VOTE AGAINST THE GREENS
Shop-bought salad boxes are a nutritional desert. Allow us to unpack why sandwiches are your true fat-loss friend THE DEVIL’S ADVOCATE
Good news: salad is far from the smart way to chew through excess weight
Every year, the dietary sea change that occurs on the first day of January hits us hard. Gone are the champagne and (delicious) battered finger food of New Year’s Eve, replaced by joyless fizzy water and, inevitably, salad. According to a 2017 UK poll, two of our most commonly cited resolutions are to lose weight (33%) and to eat more healthily (32%). Yet research conducted by US News estimated that 80% of us will abondon these ambitions by the second week of February. Counterintuitive though it may seem, I pin much of the blame for this on limp meal-deal salads. Researchers Charles Benbrook and Donald Davis developed a Nutritional Quality Index (NQI) to rate foods based on the nutrient payload of each portion. Four of the five lowest-ranking vegetables are salad ingredients: cucumbers, radishes, iceberg lettuce and celery 1 . At nearly 97% water each, you’d do just as well to savour a glass of eau de tap. Remove these nutritionally void ingredients and a Caesar salad becomes a small portion of creamy chicken topped with cheese and fried bread. It’s high calorie, high salt and sates your hunger for about 10 minutes. No wonder so many throw in the napkin.
Salads perpetuate what scientists refer to as the “health halo” effect – a mental trick that surreptitiously sabotages your weight-loss goals. For example, researchers at Cornell University found that people who opted for low-fat foods over regular varieties ended up eating around 90 more calories than those who snacked as normal. Meanwhile, a University of Chicago study found that eating foods labelled as “healthy” – as is commonplace on every supermarket salad aisle – only makes you hungrier 2 With no change to the ingredients, the virtuous moniker dupes your brain into feeling less full. What’s more, labelling the same foods as “tasty” reduced the number of calories test subjects consumed later that day. A seemingly sensible choice can send you calorie crazy, basically.
Salads are also a routine vehicle for another well-trodden and ineffective weight-loss strategy: cutting carbs – one of my least favourite. There’s more to transforming your body at this time of year than the foods you eat, and if you’re trying to increase the amount of exercise you do, then carbs are absolutely your friend. Without glucose to burn, your energy levels will plummet and the efficacy of your workouts will suffer. Moreover, your famished body will turn to precious amino acids for energy and cause your metabolism to stall, meaning you’ll burn fewer calories more slowly. You need carbs for fat loss 3 . In a Cell Metabolism
study, overweight adults on a carb-based diet lost more body fat than those who ate equal calories on a carb-free, and presumably bleak, eating plan.
However, just because many shops believe that a salad should consist purely of lettuce, cucumber and a token tomato, that doesn’t mean you have to. Salads can be interesting yet still healthy and weight-loss-friendly – just think of them as another way to assemble the food you’re planning to eat. That said, you could simply combine your healthy proteins and vegetables between two slices of bread, which would take care of your energising carbs, too. People forget about the sandwich but, constructed at home, it can be as healthy a meal as any. Plus, it’s tasty, which means it’s scientifically proven to make sticking to your new eating plan easy. Avocado, spinach and bacon are a good start. I prefer mine crispy, thanks.
“Eating food that has been labelled ‘healthy’ can actually make you hungrier”
FLAVOURLESS SALAD BOXES ARE A WASTE OF YOUR TIME
Super influencer Dr Hazel Wallace is the author of The Food Medic for Life @thefoodmedic