The Top 5 Salad Death Traps, Misconceptions, And Other Forms Of Salad Sabotage
Think you’re making a lean choice by opting for a salad instead of your standard burger and fries? If you’re eating clean, it’s normal to trade in a greasy meal for a pile of leafy greens. But don’t think you’re saving any calories or getting more nutrition when you eat a salad loaded with breaded chicken, cheddar cheese, and a creamy dressing.
Let’s get one thing clear — I’m not talking about the kind of salads you’d order at TGI Friday’s or Applebee’s (does anyone even eat there anymore?). Usually they use iceberg lettuce and other GMO veggies, not to mention crap like imitation bacon bits, artificially dyed cheeses, calorically-dense dressings, and sodium-ridden meats. But I assume that you probably already know this.
And if you didn’t, TGIF’s Pecan-Crusted Chicken Salad comes in at 1080 calories, 16g sat. fat, 76g carbs, and 1,650mg of sodium. That burger looks pretty good now, huh?
The salads I personally have a problem with are the homemade salads I see on Facebook, Pinterest, and of course Instagram. Explore the hashtag #salad and you’ll easily find a million girls between the ages of 12 and 28 all posting their #sotd (salad of the day). Usually this picture is accompanied by other health inspired hashtags like #healthydiet, #healthyfoodshare, and my personal favorite, #onedirection.
The problem is that while you think you might be eating something healthy, they often have way more calories, unhealthy fats, and sodium than one would presume. That said, eating salad on a regular basis can be a staple in any healthy diet.
Whether you’re trying to shed fat or make lean gains, it’s essential to load up on raw, leafy greens. Take advantage of these tips — and know which death traps to avoid — to make salad a lean, nutritious experience EVERY time.
Salad Death Trap #1: Romaine & Iceberg Lettuce
Time and time again, I see people using romaine or iceberg lettuce as the base for their salad. I’m not here to say you can’t ever eat either one. I do every once in a while when I’m really craving a healthy taco salad and want a crunchy lettuce. But most of the time, I opt for dark, leafy greens — greens like spinach, arugula, kale, and dandelion greens that have far higher nutrient and antioxidant levels than romaine lettuce.
There’s a nutritional opportunity cost. Maximize it.
This isn’t to say you can’t ever eat romaine lettuce. If you’re in a food bind or romaine is all that’s available to you, that’s totally straight. It won’t hurt. But more often than not, opting for a more nutrient-dense base is as simple as choosing one bag of pre-washed greens over another.
Salad Death Trap #2: Dried Cranberries (and Other Fruits)
Sure, dried cranberries look aesthetically pleasing and add a splash of color to your Instagram or Pinterest photo. But they’re certainly not pleasing to your weight loss and fitness goals.
Loaded with added refined sugar and preservatives, dried cranberries only add unneeded calories to your salad. Plus, dried fruit typically has up to 80% of its nutrients depleted. Would you pour skittles on your salad? I wouldn’t think so.
If you really want something sweet, add slices or chunks of fresh fruit. Fresh berries and citrus are great choices to instantly perk up your salad in a healthy way.
Salad Death Trap #3: Too Much Added Fat (Even If It’s Healthy)
Image: Texitarian Kitchen
I love eating salad with chunks of fresh avocado. I even love sprinkling flax/chia seeds, or walnuts and almonds on top. But I would never put all three on one salad. Even if it’s healthy fat, that’s simply way too much fat for one meal. Adding walnuts, chia seeds, olive oil, and avocado to your salad can easily pack an additional 500+ calories — and that’s not including dressing, cheese, veggies, or lean protein.
Healthy fats are great toppings in moderation, especially because they can help improve nutrient absorption, control appetite, and support heart health. But adding too much fat can definitely be a salad death trap and spike calorie levels. When adding fat, pick one healthy fat to focus on. You can always save the rest for another salad.
Salad Death Trap #4: Low Fat, Low Cal, and Artificial Dressings
You’ve bought the organic spring mix at Whole Foods and the organic bean sprouts. You’ve sprinkled your salad with omega-3 rich hemp seeds. And then what do you do? Top it with a preservative-laden salad dressing that may be low in calories, but high in artificial ingredients, refined oils, excess sugar, and unneeded sodium.
Or you just go all-in and douse it with a full-fat caesar, ranch, or thousand island; some of which can hit 200 calories in one pour.
Store bought dressings are one of the most dangerous death traps in the world of salad. Even organic and all natural varieties that claim to be healthy are often just as bad. Whether it’s conventional soybean oil or organic soybean oil, both kinds are totally refined and basically liquid free radicals. Avoid refined oils and other unhealthy additives by making your own salad dressings — it’s as simple as a little olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Balsamic vinegar is great, too.
Salad Death Trap #5: Protein (or Lack Thereof)
The final problem I see with most salads is a lack of protein.
Salad without protein is an incomplete meal and definitely not conducive to building a lean, svelte physique. Plus it helps curb hunger, supports muscle growth, keeps blood sugar levels in check, and can even help with fat loss. Make sure to add lean protein like grilled chicken, steamed or grilled seafood, turkey, cottage cheese, or even baked pork and beef.
If you’re a vegetarian, don’t forget about hard boiled eggs and egg whites. And for the vegans of the food world, be sure to incorporate legumes and beans. Check out our list for a full breakdown of the top protein sources.
is the founder of We're Talking About Food
. Devoted to democratizing health, Taji believes that anyone CAN live a healthy lifestyle regardless of medical condition, career, budget or other secondary factors.
Besides contributing to Lean it UP, Taji has been published for her health and fitness advice in journals like Thought Catalog. Taji has been supported by numerous health and fitness companies such as Navitas Naturals
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