Tuesday, June 18, 2013

5 Ways to Build a Healthier Salad

Nothing sounds healthier than a salad, right?

The truth is that not all salads are created equal, especially not if you add the wrong ingredients. For example, a classic Cobb salad loaded with all the fixings or a standard restaurant chef's salad and dressing can cost you more than 1,000 calories and 80 grams of fat!

Don’t give up on salads — they can be a filling, low-cal option and a great way to satisfy your daily vegetable requirements.

Start with a strong foundation.
First things first: Start by upping the nutritional ante by choosing a base for your salad that provides important nutrients like folic acid and lutein. Choose dark greens like baby spinach or a spring mix that includes a variety of dark green lettuces. For less than 20 calories per two cups you can have a tasty, nutrient-rich base.

Pile on the veggies.
Take advantage of fresh vegetables and load them on top of your greens — at 25 calories or less per 1/2-cup serving you can't go wrong. Be sure to stick with raw or lightly steamed vegetables and steer clear of ones that are fried or swimming in oily marinades.

Choose a variety of colors to get the most health benefits —
red bell peppers
sugar snap peas
red onions

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 (or two if you're extra-hungry).  Stay away from fatty meats like bacon and salami, and definitely skip anything fried or drenched in heavy sauce.

Healthy protein ideas include:
four egg whites
three ounces of skinless chicken or turkey breast
water-packed chunk light tuna
wild salmon
lean sirloin steak
half a cup of cubed tofu
three-quarters of a cup of chickpeas, kidney beans, pinto beans, or other legumes.

Choose one extra.
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.
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. Ask for the dressing on the side when ordering, and if the restaurant only offers regular (full-fat) varieties, limit your usage to one and a half tablespoons for an entrée salad and one tablespoon for a side salad. Whenever possible, choose light, low-calorie, or low-fat options.

Amber Massey is a registered dietitian with the Executive Health program at Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Fort Worth and New Mom to twin girls.

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