How to build the PERFECT salad

The top 2 most common myths surrounding salads are that they are always low in calories and often depriving. In fact, some salads can have more calories and artery-clogging saturated fat than 2 slices of a pizza! If you’re really interested in developing healthier eating habits but can’t see yourself filling up on a salad or worried that your daily stop at the salad bar might be the reason you’re not losing weight, here are some tips to build the perfect salad.

1. Always include a source of lean protein. Unless your vegan or vegetarian, beans and cheese are not considered a part of that category, so make sure to pick at least 3-4 ounces of white meat poultry, salmon, tuna or lean beef to top of your bowl of high-fiber veggies. Not only will the protein help keep you fuller longer, but choosing a leaner source, especially salmon, will keep your heart healthy too.

2. Make sure to include as many non-starchy veggies as possible. Go outside your comfort zone of just lettuce and tomatoes. Take advantage of all the different types of non-starchy veggies that naturally low in calorie and high in fiber to get the most filling and nutritious meal possible. Examples of more exciting non-starchy veggies (some might even surprise you) include carrots, baby corn, eggplant, water chestnuts, zucchini, bok choy, spinach, kale, arugula, onions, mushrooms, peppers, roasted red peppers…. and the list goes on. Rotate your options every few days to prevent boredom. Starchy veggies such as red or black beans, chickpeas, regular corn, peas, potatoes and butternut squash are still excellent choices but might higher in carbs.

3. Salad dressings can be the biggest pitfall. Anything creamy or oil-based is typically high in calories and should always be ordered on the side so you can lightly pour some on yourself. Even heart-healthy olive oil contains a whopping 135 calories and 15g of fat for just 1 little tablespoon. All vinegars, on the other hand, like balsamic, red-wine or apple cider, are comparatively calorie-free so you can have a heavier hand when pouring it on. Other options to keep your salad dressing calories in check is too looking for any dressing in the super market that has under 50 calories and 5g sugar per serving. Examples include Bolthouse Yogurt Dressings or Newman’s Own Asian Sesame. You can also DIY by using things like mashed avocado, hummus, salsa, apple cider or balsamic vinegar, whole grain mustard or grated cheese as a dressing.

4. Avoid other tempting toppings that can add tons of calories and fat to your once-innocent salad. Dried fruits such as cranberries or raisins can pack in over 60 calories and 15g of carb per 2 tbsp. Better off adding in fresh fruit if you’re looking for some sweetness. Croutons are almost always a no-no unless you make them yourself AND most cheeses that do no specifically say “low-fat” should be added in moderation as they rack in over 100 calories and 10g saturated fat per 2 tbsp.

5. Get creative with ways to add in flavors and crunch. Instead of croutons, toss in a few pinches of high-fiber cereal for added crunch. Mix in some of your favorite seasonings for added spice such as oregano, basil, garlic and/or onion powder. Chop up the veggies in tiny pieces or cook some of them down to get in a wider variety of textures. Try it Israeli-style and nix the lettuce entirely or opt for a whole new type of green base such as arugula, kale or bibb lettuce.

Nick VanMeter