Not all salads are created equal. Bacon bits are not your friend when it comes to salad. Neither are iceberg lettuce and ranch dressing. There are a lot of ways to turn something low calorie and packed full of vitamins and minerals into something that’s bad for your health. The salads we’re talking about here are the kind you eat to help fill you up at a meal, something that has a lot of nutritional value without adding a lot of calories. Here’s a salad builder that will make your greens and veggies healthy and delicious every time you make one.
1. Include a LOT of Quality Lettuce
This might seem like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised. The word “salad” in the name of a dish triggers the word “healthy” in most of our minds, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s low in fat or calories. If lettuce is the base of your salad, you’re doing it right. Quality lettuce includes baby greens, spinach, romaine, green or red leaf lettuce and basically anything that’s not iceberg. Romaine’s a great option because it has a lot of flavor and crunch, and it’s high in folate, fiber as well as vitamins A, C and K.
2. Pile on the Vegetables
The more veggies in terms of type and volume you add to your salad, the better off you are in terms of increasing your vitamin, mineral, phytochemical and fiber intake. And they also pack a delicious punch. For example, raw broccoli not only adds a nice crunch to your meal, it’s also chock full of phytochemicals, nutrients found only in plants. Sweet cherry tomatoes are high in vitamins A and C as well as calcium and potassium. And they have lycopene, which is thought to have cancer-fighting benefits. Zesty radishes also add vitamin C and potassium, while mushrooms are a great source of selenium, potassium, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin D and more. And crispy jicama brings with it a ton of fiber.
3. Throw Leftovers in Salads
Making a salad for a meal? Great! Make a standard green salad and lay some slices of last night’s grilled flank steak, grilled chicken, fish or hard-boiled egg over the top. You can also try adding some roasted red potatoes to your romaine, cucumber and tomato, and top it all with a little bit of vinegar-based dressing.
Quinoa? Brown rice? Go for it. This makes for a great lunch to take to work, because it’s quick, easy and cheap.
4. Go Easy on the Dressing
If you use fresh, flavorful ingredients, you don’t need to drown your salad in dressing. When you do use it, measure your serving size so you don’t overdo it. You should also choose dressings that are naturally healthy. Fat-free ranch doesn’t count. Try stuff that’s low in sodium and sugar, and lists olive oil, vinegar or water as the first ingredient.
The healthiest dressing is home-made and easy: Just mix together equal parts extra-virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and throw in a pinch of salt, fresh black pepper and your favorite herb, dried or fresh. Shake it up and drizzle no more than two tablespoons over your salad.
5. Say No to Croutons or Bacon Bits
You really don’t need them, especially as most croutons or bacon bits are typically processed and laden with of salt and saturated fat.
7. Add Nuts, Dried Fruit, Seeds and Cheese in Moderation
Walnuts, dried cranberries and goat cheese are great flavor enhancers (and they bring a lot of good nutrients to the table), but they can also amp up the fat, calories and sugar if you’re not careful about how much you put on your salad. Fresh fruit though is always a good thing. Stuff like tangerine or mango slices, apples or pears, with a small handful of walnuts and a little sprinkle of blue cheese or feta on a bed of lightly dressed baby greens make for a delicious sweet and savory salad with plenty of rich mouthfeel.
Moral of the story? Salads are about the lettuce and the veggies. Everything else should be used in moderation, just to jazz things up.