Trying to be healthier by eating salads? While it’s true that vegetables are nutritious, the “salad” most commonly enjoyed here in the U.S. is nothing but lettuce and creamy dressing… and healthy it is not.
Salads do have the potential to propel you forward in your journey to health, they just have to be constructed the right way. “Lettuce” break the salad down one bite at a time, and learn how.
Start with the right greens. While iceberg lettuce is high in water content, it does not contain much in the way of vitamin and mineral content. It’s low in calories and can help fill you up, but your body does not get much fuel from iceberg lettuce. There are several varieties of salad greens that pack a more nutritious punch.
Perhaps the most widely advertised green lately is kale. Kale is all-the-rage, with its high levels of vitamins A, C, and K. Be mindful though, when eaten raw kale can be difficult to digest, especially if you aren’t used to eating it often.
Spinach is a nutritional powerhouse in any number of recipes, but most especially when raw and enjoyed in salads. Spinach is high in vitamins A, C, and K, iron and fiber.
While usually regarded as a simple garnish, watercress is another delicious and nutritious salad green option, with over half your daily recommended amount of vitamin C in a 2.5 cup serving!
Arugula is another of those “garnish” greens, but it can be so much more than that! It’s bright, peppery flavor really goes a long way in adding zip to your salad, and it’s an excellent source of fiber, protein, and a host of vitamins and minerals.
We’ve made our way to good ole’ romaine lettuce. This popular salad green contains vitamins A and K, but not in the levels of our other greens choices. The same goes for red and green leaf lettuce varieties, and butter lettuce – they’re mild tasting and very versatile, but not quite as nutritious. Try enhancing those lettuces with a little spinach, kale, or arugula to increase flavor along with vitamin and mineral content.
At this point in the salad game, most packaged or restaurant salads begin to fall short. Regardless of the type of salad greens they use, once the toppings and dressings come into play, the nutritional value of many salads takes a steep plummet.
Toppings like tortilla chips or crispy noodles increase not only the salad’s carbohydrate content, but the sodium levels, and potentially trans-fats, as well. The “sprinkle” of processed cheeses over the top of those salads certainly doesn’t help matters either.
Never fear, there are plenty of tasty ways to add healthy goodness to the salad party! It’s especially important for diabetics to include a little protein with their salads. Grilled chicken, a piece of salmon, or a few slices of this incredible ribeye with mayonnaise marinade are all excellent protein options. If you aren’t a meat eater, add some garbanzo beans, or tofu to your salad.
Veggie additions to your salad are seemingly endless: alfalfa sprouts, avocado, beets, bell pepper, black beans, broccoli, carrots, chickpeas, cucumbers, tomato, zucchini… the list goes on and on!
Salads aren’t just for vegetables – why not try topping your creation with fresh berries like strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, or blackberries? Slices of watermelon together with feta cheese and mint make an incredible salad, or toss a few fresh orange slices over arugula with a citrus vinaigrette.
Speaking of vinaigrette, let’s dive into dressings! Did you know that the dressing you choose will make or break your salad? Those thick, creamy dressings are delicious, but can skyrocket the calorie content of your salad to that of a cheeseburger!
A simple oil and vinegar dressing really can be delicious. Olive oil with red wine vinegar, or balsamic vinegar and a dash of salt and pepper will enhance, not hide, the freshness of your salad.
If you must have your ranch, thousand island, or blue cheese, be sure to enjoy it in an appropriate two tablespoon portion. Try dishing out the two tablespoons in a small bowl next to your salad plate. Dip each bite of your salad into the bowl, that way you get dressing in each bite and won’t feel deprived.
Be very mindful of the sugar content in prepared and bottled dressings. As always, avoid the words “low-fat” as this equals “added-sugar.”
Salads can be a wonderful way to get the most out of your nutrition. By selecting the right greens as your foundation, adding plenty of fresh vegetables or fruits as toppings, including a little protein, and being smart with your dressing, a salad is a smart and healthy choice!