Are Salads Healthy?
RACHEL LANGAN“Salads are a healthy meal choice.”
If you were to ask most students on campus, they would probably agree with this statement without much hesitation. But are salads truly healthy? Upon closer scrutiny, the ambiguity of the word “salad” brings one to question whether this statement can represent an overarching truth. Because the ingredient list of salads is virtually limitless, the actual nutritional value of a salad can significantly vary.
One problem with many salads involves the high carbohydrate content. For example, though fruit salads may offer vitamins and antioxidants, they are high in sugar and will be broken down almost entirely as carbohydrates. Similarly, a pasta salad with an emphasis on pasta over vegetables will contain high carbohydrate content with little nutrients that are beneficial to fuel your body, especially if they pasta is made of enriched wheat instead of whole wheat.
While it may seem obvious that a fruit or pasta salad may not represent the best meal choice, even salads with a leafy base can lack many key nutrients that make a meal complete. For an example, though lettuce may be low in calories, it is also 96% water and therefore contains little nutritional value. Similarly, popular salad components like tomatoes and cucumbers are 94 % and 96% water respectively. Adding a variety of vegetables and fruits to your salad may seem like the best way to boost its nutritional value, but again, doing this would simply give you a bowl of carbohydrates. Because carbohydrates are used as immediate energy sources in the body, you will likely experience a short spike in energy level following your salad meal that doesn’t last. This can actually make you feel hungry faster and cause you to eat more overall than if you had a meal with less vegetables but more protein and healthy fats.
Another sneaky ingredient that can sabotage the healthiness of your salad is the dressing. Though they may make a bowl of veggies easier to eat, almost all dressing contributes to a significant caloric increase to your salad being that they are made mostly of fats. For an example, one serving of Hidden Valley Original Ranch dressing contains 145 calories and 15 grams of fat, 2.5 of which are saturated fats. Hidden Valley Caesar dressing contains 120 calories per serving with 11 grams of fat. Others lower in fat, such as strawberry vinaigrette or honey based dressing, may contain high sugar content.
Hoping to opt for a healthier option at campus fast food favorites? Look past the salads: Wendy’s Spicy Chicken Caesar salad not only clocks in at 780 calories, it also supplies 51 grams of fat and 1760 milligrams of sodium. Chick-Fil-A’s Cobb Salad has a slightly more reasonable calorie content of 500, but still packs in 1360 milligrams of sodium. Both salads also contain a suspiciously long ingredient list chock full of preservatives.
Though it is easy to have an unintentionally unhealthy meal when eating a salad, this article by no means suggesting reaching for traditionally unhealthy foods over a nutrient poor salad. (Sorry guys, Wendy’s and Chick-Fil-A fries aren’t health-conscious, either.) Alternatively, the intention is to suggest being more critical of what society deems “healthy,” and to be mindful about the ingredients in the next salad you consume. When choosing your salad components, focus on a lean protein like chicken or fish, unsaturated healthier fats such as avocado, and plenty of varied veggies to make sure your salad will not only keep you full longer, but will be packed with nutritious ingredients! Swap your lettuce with vitamin rich spinach or kale, and opt for a low-fat dressing that you add minimally.