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The Components of a Healthy Salad and What to Avoid

We classify food as either healthy or unhealthy and salad has always been known as healthy.  When eating out or grabbing a quick lunch pre-made salads appear to be a healthy option.  Be sure to selective when ordering a salad.  Quite often the nutrtion content of salads end out being approximately the same as a burger alternative.  The goal of the restaurant is to make tasty food that you will order again, so they added on indulgent ingredients like fatty dressings, cheese, and croutons.  In order to make a salad a well rounded meal one usually adds protein, when restaurants do this they usually add crispy chicken which quickly adds calories.

A  2012 study, which found that although fast food menus grew between 1996 and 2010 to include 53 percent more dishes and snacks, the average number of calories in each item hadn’t changed.

“Entree salads, which are increasing in number, can be bad, too. With fried chicken on top and regular dressing, they can have more calories than a burger,” lead researcher Katherine Bauer, an assistant professor in the department of public health at Temple University, told HealthDay at the time of the study’s release.

Salads can be very nutritious depending on how you build yours.  In order to get the most out of your meal there are some few ingredients you should be sure to add, and others to stay away from.  First off get the most out of the base of your salad by choosing a good dark green.  There are many options out there that provide far more nutrients than watery ice berg like kale, spinach and romaine.  One can never have too many veggies, well technically maybe they could but it would be really hard, broccoli, peppers, carrots, peas, cucumbers and many more are great additions.  Raw veggies are great because they are low in calories, high in nutrients and water content.  Since their calories are so low you can pile them on sky high.  Protein is a must not matter the source.  Options vary from lean meat like chicken, hard boiled eggs, beans, or tofu.  Get an extra bonus of omega-3s from tuna or salmon.  Please try to resists the bacon bits.  Healthy fats are also great in salads.  Go for some toasted walnuts, sliced almonds, sunflower seeds or a bit of avocado.  Finally there is the dressing, this is usually what makes or breaks a healthy salad.  Vinaigrette are a great option, or something with an oil base.  In order to have control over how much dressing you add try to order dressing on the side at restaurants so you can keep an eye on how much you use.


Subway healthy?

Last week Subway announced that it will spend $41 million over three years to encourage young eaters to eat more produce.  They have aliened with the First Lady in her campaign to promote healthier eating and lifestyles through the Partnership for a Healthier America nonprofit organization.  Subways changes will only affect their kid’s menu to mirror federal standards for school lunch.  That includes offering apples on the side and low-fat or nonfat plain milk or water as a default beverage.  This is a commendable step in the right direction, but it’s aimed at kids.  What do adults think of their “healthy” Subway meals? They must be pretty supportive because Subway was one of the Best-Perceived Brands of 2013 according to AdWeek.

Which leads us to my favorite topic “Health Halos”.  A product that is marketed as being low fat, natural, whole grain and so on cause people to underestimate the calories and overestimate the health value of the product.  The same thing can happen with a food dish.  One perceives a salad as a restaurant to be healthy because it is a salad when in actuality many salads have as many calories as any other main course.  I’m going to pause there, calories are necessary but I’m talking about extremely high and from bad sources like fatty dressing.  The effect goes even further than what food we choose to eat, also where we choose to get it from.  Subway’s low-fat advertising cause a significant halo effect.  “People who eat at McDonald’s know their sins, ” Dr. Chandon said, “but people at Subway think that a 1,000-calorie sandwich has only 500 calories.”  This does not mean that you have to give up your beloved subs,  Dr. Chandon suggests that you simply take health halos into account.

This healthy perception even spills over into side dishes consumers choose.  “Even though the Subway sandwich had more calories than the Big Mac, the people ordering it were more likely to add a large nondiet soda and cookies to the order.  So while they may have felt virtuous, they ended up with meals averaging 56 percent more calories than the meals ordered from McDonald’s.”

The popularity and emphasis of healthier foods is on the rise simultaneously while there is an increase in obesity – the American obesity paradox.  “Consumers estimate that familiar sandwiches and burgers contain up to 35% fewer calories when they come from restaurants claiming to be healthy, such as Subway, than when they come from restaurants not making this claim, such as McDonald’s” (Chandon and Wansink 2007).

“People are more likely to underestimate the caloric content of main dishes and to choose higher-calorie side dishes, drinks, or desserts when fast-food restaurants claim to be healthy (e.g., Subway) compared to when they do not (e.g., McDonald’s)” Chadon and Wansink 2007.

So next time you choose what restaurant to go to picking one that is perceived to be healthy isn’t enough to ensure you eat a healthy meal, you also have to be conscious of the type of marketing they throw at you and choose a meal that is healthy.  I have based a large part of my arguments on a study done by Brain Wansink and Pierre Chadon’s research that you can read here.