst salad ingredients for weight loss. That’s because it’s all too common for salads to feature beef that is not lean. In other words, restaurants often add beef that is high in calories and saturated fat to their salads. For example, take this offering from the chain restaurant On The Border, one of their taco salads featuring ground beef, contains 700 calories and 17 grams of saturated fat, according to Calorie King. Not all of those calories are from the beef, but this salad still contains more than a third of the calories a person on a 2,000-calorie-per-day diet needs. Calorie King estimates it would take nearly an hour of swimming or more than an hour of jogging to burn that off.
If you’re craving a beefy salad, a healthier alternative is to make your own by using a lean cut of grilled steak, according to Frey. Other options include using ground turkey or ground bison. As always, keep an eye on how much of these ingredients you’re adding to your salad. Even healthier options can boost a salad’s calorie count to surprising levels if not used in moderation.