Salad provides several vitamins and can fill you up while reducing your caloric intake. What could be healthier than a big, fresh salad?|
Unfortunately, many things. Salads can run the gamut of healthiness, depending on what is in them. Although that big bowl of greens may be packed full of antioxidants and fiber, it can also be laden with fat, cholesterol and sodium—not to mention an overabundance of calories. Some restaurant salads can even contain more calories than a cheeseburger!
Luckily, like most things in life, a salad is the outcome of several small decisions. To make sure you don't sabotage your healthy diet unintentionally, choose wisely the next time you order a salad from a restaurant or visit the salad bar. When dining out, don't be afraid to ask questions, make special requests (extra veggies, dressing on the side, light cheese) and ask about substitutions (like grilled chicken for breaded). Most restaurants will be happy to accommodate you as long as their kitchen is stocked with the ingredients you want. Here’s how to choose wisely next time you're making a salad at home or choosing one from a menu.
The foundation of most salads, lettuce adds substance, crunch, water and fiber for very few calories—only about 10 per cup. But if you want all that and vitamins, too, toss out the iceberg and toss in the romaine, mixed baby greens and spinach. While iceberg lettuce is lower in nutrients (and still makes a decent choice if it's the only thing available), these other greens are rich in vitamins A, C and K, manganese and folate.
Adding protein, such as lean meat, tofu, eggs or beans, will help bulk up your salad and keep you fuller longer. Unfortunately, many protein toppings are deep-fried, breaded and greasy, which adds unnecessary calories plus cholesterol, sodium and fat to your salad. Skimp on fattier toppings such as bacon and fried (breaded) chicken strips, and go for lean proteins instead. Grilled chicken, canned beans of all kinds, chickpeas, tofu, hardboiled eggs (especially whites) or water-packed tuna are leaner choices. Nuts and seeds are popular in salads, too, and while they’re a healthy source of good fats and some protein, they’re not exactly low-cal. If you choose to add them, watch your portions (1/2 ounce contains more than 80 calories).
Restaurants know that people love cheese, so they tend to pile on multiple servings of it on their salads. It might be tasty, but it sends the calorie counts sky high! While cheese is a nutritious food that adds flavor, calcium and protein to a salad, enjoy it in moderation due to its high fat content. Just a half-cup of cheddar cheese (the amount on many large restaurant salads) contains 18 grams of fat and 225 calories. To keep calories in check, use a single serving of cheese (approximately two tablespoons). Choose low-fat varieties as much as possible to save on saturated fat and calories. A smaller amount of a stronger-flavored cheese, such as Brie, feta, chevre, gorgonzola, sharp cheddar or bleu cheese, will go a long way toward helping you cut down on your portions.
Pile on the Veggies
Vegetables like bell peppers, grated carrots, sugar snap peas and tomatoes provide flavor, fiber and vitamins for few calories. Grated carrots, for example, have only 45 calories in a whole cup, and there are only about 20 calories in an entire red bell pepper. When building your best salad, use as many veggies as possible for extra filling power—and a nice crunch! Practice moderation when it comes to starchy vegetable toppings like corn and potatoes, which are higher in calories. And remember to go for a variety of colors to ensure you're getting several different nutrients and antioxidants in your salad bowl.