9 Myths About Your Salad

From the WebMD Archives

By Janis Jibrin, R.D.

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It's not just the fries. Many diet nightmares can be traced to the seemingly virtuous salad.

Myth #1: It's Just a Salad!

There's nothing "just" about the 490 calories and 41 grams of fat in a Subway BMT salad with ranch dressing. That adds up to even more calories and fat than a Burger King Bacon Cheeseburger (360 calories, 18 grams of fat). At Ruby Tuesday, the Carolina Chicken Salad packs — brace yourself — 1,300 calories and 72 grams of fat (275 fewer calories without dressing).

Myth #2: Fatfree Dressing Is Healthiest.

Not quite. You do save on calories when you take out the fat, but many such dressings are loaded with sugar — more than 2 teaspoons per serving — and offer zero nutrition. Plus, they block your ability to absorb the carotenoid antioxidants in salad greens and tomatoes — important compounds that reduce the risk of heart disease. In one study, people eating fullfat salad dressing absorbed twice the nutrients of those using reducedfat dressing. Fatfree dressing allowed for virtually no absorption of these good guys.

Myth #3: Celery Has Negative Calories, so It Will Compensate for the Extra Cheese!

At six calories per stalk, celery is unquestionably a weightfriendly food. But, alas, the body doesn't expend more calories than that to chew and digest it, according to David Baer, Ph.D., a research physiologist at the USDA Beltsville Human Nutrition Research Center in Maryland. "No negativecalorie foods have been discovered yet," he says.

Myth #4: Lettuce Is Lettuce.

Not when it comes to nutrition (or flavor): Arugula and watercress are superstars, loaded with cancerfighting compounds. In fact, a chemical in watercress has been shown to deactivate one of the cancercausing toxins in tobacco smoke. Spinach is another hero because of its cache of lutein, thought to protect against cancer and blindness. And baby versions of kale, mustard greens, and turnip greens are less sharp, tough, and bitter than the grownups but are outfitted with the same cancerfighters. Dark leaf, mildtasting greens, including romaine, redleaf lettuce, and many mesclun mixes, don't have a wealth of phytonutrients but have respectable levels of betacarotene. Light greens, like iceberg and endive, are pretty much all nutrition duds.

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Myth #5: Go for the Green.

Colorful, allvegetable salads offer goodforyou phytonutrients that aren't available in greens. For instance, powerful antioxidants (anthocyanins) in purplish vegetables such as eggplant help reduce heartdisease risk and improve brain function. Radishes offer cancerfighting indoles; red tomatoes are the ultimate in lycopene, linked to lower risk of heart disease and cancer.

Myth #6: Garbanzo Beans Give Me a Meal's Worth of Protein.

A ladleful (about 1/4 cup) provides roughly 4 grams of protein — not enough, if that's the only protein you're having in that meal. You need .36 grams per pound of body weight per day (so a 154pound woman needs about 55 grams of protein daily). Get more by using 3/4 cup of beans — that's 11 grams of protein — plus 1/4 cup of chopped egg (4 grams of protein) or 1/4 cup of shredded cheese (7 grams of protein).

Myth #7: If I Add Bacon, I Might as Well Have Ordered a Burger.

Bacon won't ever win any health prizes — in fact, nutritionists consider it a fat (and not a healthy fat!), as opposed to a meat. But it's not as bad as you might think. One slice, about 1 tablespoon crumbled, has about the same amount of fat as 2 tablespoons of feta or shredded cheese or 1 tablespoon of sunflower seeds. Just make sure you keep other fats, such as croutons or creamy dressing, out of your salad.

Myth #8: You Can't Get Food Poisoning from Salad like You Can from Beef or Chicken.

"Lettuce, sprouts, and tomatoes are some of the most common carriers of salmonella, toxic strains of E. coli, and other harmful microbes," says Christopher Braden, M.D., at the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta. How do they get into your salad? From the manure and contaminated water they're grown in, from a dirty cutting board or knife, or from people touching the vegetables without washing their hands. Not much you can do about it when you're out, but at home, wash veggies under running water.

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Myth #9: Organic Salad Is Healthier.

When it comes to nutrients, freshness matters more than an "organic" designation. Every day after they're picked, vegetables lose vitamin B, vitamin C, and other nutrients; heat and light speed the decline. A conventional head of lettuce that was picked yesterday will have retained lots more nutrients than an organic head of lettuce that's a week out of the fields. Of course, there are reasons to choose organic, but a nutrient bonus isn't one of them.


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