Done right, a salad can supply fiber, protein, and potent disease-fighting phytonutrients.
Done wrong, it's no better than fast food. Turn over a new leaf with these easy suggestions.
1. Get raw
Fresh spinach has nearly nine times the bone-building vitamin K of iceberg lettuce. Use at least 2 cups and you'll get a hefty dose of zeaxanthin and lutein to protect your vision as well.
2. Focus on color
Brightly colored produce generally serves up the most nutrients. For example, carrots and broccoli contribute beta-carotene (which the body can convert to vitamin A to bolster immunity, eyesight, and skin health) and anti-cancer compounds. The best salads include a variety of vegetables, such as artichoke hearts, beets, corn, red and green bell peppers, peas, plus lots of tomatoes (an excellent source of vitamin C).
3. Pile on freebies
They're not nutritional superstars, but you can't go wrong with cucumbers, mushrooms, celery, or zucchini. They're low-cal and their exceptional water content helps to fill you up.
4. Skip sprouts
They may look healthy, but raw alfalfa and mung sprouts have been linked to nearly 40% of recent food-related illnesses.
5. Skirt the creamy stuff
Steer clear of all mayo-based concoctions. Just 1⁄2 cup of pasta salad runs about 115 calories and 5 grams of fat; potato salad costs you around 180 calories and 10 fat grams. If you must have them, skip the dressing on your green salad.
6. Pound protein
Aim for at least 25 grams of high-quality protein, which will help keep you fuller longer. The best salad bar sources include whole egg (7 grams); cottage cheese (7 grams per 1⁄4 cup); tofu (6 grams per 1.4 ounces); chopped chicken or turkey (11 grams per 1/3 cup); or plain tuna (23 grams per 3 ounces). Avoid using shredded cheese.
7. Fill up on fiber
Although most vegetables are decent fiber sources, beans are the best. Include 1⁄2 cup of chickpeas (garbanzos) for 5 fiber grams, or get 8 grams with black beans. Three-bean salad is another worthy option.
8. Go naked
Toppings like bacon bits, fried chow mein noodles, and croutons are a tease, with few nutrients and lots of calories. Sunflower seeds are the one exception. Two tablespoons (100 calories) provide nearly half your daily quota for vitamin E, necessary for fighting off many forms of cell damage. At 61 calories per 2 tablespoons, raisins are another OK choice—if you can spare the calories.
9. Change your oil
If you have to add some flavor to your vegetables, at least pick the right one. Prepared dressings are loaded with sodium, calories, and fat. Instead, top your salad with one tablespoon of heart-healthy olive oil plus as much red wine or balsamic vinegar as you want.
10. Add some whole grains
Man does not live by salad alone, and neither should you. For balance, choose 1 ounce of whole-grain bread to accompany your (now) healthy platter.