Not all salads are created equal. Nothing sounds healthier than a salad, right? It may be, but not if you add the wrong ingredients. They can be a filling, low-calorie option and a great way to satisfy your daily vegetable requirements. Just follow these guidelines for making the perfectly healthy salad.
Start with a strong foundation
Start by upping the nutritional ante by choosing a base for your salad that provides important nutrients like folic acid and lutein. Give up the iceberg for mesclun greens, baby spinach, or a spring mix that includes a variety of dark green lettuces<http://www.joybauer.com/food-articles/leafy-green-vegetables.aspx>.
Pile on the veggies
Choose a variety of colors to get the most health benefits — red bell peppers, broccoli, carrots, sugar snap peas, cucumbers, and red onions are all great choices. Be sure to stick with raw or lightly steamed vegetables.
Don’t forget the protein
Your salad becomes a meal when you add the protein! If you’re opting for animal protein, select one lean source, such as four egg whites or three ounces of skinless chicken or turkey breast, water-packed chunk light tuna, wild salmon, or lean sirloin steak. If you’re vegetarian or just want to mix it up, choose half a cup of cubed tofu or three-quarters of a cup of chickpeas, kidney beans, pinto beans, or other legumes.
Choose one extra
Extras are those items that typically add another dimension and flavor to your combo of greens, vegetables, and lean protein. While some of these extras are packed with nutrients, they’re also packed with calories and fat, so they should be added sparingly. Luckily, a little of these high-fat goodies goes a long way, so you won’t need more than one of the following (each of which is between 40 and 70 calories):
2 tablespoons cheddar, Parmesan, goat, Swiss, or feta cheese
1 tablespoon chopped walnuts, pecans, or sliced almonds
1 tablespoon sunflower or pumpkin seeds
1 ounce avocado
10 small olives (canned/jarred in water)
1/4 cup croutons
2 tablespoons dried cranberries or raisins
Dress it up lightly
Unfortunately, dressing can take a salad from fresh and nutritious to downright unhealthy. One tablespoon of your average vinaigrette is about 80 calories and one tablespoon of creamy ranch is almost 100 calories. Whenever possible, choose light, low-calorie, or low-fat options. You can also make your own light vinaigrette using one part oil and three parts vinegar with some mustard, lemon, 100 percent fruit jam, or spices for added flavor.