A big bowl of leafy greens piled high with fresh cucumbers, tomatoes, carrots and other gifts from the garden is a recurring addition to my daily menu. If you’re picking up a prepared salad from a grocery store or restaurant, you need to make sure you’re aware of all the ingredients and dressings it contains. Not all elements of that tasty-looking salad are healthy for you. Salad dressing made with full-fat mayonnaise and hydrogenated oils, fatty meats and full-fat cheeses are just a few ingredients commonly found in prepared salads, and they can compromise your healthy eating goals.
Here are some surefire ways to make sure your salad is healthy and satisfying:
1. Stick with a balsamic or vinaigrette dressing. Avoid oil-based dressings and creamy dressings that are often loaded with unhealthy fats. A lighter – and still tastier – alternative is balsamic dressing or a raspberry vinaigrette. If you can’t find any dressing that looks healthy, dress the salad with fresh lemon and lime juice and a pinch of pepper.
2. Watch the carbs. Fresh pasta, croutons, potatoes and other carbohydrate-rich foods can add some bulk to your salad but they are also very high in calories. If you want to make sure your salad is a low-calorie meal and are watching your carb intake, eliminate these foods entirely. Most starches and carbs will fill you up but can wreak havoc on your blood sugar and will add extra calories to your salad.
3. Load up on low-calorie veggies and fruit. From peppers and sprouts, to mushrooms and tangerine slices, you have dozens of options for preparing a healthy salad from your average salad bar. Load up on fresh, antioxidant-rich and high-fiber vegetables to get your daily dose of vitamins and minerals, and also keep calories at a minimum. Fresh fruits and vegetables can help you put together a tasty and nutritious meal, and you can experiment with dozens of different varieties.
4. Make your own croutons. If you can’t imagine eating a salad without croutons, avoid the deep-fried variety and make your own baked croutons at home. Put some thin slices of bagels or old bread under the broiler, add some seasoning and you’re good to go!
5. Avoid marinated veggies. Marinated artichoke hearts, mixed vegetables, beets and prepared salads are often loaded with oil, butter and salt. They may add some flavor to your salad but will also add a lot of fat, calories and sodium to your meal. Enjoy these in moderation or look for the fresh version of your favorite veggies to keep that salad healthy.