Ah, the salad. Perhaps the single food most associated with ‘eating healthy’ or ‘being on a diet.’ (Also known by many enthusiastic carnivores as an instrument of culinary torture.) While it’s true that salads can be healthful, there is absolutely no reason they have to be boring and tasteless. Salads can be exciting and delicious!
Most salads start with a sad, bland base of iceberg or romaine lettuce. These popular salad greens have a high water content, but do not pack a powerful nutritional punch. The same goes for red and green leaf lettuce varieties, and butter lettuce – they’re mild tasting and versatile, but not very nutritious. Try enhancing those lettuces with a little spinach, kale, or arugula to increase flavor along with vitamin and mineral content.
Kale is all the rage, with its high levels of vitamins A, C, and K. Be mindful though, raw kale can be difficult to digest, especially if you aren’t used to eating it often. Start by mixing a small amount of kale into other greens, just to get your digestive system going.
Arugula is often thought of as a “garnish” green, 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.
Yes, the base of any salad is the greens. While you can vary your greens for flavor and nutritional content, let’s be honest – it’s still considered lettuce by most of us. Add some out of the box ingredients, however, and you can start to elevate your salad game!
Toppings like tortilla chips or crispy noodles may sound like a delicious way to bring crunch and flavor to your salad, but resist the temptation! Toppings like this increase not only a salad’s carbohydrate content, but add sky high salt levels and potentially add harmful trans-fats, as well. The sprinkle of processed “cheese” over the top of that salad certainly doesn’t help matters either.
Instead try ingredients like julienned carrot to give that craveable crunch, and freshly shaved parmesan cheese for a nutty saltiness. Trust me, there are plenty of ways to impart flavor while keeping nutritional content high and blood sugar stable.
Veggie additions to your salad are seemingly endless: alfalfa sprouts, avocado, beets, bell pepper, black beans, broccoli, carrots, chickpeas, cucumbers, tomato, zucchini… the more crunch and color the better. Use this salad as an opportunity to branch out and try different ingredients! A new variety of cheese, some high-quality olives, artichoke hearts, roasted peppers… like in this family’s “Favorite Salad.”
On that note, salads aren’t just for vegetables – why not try topping your creation with fresh strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, or blackberries? Blow the socks off your next Potluck (or every day lunch!) with this Jicama Mango Salad With Cilantro and Lime.
Now, just because it’s a salad doesn’t mean it can’t have meat! It’s especially important for diabetics to include protein when constructing their salads. Baked chicken, grilled steak, even shrimp are all excellent protein options. Just give this Feta Salmon Salad a try!
If you aren’t a meat eater, add some tofu, garbanzo beans, nuts, or seeds to your salad. Nuts and seeds are excellent non-meat sources of protein (and a host of healthy fats, vitamins and minerals.) Healthy fats are all the rage these days, as studies continue to validate the importance of making them a bigger part of our diets. Just one quarter cup of walnuts provides more than the daily recommended amount of omega-3 fats.
For a true protein punch, try hemp seeds. Believe it or not, the hemp seed is actually 30% protein. Better yet, that protein is of extremely high quality (better than most any other seed) and it’s what’s called “complete protein” – meaning the seeds contain all of the essential protein amino acids that your body cannot produce itself. With benefits like that, meat eaters should add nuts and seeds to their salads, too!
Now we enter into a point of contention for many folks – salad dressing. Is it Ranch, Blue Cheese, Thousand Island, or French? Or is a simple oil and vinegar more your style?
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! Be very mindful of the sugar content in prepared and bottled dressings. As always, avoid the words “low-fat” as this equals “added-sugar.”
If you must have your store-bought dressing, 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. Using this method, I can almost guarantee that you will eat your fill of dressing and still have some left over – much better than drowning your salad in dressing!
If you want to hop off of the store-bought dressing train, a simple homemade dressing really can be delicious. Olive oil with red wine vinegar, or with a little lemon juice and a dash of salt and pepper will enhance, not hide, the freshness of your salad. Freshly chopped herbs like cilantro, parsley, basil, or mint make for a fantastic pop of flavor. Checking out this herb vinaigrette will make you consider a lifelong commitment to homemade dressings!
Speaking of lifelong commitments, we hope these tips, tricks, and recipes inspire you to mix things up, and give salads another shot. A salad shouldn’t have to settle for being a sad, unsatisfying diet food – it can be exciting and delicious!