There’s a make-your-own salad chain here in Atlanta whose tagline is “healthy as you want to be.” It’s a pretty apt slogan, because I’m sure that I’m not the only guest who’s tempted to load up on bacon, cheese, nuts and rich salad dressings.
But in these hot days, a salad is just the thing for a quick, cool and healthy dinner (as long as you nix those aforementioned bacon bits).
Whether you’re assembling a salad at home or at a salad bar, make some additions and substitutions that can make your salad as healthy as you want it to be.
Swap iceberg lettuce for baby spinach or romaine (or a combination of the two).
Spinach is high in iron, vitamins K and A and folate, among other nutrients. Romaine is a milder option if you don’t care for raw spinach, and it’s also high in vitamins K and A, and is a great source of fiber.
Add some low-fat protein.
A small salmon fillet or chopped chicken breast, cooked on an indoor and outdoor grill, can add substance and flavor to your salad. If you know you’re having a salad during the week, plan ahead when you grill and take a moment to grill up some fish or chicken for your salad, then refrigerate it or freeze it until needed. Salmon, of course, has the added benefit of being high in Omega-3s.
Choose your nuts wisely.
Yes, they’re high in fat, but a sprinkling of nuts on your salad provides the “good,” monounsaturated fat, and a healthy dose of protein. Some of the healthiest nuts include almonds, walnuts, cashews and pecans. Walnuts are high in omega-3s, while almonds provide magnesium and potassium. Pecans have been found to help lower “bad” cholesterol, and cashews are lower in fat than other nuts, yet still are packed with nutrients.
Don’t forget the fiber.
A high-fiber diet keeps your heart healthy and also reduces the risk of diabetes. It’s easy enough to work fiber into your salad. Try dried fruits like raisins or cranberries, fresh blueberries or strawberries, or pear or apple slices. High-fiber vegetable choices include peas, corn, carrots and broccoli. The Mayo Clinic has a comprehensive list of high-fiber foods.
Cheese isn’t all bad.
Just keeep it in moderation; nutritionists recommend a one-ounce serving, which is about the size of four dice. Cheese is high in calcium, protein, vitamin B and riboflavin. Goat cheese is a particularly good option; it’s lower in fat and calories than many other cheeses, and researchers have found that goat’s milk can help our bodies absorb nutrients better than cow’s milk.
Finally, top off your salad with a healthy dressing. Some people are fine with a dash of vinegar or a squeeze of lemon, but I prefer something a little richer. I make a vinaigrette with olive or grapeseed oil, which are two heart-healthy oils.
What are your favorite healthy salad toppings?
High in antioxidants and essential fatty acids, grapeseed oil is one of the world’s healthiest oils. It has a very mild flavor, so in this recipe, the balsamic vinegar really shines through. You can substitute the same amount of olive oil if you’d prefer.
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 clove garlic, grated or minced
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup grapeseed oil
In a small bowl, combine vinegar, garlic and mustard. Stir with a whisk until completely combined. Gradually drizzle in grapeseed oil, whisking constantly, until combined. Season to taste with salt and pepper. If you don’t use the dressing immediately, whisk right before using to recombine ingredients.
Makes enough for 4 to 6 salads.