By Lauren Duffy
A quick side-story: Last night, I met up with a bunch of my friends at The Blue Wall to celebrate my friends birthday. I wanted to avoid getting any of the fried meals and greasy pizzas that they offer there, so I reached for the French Meadow spinach, dried cranberry and walnut salad. After we finished eating, I looked at the bottom of the salad container for the Nutrition Facts out of pure curiosity and discovered the most unpleasant of surprises. That salad had over 95 grams of fat and 1165 calories. No, I’m not exaggerating. NINETY-FIVE grams of FAT and ONE THOUSAND ONE HUNDRED AND SIXTY FIVE CALORIES. While none of those fats or calories came from fried food, that’s still absolutely absurd for a salad. Are you kidding me?!?! Needless to say, after this little discovery I want to first take a look at the DC salad bars to make sure no one ever has to consume a salad of such high fat and calorie content.
Anyway, every salad bar here at UMass has pretty much the same variety of veggies available at all times. You’ll almost always find: romaine lettuce, spinach, carrots, celery, cucumbers, and tomatoes. (Call me Popeye, but I always reach for the spinach because of the nutrients it contains. It’s something to think about when you’re choosing between the spinach and romaine.) Then, depending on the day, you’ll find chickpeas, peppers, beets, broccoli, olives, and a few other delicious vegetables. Filling one of the Dining Common’s larger multi-colored bowls with any of these vegetables is certainly a healthy way to go, but it’s what you place on top of the salad that can make it run high in calories.
It’s all about moderation. I think the reason that that French Meadow salad was so high in calories was because it was loaded with walnuts and dried cranberries. Like these walnuts and dried cranberries, pretty much any of the toppings that you’ll find on the salad bar are technically healthy, but once you let the portions get out of control, you enter the danger zone.
Let me break down the salad toppings…
Sometimes the salad bar will have marinated mushrooms, peppers, and/or other veggies available to put atop your salad. But the key word here is “marinated”.. because by marinated they mean soaked in olive oil. You always have to be wary of olive oil portions, because once you have two tablespoons or more of it, you’re consuming almost 100 calories at over 9 grams of fat. So if you’re going to have a marinated item, maybe let some of the oil drip off of it before you put it on your salad.
Worcester, Franklin, and Hampshire all have a small selection of nuts available at the salad bar. Berkshire offers nuts too, but they’re hiding over by the yogurt and bagels. Nuts are a good source of protein, but their fat content is through the roof. For example, it doesn’t take too many walnuts to reach over 200 calories and 20 grams of fat. So when adding any kind of nut to your salad, just add an amount about the size of a small handful to avoid excess fat and calories.
Salad on Salad?:
Each dining common often offers a salad to add to your salad. What?…. What I mean is, there are commonly pasta, potato, or macaroni salads available to add to your salad. None of these toppings are really my cup of tea, but if this appeals to you, you have to be careful with these portions. Not only do pasta and potato salads have high amounts of unnecessary carbohydrates, but these salads (including the tuna salads) are always smothered in mayonnaise. Mayo has around 60 calories and 5 grams of fat per tablespoon, and you just never know how much mayo the dining common chefs dump in to their mixes. If you go to scoop up one of these salads and you see the mayo drip off of it, it probably has way too much and will immediately make the salad unhealthy.
As for the rest of the toppings…
Hard-boiled eggs are good, just try to cut some calories by picking out the majority of the yolks. And try not to eat them after 8pm… they’re leftovers from breakfast. Ew.
For cheeses, there are often bleu cheese, shredded mozzarella, crumbled gorgonzola, etc. available for you. Just watch the portions; plain and simple. Same goes for croutons.
Anything that was once ‘pickled’ (ie. peppers, olives, etc) are low in calories but sooo high in sodium. Hello, bloating.
And finally, chicken is never offered at a salad bar, but if you venture over to the Grill section at any DC, you can grab some grilled chicken from there and cut it up for your salad. A great source of protein!
And finally… The moment you’ve been waiting for…
I always say: the clearer the better. The more you can see through a dressing, the healthier it will be. But either way, watch the portions!!!
The DC’s offer the dressing brand called “Naturally Delicious”, and they offer about 8 different kinds of this dressing.
The Good: Light Blush Wine, Light Raspberry, Light Italian (and there’s always oil, vinegar, and balsamic vinegar available if these don’t appeal to you). They’re low in calories and have low-to-no fat in them.
The Bad: Russian and Regular Italian. These aren’t terrible but they’re not the best for you… just be careful.
The Ugly: Caesar, Ranch, Bleu Cheese. Fat, fat, fat. Calories, calories, calories. Don’t even bother with these unless you plan on only using half a tablespoon. They’re loaded with unhealthy stuff.
Keeping a salad healthy at the Dining Commons can be an easy task as long as you’re able to control your portions. Just think about each ingredient you put on and try to think of what could be in it that you should be wary of. It’s easy to keep a salad healthy, but it’s even easier to make it unhealthy. Also, keep an eye out for the Nutrition Cards that the DC’s sometimes have around the food, because they’ll tell you exactly how many calories and how much fat is in each topping. Keep your eyes open and your portions small! Good luck :)