Everyone knows salads are healthy, right? Nothing says “low-calorie” like lettuce; plus it has nutritional value, too. But lettuce is so boring, so we add just a few tastier tidbits to our salad to make it more enticing. Unfortunately, for many people, the few tidbits morph into large portions of goodies that transform our salad into a not-so-healthy meal laden with fat, sodium and calories. Sigh.
It's So Easy To Get Taken In
Caesar salad comes with big, crunchy croutons and thick, creamy dressing. Add chicken, and depending on how it was cooked, you could be looking at 750 calories, 50 grams of fat and a big overload of sodium. By comparison, the infamous Big Mac has 550 calories and “just” 29 grams of fat. A restaurant version of an Asian chicken salad with syrup-canned mandarin oranges and a pile of chow mein noodles could contain more fat than six glazed donuts. Ouch.
What are some of your favorite salads – Southwestern chicken, Waldorf, steak, shrimp or Cobb? Any of these can easily overtake the Big Mac in the unhealthy eating race, for two reasons:
- They can include too much of a good thing.
- They can include items you should cross off your menu altogether.
Build A Healthy Salad Instead
Whether you’re eating out or preparing a salad at home, you can stick to healthy choices without sacrificing taste or texture, and you’re likely to boost your intake of nutrients and fiber.
Start with the right greens. Iceberg lettuce is nothing but crunchy water. Romaine, spinach, red leafy lettuces, basil or mint leaves, kale or watercress all offer minerals, folate and other nutrients. Your salad will look prettier, too. Say yes to veggies, but go easy on avocado – it’s nutritious but caloric. Add strawberries, orange sections, cranberries, apple chunks or grapes for extra vitamins and minerals and a taste of sweetness without the calories.
Cheeses and proteins such as meat, eggs and nuts are all good for you, but they pack considerable calories, so don’t overdo them, either. Skip cheddar and blue cheese in favor of parmesan or feta so you can use less but get more flavor. Skip the red meat, or use a little flank steak, which is leaner. Better yet, add poached chicken, turkey, shrimp or salmon. Or try tofu, garbanzo beans or black beans.
If you must have croutons, crush them, then sprinkle lightly throughout your salad. You’ll use less but still get that nice crunch. Do the same with nuts, by chopping them. Walnuts with omega-3 fatty acids or almonds will provide fiber and help boost your internal systems. And just say no to:
- Pepperoni, bacon and other processed meats
- Sautéed or deep-fried meats
- Vegetables marinated in oil
- Potato, macaroni, pasta and tuna salads
Dressing Is Usually Our Worst Enemy
You know in your heart that ranch dressing is bad news, as are other types of creamy toppings, but did you know other dressings can be a problem, too? Mayo and oils can do you in, but so can sugar. “Vinaigrette” can contain a hefty dose of oil. Substitute low-fat mayo or yogurt, or use tomato juice or fruit juice instead of oil. Use rice or balsamic vinegar alone, or try salsa as a spicy dressing.
The other danger with dressing is volume. Theoretically, a “serving” is just two tablespoons, and even that can contain as much as 200 calories. Order dressing on the side, and dip your fork in it before taking each bite. You’ll get all the taste without the unnecessary calories.
You don’t have to sacrifice delicious flavor for a healthy salad. They can easily go hand in hand. But, beware of having too much of “the good stuff” because it’s sure to turn your salad into something less than nutritious.