diabetes supplement
Diabetes Diet

When is a Salad Not

Salad is health food. Salad is unhealthy.

The answer to this riddle is what you call “salad.”

Salad can be one of the best dishes that people with diabetes eat. It can be low in carbohydrates and provide us with a great variety of green leafy vegetables similar to what our ancestors have eaten for thousands of years. Or it can be loaded with starches and sugars that will boost our blood glucose levels unacceptably high.

The people who make unhealthy salad choices based on what we call them are precisely those who are trying to eat better. People who are trying to lose weight by eating virtuously are more likely than non-dieters to choose unhealthy foods that we call healthy.

This is the conclusion of a fascinating study scheduled to appear in the October 2011 issue of the Journal of Consumer Research. The abstract of the study, “The Impact of Product Names on Dieters’ and Non-Dieters’ Food Evaluations and Consumption,” is online. The authors of the study, Caglar Irmak, an assitant professor of marketing at the University of South Carolina’s Moore School of Business, and his associates Beth Vallen and Stefanie Rosen Robinson, provided me with the full-text of the forthcoming article.

They reported how food names misled participants in one of their studies. The meal offered them was a mixture of vegetables, pasta, salami, and cheese, served on a bed of fresh romaine lettuce. If the researchers identified it as “salad,” the participants perceived it as healthy, but when labeled “pasta,” they considered exactly the same meal as unhealthy.

“Keeping your weight-loss goal in mind as you scan the lunch menu at a cafe, you are careful to avoid pasta selections and instead order from the list of salad options,” they write. “But before you congratulate yourself for making a virtuous selection, you might want to consider whether your choice is a salad in name only.”

Yesterday evening as I ate a dinner salad I reflected on this study. I was interested to see that they served my smoked salmon salad on a bed of romaine lettuce, just like the participants in the study got. The bed for my salad was uncut leaves, and I suppose the restaurant never expected me to actually eat them (but I did).

I got healthy ingredients in my salad last night. But if I had made a trip or two to a salad bar, the restaurant would have presented me with a wide array of unhealthy ingredients that dieters might mindlessly add to their salad.

My scanning of salad bars even in natural food stores turns up many examples that might mislead dieters. They include croutons, beets, raisins, to say nothing of pasta in many forms.

“What’s in a name?” Juliet asked in Shakespeare’s play, “Romeo and Juliet. Her answer shows that four hundred years ago he understood the problem. “That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

Sometimes a name tells us too much.

This article is based on an earlier version of my article published by HealthCentral.

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  • Jim Seeley at

    Thank you, David. The following is the response I received from Derek. I’m posting it here, (with his permission), so that others can benefit from his response:

    Hello Jim:

    David Mendosa asked me to comment on the recipe for Soy flour
    bread in my Diabetes and Diet booklet.

    The soy bread rises very little compared with whole flour bread, and I
    believe your results are similar to mine. My bread experiments were
    conducted a long time ago, but I recall that increasing the number of
    eggs to four helped just a bit.

    I eventually gave up making my own bread, because experiments
    showed that I could eat a small amount of pumpernickel bread if I
    included something with the bread to slow down BG rise, such as butter
    and cheese.

    Incidentally, when evaluating the effect of foods I believe it’s vital
    to include the practical effects that other foods may have. Many/most
    of us eat meals rather than foods. This is something not often addressed
    in the literature, perhaps because it’s so complicated and so specific to
    each of us. Fortunately we have BG meters to get our own results.

    Today, the only time I eat bread is with lunch when I have two thin
    slices (about 36 grams) of pumpernickel bread with cheese. My wife
    also likes thin-sliced pumpernickel bread so having pumpernickel
    bread in the house is a good arrangement for both of us.

    Hope this helps,

    Good luck.


  • Jim Seeley at

    I’m a recently diagnosed Type 2. In my research of this disease I was fortunate to stumble across your study entitled Diabetes and Diet: A Type 2 Patient’s Successful Efforts at Control. That work was extremely helpful to me. Thank you.

    Yesterday I tried making one of the recipes you included in that study. It’s the Low SGI Bread made with soy flour and a bit of rye flour. My problem is that the bread didn’t rise. The loafs came out like they went in…flat and heavy. Is that the expected outcome? I substituted Egg Beaters for the egg, but otherwise followed the recipe faithfully. The taste is very good, but I’m afraid the slices will make better crackers than bread.

    • David Mendosa at

      Dear Jim,

      I have passed your question on to Derek Paice, who wrote that book I reviewed.


  • Jim Anderson at

    Trying to eat low-carb, I often order a salad in restaurants. It seems safe. The last one I had was a caesar salad with grilled chicken breast. It came with bread, which I let my friends have. But I forgot about croutons. At first, only a few were visible, but as I dug into the salad I found more and more. It became difficult to eat around. I stopped with about a third of the bowl full of croutons and bits of vegetables and lettuce. There could easily have been 30 or 40 grams of carbs in all those croutons. I guess it’s a cheap way to fill up a bowl.

    • David Mendosa at

      Dear Jim,

      I have the same experience with croutons. When I remember, I ask them not to put any in my salad. Otherwise, I just fish them out and set them aside.