750 calories, 40 grams of fat – in a salad.

I started this blog because I love food. Everything about food, really. I love to eat it, study it, cook it, celebrate it … I especially love the science of food; I am so fascinated by its immediate effect on our bodies, in terms of energy, satiety … and size.

Eating out or on the road isn’t easy if you’re trying to be “good.” It is becoming increasingly difficult to stave off offers to ‘super-size’ your meal or ‘appetize’ before your entree. It’s even more difficult to know what’s actually good for your and what’s not.

Over the years, I’ve developed a habit of conscious eating. And one way I remain conscious is by reading food labels, or asking questions about how food is prepared when I’m out to eat. Many people perceive this to be an obsessive behavior, suited for people with eating disorders. This is simply not true. Reading labels not only tells you about calories and fat, but also about sugar, sodium, vitamins, fiber, and the list goes on. Understanding food labels is such an important topic today; there are a LOT of misleading labels stamped on packaging to make food sound healthier than it is. For example, if the label says “fat free” it’s possible that it has 15g more sugar or more calories than its “low fat” alternative. And did you know that whole grain and multigrain are totally different? As a rule, you should always look for whole grain first. Multigrain just means more than one kind of grain is used, but gives little indication of the WHOLE grain content. Understanding food labels is a powerful tool to helping you make truly healthy decisions for you and your family.

As promised, I am getting to the topic of fattening salads. Yes, salads. Last night, amidst the airport full of tasty yet devastatingly high calorie food items, I was able to make a healthy dinner choice thanks to labels … even if I was somewhat shocked into my decision.

Ciao Gourmet Market Salad

I found a small dinner at the Ciao Gourmet Market, a store that seems to be popping up in airports across the country. Looks pretty good, huh? It was! This salad, I should tell you, wasn’t the only one available. My other option was one that sounded even better … that is, until I read the label. It was grilled chicken, pecans, dried cranberries, feta cheese and a blueberry-pomegranate dressing. The one I ended up with as you can see had chic peas, onion, sun-dried tomatoes, olives, artichokes and mozzarella with a fat-free tomato vinaigrette. I usually gravitate toward a salad more like the first one because I absolutely love anything fruity in my salad greens. But, I also like artichokes and hadn’t had them in a while so the internal debate began: cranberries or artichokes? Boy am I glad I looked at the tiny label on the bottom. I couldn’t believe the difference. Cranberry salad: 750 calories, 40 grams of fat and sodium out the wah-zoo versus the artichoke salad: 200 calories and less than 10 grams of fat. The debate ended right then and there. For 750 calories? I might as well go get a Big Mac!

The moral? Pay closer attention to labels (preferably without obsessing) and don’t assume that just because you’re eating a salad that you’re going to make an impact on the scale. Well, that’s actually not true – you will certainly make an impact, just don’t assume it’s in the direction you were hoping for. (: My advice is to load up on the veggies, go easy on the cheese (and nuts) and opt for a vinaigrette instead of a cream-based dressing.

Just one final note about labels. You have to, have to, have to, be skeptical. Just like the treadmill at the gym doesn’t necessarily accurately calculate your calorie expenditure, food labels are not 100% accurate – especially on things like pre-made airport salads.

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