Recently I ordered a regular-size chicken pesto salad from SumoSalad, which I chose because it was touted as 'low-carb' (3.4g carbs). It was delicious ... a little too delicious, it turns out, as when I got home, I got quite the shock when I logged it into my Fitbit diary and discovered it had 638 calories.
Let’s give this a point of reference: a Big Mac is 492 calories.
Here's what confuses me: if you’re passionate enough about healthy eating to start up an international salad bar chain, surely you'd aspire to create individual menu items that stay within the general caloric perimeters of a standard healthy meal, right? – which is 300 for women and 450 for men. At least, this is what one would expect.
Of course, those following low-calorie diets aren’t always concerned with carbs, and those following low-carbohydrate diets aren’t always concerned with calories, but 638 calories for a 280 gram bowl of salad seems a little extreme. That’s 73.4 grams of fat – a quarter of the total content. Even if you had no interest in losing weight (although I’m sure most people who make this food selection do), those figures are still pretty chunky.
Checking out the figures for other salads on the menu, it's clear there are lower-calorie options, such as the roasted pumpkin and chickpea (408 calories) and the balsamic beetroot (328 calories) – certainly better caloric choices than the chicken pesto that I chose – yet their carb counts are through the roof (at 52.5 grams and 37.6 grams, respectively). This is baffling, as sugars, breads and pastas are usually the carb culprits. Salad – meat and vegetables – seems like the perfect opportunity to post the 'Keep Out' sign for carbs.
(And I won't even mention the Thai Chicken Noodle salad, which is 1020 calories and 197.6 grams of carbs – more than a Big Mac meal with fries and a Coke.)
Of course, SumoSalad isn’t the only salad-selling potential calorie-cloaker. Popularly, Subway is the healthy alternative and many think that if you choose it over, say, Maccas, it gives you a carte blanche to order whatever you like, guilt free … and double the serve. While a 6” sub with chicken and no dressing is a pretty good choice calorie-wise, with 306 calories (yet 43.7 grams of carbs), not everyone orders so conscientiously, especially adolescents.
A foot-long chicken, bacon and ranch sub with cheese, for instance, is over 1000 calories (76 carbs), which is around the same as a KFC Ultimate Meal Box at 955 calories and 101 carbs (which includes a chicken burger, a piece of fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, chips and a can of soft drink!).
It’s all about choices, of course. But the choices become cloudy and convoluted when you’re ordering from a salad bar – salad bar, people – and trying to make the right choices without frantically calculating calories and carbs, adding and subtracting, allowing for bigger or smaller serves, or add-ons like avocado, cheese and dressing, often with a handful of kids and shopping bags hanging off your arms.
Don't get me wrong: these healthy fast-food outlets are definitely a plus. But just because they're advertised as the healthy alternative doesn’t mean that you can order anything off the menu with blind confidence and reckless abandon.
... At least, not without accidentally ordering a salad with more calories than a Big Mac.