You’re trying to lose weight, so you eat more salads. When prepared the right way, salads can be an effective weight-loss tool. Unfortunately, salad bar options and fast food salads aren’t always what you’d call diet-friendly. With the wrong toppings and dressings, salads can easily become so high in calories and grams of fat you might as well have eaten a pizza or hamburger.
If you’re going to eat a salad, you want your efforts to be worth it. The good news is you don’t have to sacrifice taste and flavor for a salad to be low-calorie and healthy. As you prepare your next salad, make it super by including the right ingredients and leaving the other stuff at the salad bar.
Dark, leafy greens are the foundation of a healthy salad. Choose from romaine, arugula, or spinach or combine all three. Iceberg lettuce is usually the only option at salad bars, but is very low in nutrients. Darker-leaf lettuces are higher in folate, lutein, and vitamin C. As you consider which lettuce to eat, remember all lettuces are low in calories.
For a salad that helps keep you feeling full and energized long after your meal, include a source of lean protein. This building block of a salad is especially important for dieters wanting to eat less without feeling hungry or weak all the time.
Great protein options for your salad are grilled chicken strips, a cut up hard-boiled egg, or grilled fish pieces. Cheese is high in protein, but is also high in calories. If you add cheese, make sure it’s a low-fat, low-sodium variety like Swiss or mozzarella. Beans are another great source of protein and an easy addition to any salad. Drain and rinse a can of low-sodium chickpeas, black, kidney, or navy beans and sprinkle a few on your salad. And don’t forget a few nuts. Almonds, walnuts, or cashews will add an extra crunch, healthy fats, and protein to your salad.
It’s time to pile on the veggies for added nutrients, texture, and flavor. Raw carrots, cucumbers, grape tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, peppers, zucchini, and beets can all be a part of a super salad. The more colorful your salad looks, the better.
Switch things up and make a salad that includes fruit. Also high in antioxidants, fruit will give your salad that sweet flavor you’re craving. Choose fresh fruit like berries, apples, grapefruit, melon, or peaches, and avoid dried or canned fruits to help limit extra sugars.
Add bulk and texture to your salad with a limited amount of grains. Sprinkle on a little granola, wild rice, whole-wheat pasta, or whole-grain couscous.
What’s a salad without the dressing? Your best bet for a yummy, low-calorie dressing is a homemade vinaigrette made with equal parts olive or canola oil and balsamic or apple cider vinegar. Add in fresh herbs, spices, citrus juice, and garlic to taste.
Just one tablespoon of ranch salad dressing contains 73 calories. That much French dressing has 73 calories, blue cheese 71, thousand island 59, and a tablespoon of Italian has 43 calories. On the other hand, two tablespoons of balsamic vinaigrette contains only 20 calories.
Say No to These Ingredients
As you build your salad, beware of those ingredients that negate its healthiness. Hard as it may be, you’ll want to skip the bacon bits and go easy on the nuts and seeds. Additionally, be picky about cheese and use it sparingly. Both green and black olives are high in sodium, but green olives have less. And sad as it is, you’ll want to skip the croutons and steer clear of all creamy salad dressings like ranch, blue cheese, and Caesar.