Over the summer, our salads have gotten more and more elaborate. With cheese, almonds and other toppings, are we being as healthy as we think?
Salads are great, but you’re right to be cautious. You may be adding a lot more fat and calories than you realize.
Here are some tips to building a healthful salad:
- Start with nutrient-rich greens. Bypass the iceberg lettuce, which supplies little to no nutrients, in favor of dark-green lettuce — romaine, green leaf, red leaf or bibb. And, supplement it with other dark leafy greens, such as spinach, kale or swiss chard. You’ll get a great boost of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients with that switch alone.
- Add a wide variety of other vegetables to your salad: tomatoes, shredded carrots and cabbage, chopped cauliflower and broccoli, sliced bell peppers and cucumbers, sugar-snap peas, and even summer squash. Also, consider adding some beans. They’re a great source of fiber and add some bulk and texture.
- Consider adding a bit of sliced avocado or a small amount of olive-oil-based dressing. Both add calories (45 calories per ounce for avocado; 40 per teaspoon for oil) but also help your body absorb the salad’s nutrients.
- Experiment with adding fruit. Blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, kiwi and mandarin oranges can add a lot of punch and increase the variety of nutrients in the salad, as would sprinkling a few raisins or dried cranberries on top.
- When you do add cheese, do so in moderation. Keep it to an ounce or less. Consider using strong-flavored types, such as blue cheese, parmesan or sharp cheddar — you’ll see a little goes a long way.
- The same goes for nuts. Nuts are a good addition to any diet, but they’re very high in calories, so you need to watch portions -- again, no more than an ounce.
- If you’re making the salad a meal and adding meat or fish, make smart choices. Use baked or grilled chicken, not fried chicken strips; add tuna flakes, not tuna mixed with high-calorie, high-fat mayonnaise. Consider adding canned salmon; it’s higher in calories and fat, but the fat it contains is high in healthy omega-3s, which most Americans don’t get enough of.
- Don’t pour on lots of high-calorie salad dressing, especially creamy types. You can easily double or triple the number of calories in a salad just by using a high-calorie dressing.
- Don’t use a lot of other high-calorie, low-nutrient toppings, such as croutons, fried tortilla strips, bacon bits or sliced processed meats.
Chow Line is a service of Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH, 43210-1044, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editor: This column was reviewed by Julie Kennel, nutrition program manager for Ohio State University Extension and director of the Dietetic Internship Program in the Department of Human Nutrition in the College of Education and Human Ecology.