Ah yes, the ever noble salad entree…the dieters delight…the healthy individual’s staple. Truth is, I’m a huge salad lover. Actually, the rawer the vegetable, the better. As a kid, I would scarf down carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers…you name it: If it crunched, I loved it. Once the crunch was gone, however, I didn’t love it as much. Even as a child, I had some sort of intuition that raw vegetables were healthier for you…as they are higher in nutrients as compared to their cooked counterparts (vegetables lose some of their nutrients when they are cooked).
I’m lucky in that I really love salad and when I don’t have it, my body craves veggies. And frankly, it is my choice of meal for lunch. I’ve learned how to make a great salad that is fulfilling and well balanced. That said, not all salads are created equal. Not a day goes by that I don’t see individuals b-line to the salad bar at lunch, with all good intentions of choosing a healthy meal, and then sabotaging their very own efforts by choosing the wrong things. There are a lot of salad saboteurs out there and it is important to be on the lookout. Here is a Top Ten List of how to make your salad healthy, balanced and nutritious…
10. Quantity and Quality: Vegetables don’t have a lot of staying power for hunger, plus they have very little calories by themselves. On one hand, that is good for maintaining weight and caloric intake, but a lot of people get up to the salad bar, pick a few vegetables and then go hog-wild on the bad stuff. What’s the point? Make sure you have TONS of veggies. Go crazy! Get Wild and load’em up! Seriously. Have as much as you want, because they will bulk you up, making you feel pretty darn full. Now that said, do try to pick the highest quality of vegetables you can…and definitely go with organic on this one. (See Is Organic Worth it?)
9. Iceberg, Straight Ahead!: Iceberg lettuce might have been great when you were a kid, but in reality, it has zippo nutritional value. All water, no nutrition. Pick green leafy lettuces and spinach for your salad base. These have a lot more vitamins and minerals than good ol’ iceberg.
8. Technicolor Dream Salad: Diversity in color is a great way to ensure that you are getting many nutrients and vitamins from your veggies. If your whole salad is green, you are missing an opportunity to have nutrients and vitamins that exist in vegetables of another color. Make sure you pick vibrant colored veggies (carrots, tomatoes, multi-colored peppers), as these have a great number of nutrients.
7. Crusty Croutons and More: Most of the carbohydrate options that exist at the salad bar (croutons, wontons, noodles, pita chips), are low in fiber and high in refined sugars and/or bleached flour. These are empty calories that really don’t make the grade. Instead, try to find a multi-grain piece of bread or roll to accompany your salad.
6. Veggies need Companionship: The idea of only having vegetables might sound healthy, but it isn’t when it comes to having a balanced, satiating meal. Vegetables need to be paired up with the right amounts of protein and fat to make the meal fulfilling. Aim for 3 oz. of grilled chicken or fish or 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup of beans in your salad. Fats should be minimal, and you will probably meet your requirements through your dressing and/or your added nuts or cheeses.
5. Salads within the Salad: Stay away from Chicken Salad, Tuna Salad, Pasta Salad, Bean Salad and whatever else your salad bar has that is a ‘salad’. Good chances are that they are loaded up with mayonaise, oils and other bad ingredients. Opt for those offerings that come as they are…beans, grilled meats, etc.
4. Nuts for Nuts: Nuts provide a lot of nutritional value, especially those that contain Omega 3s, such as walnuts. Almonds, too are very healthful. That said, don’t go nuts over the nuts. Use them sparingly just as you would for dressing and cheese, as nuts do have a lot of fat in them. Aim for no more than 2 tablespoons.
3. Fruity for Fruits: Just like nuts, fruit can be a great addition to your salad as well. That said, they do have a lot of sugar in them and dried fruits can sometimes have added sugar and/or preservatives. If you are going to incorporate fruit into your salad, aim for fresh fruits when possible. If you use dried fruit, aim for no more than 2 tablespoons.
2. Devilish Dressings: Dressings are one of the biggest salad saboteurs in that they have a lot of fat, added preservatives and sugar; while providing little to no nutritional value. Stay away from premade dressings and opt for olive oil and vinegar whenever you can. If you have to have a pre-made dressing, choose one that is a vinaigrette, versus one with a cream or mayo base. Whatever you do use, make sure you use it sparingly.
And the #1 biggest way to help make your salad healthy:
1. Chuck the Cheese: That’s right, forget Chuck E and try Chucking THE Cheese, instead. Cheese has a lot of fat in it. And a lot of saturated fat at that. Putting mounds of cheese on your salad adds TONS of calories and fat. If you can’t give up cheese on your salad…stick to Feta or Blue Cheese, which are crumbled and full of flavor. This makes it easier to gauge how much you are taking, while getting a lot of flavor for your serving. Try to have no more than 1 – 2 tablespoons. Any more than that is counterproductive.