Salad’s hidden calories

Even salads contain hidden calories. (Grand Central Magazine stock photo)

I love to eat out.

I can choose whatever I want to eat, wait for someone else to make it and when I’m finished, someone cleans up after me. What’s not to love?

Well, there is one thing not to love about eating out: calories.

I won’t get into the cost of eating out, convenience is expensive. Even if you’re only ordering off the value menu, it adds up over time. I am going to focus on calories.

So what about calories?

The recommended daily caloric intake is 2,000 calories per day, which may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.

Someone who works out regularly needs more calories, because they burn off what they eat. Someone who doesn’t work out regularly needs less calories, because they are not burning off very much of what they consume.

So, things like a salad can be burned off easily. They contain mostly vegetables, maybe a protein and are considered diet food. So I thought.

I was having a conversation with my sister-in-law who told me the Oriental Grilled Chicken salad she orders, from Applebee’s, has more than 1,200 calories in it.  Not exactly diet food!

This made me start paying attention to what I was eating when I ate out.

I was in a restaurant the other day perusing the menu and I noticed that only one salad on the menu was listed as being less than 550 calories. It’s salad. Why would a salad have so many calories?

My search began.

I checked the nutritional information on websites of chain restaurants located in Mount Pleasant.  (I stuck with chain restaurants because I could search their websites for nutrition information.)

I found the biggest calorie culprit, next to size, is the dressing.

Salad dressing can add up to as much as 700 calories to a salad. And, not to pick solely on the dressing, fried chicken and marinated meats can add substantial calories as well.

Applebee’s Santa Fe Chicken Salad has a whopping 1,300 calories for a regular size salad with dressing. If you skip the dressing, you only consume 910 calories. Reduce the portion to the half size and cut another 110 calories. This salad still isn’t a great choice, but by cutting the dressing from it and reducing the size, it’s still saving you from burning off that extra 500 calories that you probably didn’t need anyway.

Fast food chains fare a little better, probably because the portions are smaller. McDonald’s Premium Caesar Salad with Crispy Chicken in 330 calories. Switch to the grilled chicken and it drops to 220, omit the chicken entirely and you get a salad with only 90 calories. But if you add the Newman’s Own Creamy Caesar Dressing you’re also adding 190 calories, with 170of those calories being from fat!

If you think that a burger would be better, you could be right. But check out nutritional facts for your favorite restaurant before heading out. I found that Wendy’s Baconator® Triple has 1360 calories, but the Baconator® Single only has 610 calories. Better, but not great. Best bet is to have the plain, old Jr. Hamburger with only 230 calories.

So don’t give up on veggies. Salads are great for lunch or dinner and provide you with a daily serving of vegetables. So keep eating your veggies, just pay attention to what else is being served with it.

The best way to have a healthy salad is to get the dressing served on the side, and use it sparingly, or skip it altogether.
Then again, if it takes dressing to eat your veggies, at least you’re eating them. Just don’t expect to lose weight!


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