When you hear the phrase clean or healthy eating , salads are probably one of the first things that come to mind. After all, you can’t get much healthier than a plate full of veggies, right? Well, sort of right. Don’t get me wrong salads can definitely be a very healthy way to go (and honestly if we are what we eat, I’m gonna turn into a big ol’ salad one day because of how much I eat). However, people have the tendency to pile their plates with little green stuff and lots of nuts, seeds, cheese, craisens, fat-heavy dressing and other things that make it a less healthy option. There are certainly room for some of these “additions” to your salad, but they should be just that–small additions to your plate. Another big issue is a lack of protein and carbs (vegetables add only a few carbs) in forms of whole grains.
If you’re wondering what exactly makes a great salad, you’ve come to the right place! I’m going to present some great ideas on how to build a better salad that is healthy, tasty, and has all the necessary nutrients you need!
The base for any great salad should be your leafy greens! Some great examples are romaine, kale, arugula, spinach, or mixed greens. Iceberg lettuce is green, but it is mostly water and has little nutritional value so if you must eat iceberg try mixing it in with another type of leafy green. These leafy greens will add fiber and key nutrients to your plate.
While many people may try to eat a salad to avoid eating carbs, they are still a necessary part of any diet. Adding whole-grains to your salad will keep you fuller longer and provide more fiber (less snacking and overeating later). The trick is to make them whole-grain! This means saying no to croutons and yes to quinoa, brown rice, farro, freekeh, wheat berries, etc.
This is probably the most lacking in many salads, but whether you’re vegan, vegetarian or neither, protein on your salad is very important! Lean meats such as (lean) steak, chicken or turkey or seafood like salmon or tuna. If you don’t want meat, then eggs, beans, chickpeas, or tofu would be acceptable options too. Don’t skimp on the protein because it adds key nutrients and excellent flavor to your salad!
Next, pile on the veggies! A colorful salad not only brightens the look of your plate, but it also adds key nutrients like beta carotene (carrots) and lycopene (tomatoes). Vegetables can be grilled (easy on the oil), steamed, or raw–whatever you prefer! Some great examples for veggies to add (but certainly not limited to) are carrots, broccoli, bell peppers, olives, tomatoes, mushrooms, onions, beets and celery. Mix it up to try fun, new combos and vary what nutrients you are getting.
Fruits can be a great addition to veggies on a salad or by themselves. Avocado (yes, it is technically a fruit) is on of the most popular although it does count as healthy fat instead. Other great options can include berries, apples, grapes, oranges, pineapple or pomegranate seeds. These will help add a bit of freshness!
The crunch factor allows you to add good flavor and texture to your salad, but BE CAREFUL! This is where people go overboard with their portions and amounts and turn a healthy 400 calorie salad into a 1,000 calorie diet-bomb. Just pay attention to serving size and measure using a scale or measuring cups whenever possible. Consider adding nuts, chia seeds, sunflower or pumpkin seeds, or crumpled whole-wheat pita chips or crackers. Just a small amount can bring a big crunch to your salad!
Extras should be small in amount and consist of things like cheese, or bacon bits. Since both high are higher in saturated fat, again keep portions in mind. The healthiest cheeses are feta, goat, mozzarella or blue cheese.
You’re almost done creating your masterpiece, but don’t blow it on the dressing! The best way to have a healthy dressing is to create your own (there are tons of recipes all over the internet, even of your favorites like balsamic vinegar and honey mustard). Simple dressings can be made by mixing an acid (balsamic vinegar), oil (olive oil), emulsifier to hold it together (greek yogurt), and flavorings (basil). The best choices when eating out are vinegars or just vinegar and oil. Always ask for dressing on the side and drizzle just a bit of dressing (even if it is homemade). Remember, a little drizzle goes a long way for your salad!
There you have it, your guide to building a better salad. Salads can be staple meals for just about everyone, as long as you’re following good guidelines. They are also great because they are versatile and you can easily create (or search) new combos for your salad. So next time you’re wondering what to make for dinner…build yourself a salad!
What are your favorite salads and toppings? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!