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How to Make Healthy Salads

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Updated February 15, 2014

Woman eating salad.

Enjoy summer salads without guilt!

© [2008] Jupiterimages Corporation
Eating salads is a great way to curb your appetite and add nutrients to your diet. But lurking in that salad bar (or your fridge) are salad staples that may up your fat and calorie intake more than you realize.

If you want to know what to keep and what to toss as you toss your next salad, check out this advice on how to make healthy salads.

Basics for a Great Salad

At a salad bar, take a moment to look over the selection before you start preparing your plate so you can have healthy choices in mind beforehand. When you do begin assembling your salad, pile up a large amount of leafy greens right away. Try to take up about three-fourths of your plate with greens, so you'll have less room for high-cal stuff.

Tip: Swap iceberg lettuce for darker greens, such as romaine lettuce or spinach, as they pack in more vitamins and minerals.

Some of the most nutritious foods at the salad bar are also the tastiest and lowest in fat and calories. Aim to add these veggies to every salad:

 

  • beets
  • peppers
  • red cabbage
  • carrots
  • tomatoes
  • cucumbers
  • beans
  • sprouts
  • onions
  • peas
  • mushrooms

If you have never eaten fruit in your salads, try adding cranberries, tangerine sections, sliced strawberries, apples slices or red grapes. They'll add sweetness that you may miss if you go sans dressing, and they'll boost your salad's nutrition, too.

 

What About the "Extras"?

A scoop here and a sprinkle there can lead to too many extra calories before you can say, "Where are the croutons?" Consider the calorie count of some of these popular salad add-ons:

 

Macaroni or pasta salad often contains a large amount of mayo (which provides around 100 calories per tablespoon). Dish out just half a cup of macaroni or pasta salad, and you'll add hundreds of calories to your salad in one fell swoop.

Croutons can add about 90 calories per half cup. Homemade croutons often have added fat and may even be deep fried. If you just can't have a salad without them, crush just a couple up and spread them all over your salad; you'll get some of the crunch and flavor and fewer calories.

Cheddar cheese is something most people sprinkle on their salads without a thought, but it isn't exactly a good choice, as most of its calories come from fat. Just two tablespoons of cheddar cheese provides a whopping 114 calories. If you just can't say no to cheese, make sure to use shredded -- as it's easier to disperse throughout your salad, you'll likely use less. Or, consider trying a stronger cheese, such as parmesan or Feta, since a very small amount goes a long way.

Marinated beets, marinated mixed vegetables, tomato and cucumber salad, carrot and raisin salad, and three bean salad should be enjoyed in moderation. They often are drenched in oil. While the "good" fat in olive oil provides benefits, its calories count, too, so it is possible to have too much of a good thing.

Tip: Say "adios" to the fried tortilla shell if you get a taco salad; the shell alone packs around 300 calories.

 

Give Your Salad Staying Power

To make your salad stick to your ribs, it is important to add a protein source. Some good protein choices are:

 

  • hard-boiled eggs
  • egg whites
  • grilled chicken
  • boiled or steamed shrimp
  • grilled salmon
  • roasted turkey breast
  • water-packed tuna

Tip: Salmon provides omega-3 fatty acids, making it a great choice for improving heart health while getting a protein boost.

If you don't eat meat, remember that you can get protein from other salad bar foods such as:

 

  • tofu
  • lentils
  • garbanzo beans
  • black beans
Other non-meat foods, such as walnuts, almonds and avocados, provide both protein and good fats. Watch your portions, though -- just a half cup of cubed avocado provides about 120 calories.

Tip: Choose chopped nuts over slivered or whole so you can spread them out throughout your salad and therefore use less.

More: Downsize Your Dressing Calories >>

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