Salad-Eating How-To: The Fork Method

Most of us equate dieting with eating salads of some sort.  You may overhear someone say, “I’ll have a salad—I’m trying to lose some weight” and then confidently go on to order their leafy greens piled high with cheese, croutons, and fatty salad dressing. We set out to eat salads with the best of intentions, and often unknowingly derail our healthy diet efforts.

Salads don’t have to spell dietary demise.  In fact, salads can be very healthy and diet-friendly.  The dietary help or hindrance imposed by salad eating depends on you: what you put on the salad, how much of the tasty toppings you add, and even your method of salad eating. Yes, how you eat a salad can make a difference.

The Fork Method   

I’ve been using the fork method of salad eating for years. I’ve gotten many questions from curious observers. And I’ve even had a waitress, in noticing my odd eating behavior ask, “Is that really the best way to eat a salad?”

 The fork method involves two steps: 1) Order your salad dressing on the side—low fat, nonfat, or even full-fat if that’s what you prefer.  2) Before you stick your fork into the salad greens and accompanying toppings, dip your fork in the dressing.  Tap excess dressing off the fork tines and go for the green.  It’s very simple. With each bite you get the flavor of the salad dressing but use far less of it.  

Avoid drowning salad in dressing

 The purpose of eating a salad isn’t to cover the taste of the lettuce. But when we drown salad greens in dressing—anywhere from ¼ to ½ cup for many people, we are piling on calories and fat. Most bottles of salad dressing list as a serving just 1 or 2 tablespoons. That doesn’t go very far when poured over the top. And even 2 tablespoons can add 150 calories and nearly 16 grams of fat to your otherwise healthy bowl of veggie goodness.  When you add ½ cup, you’re piling on a whopping 600 calories and 60 grams of fat. Your “healthy” salad has reached the calorie level of a burger.

The fork method has some definite positives. You may find that you like the taste of the salad itself when you free yourself and your salad of all those heavy dressings.  When you take those first few bites, it may seem odd to hear the sound of crunchy lettuce. Lettuce that isn’t drowned in dressing doesn’t get soggy. 

Other options

If using the fork method is still hard to fathom, there are some other ways you can reduce your dressing use and make your salad healthier. The use of low-fat or nonfat dressing is certainly an option. Just be aware of portion sizes—2 tablespoons of reduced fat dressing can have 66 calories and 5 grams of fat.  Fat-free dressing can have 33 calories.  Adding an excess ½ cup of fat-free dressing to a salad still significantly increases the calories consumed.  

If you must add dressing to your salad instead of putting your fork in charge, make sure that your salad greens are as dry as possible. Wet greens make a slippery surface for dressing; instead of sticking to the leaves, dressing will drip down, forming a puddle underneath, making you inclined to add even more dressing.  Consider using reduced fat versions of dressing. And keep a close eye on the other toppings added, like cheese and croutons.

The next time you order a salad or enjoy one at home, have your dressing on the side and try the fork method. You’ll use less dressing, save calories and fat, and just might rediscover the taste of vegetables again.


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