What Does a Healthy Salad Look Like?

Hey Everyone! Today we are talking salads! As a future Registered Dietitian (RD), I often find myself wishing that everyone would embrace and love salads as much as I do. They’re such a great vehicle for increasing your veggie intake and they’re totally customizable! After you’re done reading this, I hope you go make a delicious salad for lunch or dinner!

In my opinion, a salad can be broken down into three parts:

  1. The greens
  2. The toppings
  3. The dressing

Let’s start with the greens

The most important thing to remember is that darker = more nutrients. Please, please, please choose something besides iceberg lettuce! Romaine and leaf lettuce are good. My favorite is a spring mix or spinach. If you want to get more exciting, try kale or mustard greens. Variety is key as the greens are good sources of Vitamin A, C, K and folate depending on which kind you choose- so mix away!

Now, let’s talk toppings

Here’s where things can take a turn for the worse. Lots of otherwise healthy salads can quickly become fat and calorie laden based on the toppings that are added.

Salad toppings to avoid or limit:

  • Fried/breaded meat: These add a lot of extra fat and calories
  • Cheese: It’s fine in moderation but can be high in fat and sodium & most people use too much
  • Croutons: They’re often deep fried

Salad toppings that are encouraged:

  • Lean meat, fish & seafood: chicken, turkey, steak, shrimp, tuna, salmon
    choose grilled or baked options, not fried
  • Vegetarian protein: beans, edamame, tofu, lentils, chickpeas, eggs, veggie burgers
  • Nuts & Seeds: almonds, pecans, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds
  • Fruit: Dried or fresh! Raisins, craisins, pomegranate arils, mandarin oranges, apples, strawberries, grapes and avocado are all great choices
  • Vegetables: Load up with any kind you like! Carrots, broccoli, peppers, onions, peas, cucumbers, beets, asparagus, mushrooms, etc. Try them raw, steamed or roasted to spice things up!
  • Whole grains: Another way to add protein and fiber to salad. Try adding some brown rice, quinoa, farro or barley.
  • Cheese: Use in moderation.Try crumbled goat cheese or feta to get big flavor from a small amount.

And finally- the dressing

Salad dressing are notorious for being high in fat, calories and sodium. Pay attention to the serving size and read the labels! If you’re eating out, always order your dressing on the side so you can control the amount you put on. If you’re at home, try putting your salad in a ziploc bag with just a little bit of dressing and shaking it up.

The reason most people use so much dressing is because they like to have dressing on every bite. Shaking it up allows the dressing to spread everywhere, but sill allows you to use a smaller amount.

Other dressing options to consider:

  • Make your own salad: Whip up a quick and easy dressing using balsamic vinegar and olive oil.
  • Use a mister: Put your dressing in a mister and mist lightly over your salad.
  • Think outside the box: Use a non-traditional dressing like salsa, hummus or pureed fruit top your salad.

So there you have it! The breakdown to a healthier salad. Now go eat your veggies!

Photo credit: …-Wink-…

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Lindsay is Registered Dietitian and writes about food and fitness at The Lean Green Bean. She shares healthy recipes, fun workouts, and snapshots of her life. She lives with her husband in Ohio and enjoys traveling and spending time outside with her dogs.