If you’re on a low-carb diet, you already know you have to carefully monitor every single food you put in your mouth. It can be tricky, since nearly all foods -- with the exception of meat, fish and certain kinds of seafood -- have some type of carbohydrate. You can still enjoy your favorite lunchtime salad while adhering to your diet plan, you’ll just need to use certain dressings and measure out your portion size carefully to minimize the carbs in your meal.
The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend adults get 45 to 65 percent of their calories from carbohydrates, which would be 225 to 325 grams of carbs each day for a typical 2,000-calorie diet. On a low-carb diet though, you’ll have to limit your total daily intake of carbohydrates to 50 to 150 grams, reports MayoClinic.com. Some diet plans even make you go as low as 20 grams per day during early phases. Because you only have a handful of carbohydrate grams to work with, you’ll need to trace every last one, including the carbs in your dressing.
Dressings with Carbs
Watch out for low-fat or nonfat dressings -- they may have less fat and calories, but they’re hidden sources of carbohydrates a lot of the time. Just 1 tablespoon of reduced-fat French dressing adds 5 grams of carbs to your salad. Low-fat thousand island is a little better, offering slightly more than 3.5 grams of carbohydrates per tablespoon. If you must have dressing, reduced-fat Italian is a better option. You’ll only get 1.5 grams of carbs from 1 tablespoon of a diet type of Italian dressing. Blue cheese has even fewer carbs -- 0.75 grams per tablespoon -- but it’s also loaded with fat and calories.
If you’re really having a hard time counting every last gram of carbohydrate, you might just want to stick to regular old oil and vinegar to spruce up your salad. Oil is naturally carb free and vinegar has only a trace amount of carbohydrate. Plain vinegar offers 0.4 grams of carbohydrate or less in each tablespoon.
You might be fine skipping the dressing all together. Instead of high-fat oils or carb-rich dressings, simply squeeze fresh lemon juice on your salad. The juice of one wedge, or roughly one-eighth of a lemon, has a minimal 0.4 grams of carbohydrate. Lime juice has slightly less. If you still need a touch of flavor, season your salad with fresh cracked pepper or chopped basil, or toss it with minced garlic. You’ll get plenty of flavor for a miniscule amount of carbohydrate and probably won’t even miss your old salad dressing.
Melodie Anne Coffman specializes in overall wellness, with particular interests in women's health and personal defense. She holds a master's degree in food science and human nutrition and is a certified instructor through the NRA. Coffman is pursuing her personal trainer certification in 2015.