Ever go to a restaurant and decide you are not going to get the deep-fried entrée with a side of fries and a big dessert, but instead are going to be virtuous and just get a salad? Eating a salad feels healthful and with enough dressing it can be tolerable, right? Wrong. Salads are actually a very poor food choice, for a number of reasons. Let’s examine why.
There’s a Greater Chance It Will Be Prepared Poorly
In most restaurants, the most inexperienced chefs prepare salads. They are side items, not entrees. Many mistakes happen. The greens may be soggy. Your salad may not contain the ingredients you want. Even if the salad is in a huge bowl and has a lovely presentation, it may be prepared inexpertly. The ingredients may be drenched in dressing, or the seasonings may be off.
If you pay attention to the news, you know that bagged salads are responsible for recent outbreaks of salmonella, listeria, and e.coli. Many restaurants use pre-washed bagged greens which have been handled by humans and contain significant amounts of bacteria. Even so-called “organic” greens are dangerous. Studies show they can harbor mycotoxins, because they are farmed and harvested without the use of pesticides.
Dressings Often Aren’t Healthful
Many salads arrive at the table drenched in dressing and not all dressings are healthful. Some contain significant amounts of saturated fats. Low-fat dressings often have a lot of sugar in them. If you are counting calories, the dressings can add 100-300 calories per tablespoon. The healthiest choices are dressings that mainly contain vinegar and healthful oils like olive or canola.
You Pay a Huge Markup
The main ingredient in most salads is primarily lettuce. Lettuce is not expensive, especially during spring and summer. A huge bag will likely cost the restaurant just a few dollars. That $15 salad may feel like a great deal, but it’s actually not. Salads are highly marked up—as many as 250 times the value of the ingredients, in some restaurants.
Beware of Toppings
Many salads come topped with deep fried meat like chicken or shrimp—not good for those counting carbs or trying to avoid unhealthy fats. Sometimes even bacon or fried onions are toppings. If you’re concerned about fat intake, read the menu descriptions carefully before ordering your salad. Adding corn or peas can drive up the calorie count and the carbohydrate count, if you’re trying to go low carb.