Salads have a reputation for being the healthiest—and most dietetic—meal. Many people feel virtuous for eating salads for lunch or dinner, but they fail to look closely at the ingredients and determine what they’re actually putting into their bodies. If you eat a salad with very few nutrients, you’re not doing yourself any favors, because you’re failing to give your body what it needs. If you have a salad without protein for a meal, then you’re almost guaranteeing that you’ll be hungry again soon. And if your salad is covered with fatty foods like cheese, bacon, fried chicken, and mayonnaise-based dressing, then you might as well skip the salad and go right for a cheeseburger for all the health benefits you’re getting.
If you make the right choices, however, a salad can be an excellent meal choice. Follow the tips below to build the perfect salad.
Veggies: Add extra nutrients, crunch, and taste to your salad with an array of vegetables: sugar snap or snow peas, carrots, broccoli, tomatoes, and peppers can only make your salad healthier—adding little in the way of calories but much in the way of vitamins and nutrients like Vitamin C, Vitamin A, beta-carotene, and anti-oxidants. Vegetables like celery and cucumbers might not add much in the way of nutrition, but they can make a salad more appealing.
Protein: If you want a salad to satisfy you for more than an hour, you’ll need to add some protein. Healthy choices include eggs, beans or chickpeas, edamame, and grilled fish, chicken, or shrimp. The National Institute of Medicine recommends that adults get 46 to 56 grams of protein a day, so make sure your salad includes protein.
Healthy fats: Nuts and seeds can make a great addition to your salad, as long as you don’t overdo it; a serving size is one small handful. Rich, creamy avocado provides monounsaturated fats and a hint of decadence, but keep your serving to one ounce. If you want cheese on your salad, keep it to two tablespoons; try a cheese with strong flavor, like feta or gorgonzola, to make your cheese have a bigger impact.
Fruit: Dried or fresh fruit makes a delicious accent to your salad. Try slices of apple, pear, or mandarin oranges, or sprinkle your salad with strawberries, raspberries, or blueberries. When choosing dried fruit, look for low-sugar options.
Dressing: Don’t lose the health benefits of your salad by choosing an unhealthy dressing or drowning your salad! Use just enough to taste good; if you’re not sure how much you’ll need, start with just a little, and then add more as needed. Needless to say, creamy dressings like ranch or blue cheese are the worst culprits for calories and fat. Just make sure to read the dressing label, and keep your healthy salad healthy!