Most people think of salads as a health food, but if you’ve ever looked at the calories in salads at restaurants, you know that sometimes they pack more calories than a cheeseburger and fries! The easiest way to make sure your salad is nutrient dense, filling and tasty is to build your own. Jefferson registered dietitian Cathy Ricker shares tips for building a heart healthy salad.
STEP 1: Start with a healthy base
Lettuce with dark leaves are packed with nutrients. Build a base with romaine, spinach or radicchio, toss in some potassium-rich endives or red cabbage—which is loaded with phytonutrients—and you’ve already elevated the flavor of your salad.
STEP 2: Bulk it up with the right veggies
Top your salad with the colors of the rainbow with a variety of vegetables—think carrots, peas, broccoli and cauliflower. A colorful mix will provide you with a variety of nutrients. Beware of anything drenched in oil, such as sun dried tomatoes, which can load on extra calories. Choose fresh tomatoes instead, which are an excellent source of lycopene.
STEP 3: Add a protein
Stick with lean proteins like hardboiled egg, skinless chicken, turkey, salmon or tuna rather than fried chicken breast/fingers. For vegetarian options, go for legumes like chickpeas or red beans.
STEP 4: Choose topnotch toppings
They might be tasty, but crunchy noodles, croutons and bacon bits are all salad sabotages. Instead, add a tablespoon of heart-healthy nuts like sliced almonds or walnuts or a small amount of cheese. Remember—go easy on the cheese. If you opt for a strong-flavored cheese like feta or Parmesan—both of which are lower in fat and calories—you won’t be as tempted to add too much.
STEP 5: Dress it up
Skip the creamy dressings and try to avoid any salads where mayonnaise is the main ingredient (i.e. tuna/chicken salad). Your best bet is making your own dressing with oil and vinegar or fresh herbs. Watch your serving size carefully of any dressing—this could be a hidden calorie bomb. My advice? Put it on the side and dip your fork instead of pouring it on your salad.