There are so many salad options out there, but which one to choose when you're after a healthy lunch that will keep you feeling full and productive all afternoon? We've rounded up a selection of our favourite high street options and asked for an expert evaluation...
Pret A Manger Chef’s Italian Chicken Salad,
Calories: 316 for the salad, and an additional 231 for the dressing
Expert verdict: ‘This is a great option. The chicken provides lots of quality protein to help fill you up, while being relatively low in fat and calories. The protein will also encourage a balanced release of energy throughout the afternoon rather than a quick burst of energy followed by a slump (which can trigger cravings for sugar or carbohydrates) – so this is excellent for supporting weight loss. Vegetables and chicken together is also a nutritious combination. If you’re trying to lose weight, don’t have the separate dressing as this adds over 200 calories.’
Starbucks Moreish Meze Salad, £3.99
Ingredients: Sweet potato falafel, spiced roasted vegetables, houmous topped with chimichurri and mixed seeds, with bulgur wheat, chickpea, parsely and mint tabouleh, mixed salad leaves, and a slow-roast tomato dressing.
Expert verdict: ‘This is a nice option for vegetarians. It contains good quality carbohydrates in the sweet potato, houmous and bulgur wheat, some protein in the seeds and chickpeas, some vegetables, and no refined or processed ingredients. However, the ratio of carbohydrates to protein is quite high – over 50 grams of carbohydrates to only 13 grams of protein. This means that energy is released quite quickly rather than in a balanced way over the afternoon, so you can end up hungry more quickly and craving more carbohydrates. For this reason, it is perhaps not the best option for weight loss if you have the choice of meat, fish or egg-based salads.’
Itsu Special Salmon Salad, £6.39
Ingredients: Oven-roasted miso-marinated salmon, seasoned Japanese rice, muki and green beans, itsu “no lettuce” salad (which includes grated carrot), furikake, fresh ginger.
Expert verdict: ‘A really nice option in terms of nutritional content. The salmon provides lots of protein and healthy fats, which are essential for many aspects of health but also help to fill you up and release energy slowly. I love the fact that this salad includes lots of green vegetables – green beans, muki beans and a ‘no lettuce’ salad. Green vegetables are good sources of minerals, such as calcium and magnesium, and low in calories and carbohydrates. The only thing I don’t like with this type of salad is that they use white rice rather than whole grain rice – white rice is refined and tends to be less helpful for balanced energy levels, with a lower vitamin and mineral content.’
Marks & Spencer Amazing Avocado and Feta, £4.50
Ingredients: Grain salad (includes quinoa, bulgur wheat, lentils, broad beans, cooked beans, spinach, salad onions, edamame soybeans, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, rocket, pea shoots), with avocado and feta cheese and a mint-infused oil and crème fraiche dressing.
Expert verdict: ‘I like the fact that this salad is based on whole foods – grains, lentils, beans, seeds and vegetables – which make it a nutritious option. The avocado provides healthy fats too. However, the protein content may be lower than optimal, and so it may not be very filling relative to the calories it contains, and not the best option for energy balance or weight control. For non-vegetarians and vegans, I prefer salads that contain some good-quality meat, fish or egg for the protein content and slow-releasing energy.’
Tesco Falafel and Butternut Squash Deli Salad, £2.50
Ingredients: Falafel and butternut squash, with chargrilled red peppers, bulgur wheat, spinach, rocket, carrot and onion, with a yoghurt dressing.
Expert verdict: ‘Like most of the other options, this salad contains some nutritious ingredients including the butternut squash, the peppers and other vegetables. However, it contains little protein relative to carbohydrates (8.6 grams of protein vs 32.8 grams of carbohydrates). This is also a fairly small salad relative to the others. For both these reasons, it is unlikely to keep you feeling full for very long; I would accompany this with a separate serving of fish or chicken for better energy balance and appetite control.’
And the winner is…
‘My favourite option for weight control, due to the low calorie content and high protein content, is the Pret a Manger Chef’s Italian Chicken Salad. For overall nutritional quality, I would probably select the Itsu Special Salmon Salad due to the fish and green vegetables.’
Cassandra Barns is a nutritionist at The Nutri Centre.