Salads are a health food, right? Well, sure, eating greens is definitely
good for you, but when you load up your salad with high-calorie dressings
and the wrong kinds of toppings, you lose some of the health benefits, says
Susan Watkins, RD, CDE, manager of nutrition, education and weight management at
St Jude Heritage Medical Group.
"The great thing about salads is that they are so versatile--the idea
of a plain salad of iceberg lettuce drenched in Thousand Island dressing
is really a thing of the past," Watkins says. "The secret to
a successful salad is to be creative with your add-ons while still taking
into account the nutritional profile--fats, calories, sodium and even
hidden sugars in salad dressings."
Because May is National Salad Month, Watkins offers her suggestions on
how to make an exciting--and still healthy--salad:
1. Expand your definition of lettuce. "Lettuce doesn't have to be bland," Watkins says. "Instead
of iceberg or romaine, try some dark, leafy greens such as kale, spinach,
Swiss chard or watercress--these are abundant in nutrients. You can also
use mixed lettuces for a variety of flavor."
If you buy heads of lettuce, you'll want to cut up the leaves and wash
them in cold water, making sure to pat them completely dry or use a salad
spinner. "When it comes to bagged lettuce, there are different schools
of thought; some people think that lettuce could use an extra wash, while
others think it's already cleaned of soil and bacteria," Watkins
says. "The California Department of Health states that if bagged
lettuce is labeled "washed", "triple washed" or "ready-to-eat",
that it doesn't need to be washed again at home." Whether you
are washing freshly cut lettuce or rinsing a bagged salad, you should
wash your hands with warm water and soap, and all utensils that will touch
the lettuce should also be cleaned to prevent any contamination.
2. DIY dressing. "Unless you read the labels carefully, you can end up with a store-bought
dressing that negates the health value of your salad. It can have artificial
colors and flavors, additives or high fructose corn syrup," Watkins
says. To avoid that, make your own dressing at home. Vinaigrettes are
simple--three parts oil to one part vinegar/acid--and from there you can
add herbs and other ingredients to change up the flavor. Simply emulsify
the ingredients by whisking them together or shaking them up in a jar.
If you don’t have the time to make your own dressing, look for dressings
made with minimal ingredients.
3. Power up with protein. "If you are making salad the main dish of a meal, then you should
add protein to create a well-balanced entree," Watkins says. "Lean
protein is a great choice, such as grilled chicken, while fish such as
salmon offers healthy omega-3 fatty acids. You can also add cooked shrimp,
tofu, beans such as chickpeas or hard-boiled egg."
4. Get your veggies in. "Adults should eat a recommended two to three cups of vegetables
each day, and a salad that incorporates produce is a great way to meet
that goal," Watkins says. And if you are trying to lose weight, aiming
for two or more cups of veggies per meal is a great way to keep you full
while decreasing calories. Basically, just about any vegetable is salad-worthy;
and for full flavor, it's ideal to mix a few different types together--think
red onion, corn and tomatoes for a Mexican-style salad, or carrots, cucumbers
and snap peas for an Asian salad.
5. Some like it hot. Salads don't always have to be served cold. "The variety of textures
can be pleasing to the palate when you pair crisp, cold greens with warm
roasted vegetables or a heated whole-grain such as quinoa," Watkins
says. "Or you can change it up by heating up the lettuce, such as
grilling romaine leaves or sautéing escarole. The dark outer leaves
of escarole are especially good cooked, and its slightly bitter taste
pairs well with a number of ingredients, especially fruits and nuts."
6. When it comes to toppings, you can have too much of a good thing.
"There are many toppings that add a zing to salad by punching up the
flavor," Watkins says. "But several of those, such as cheese,
bacon, dried fruit and croutons, can add too many calories if they're
liberally sprinkled on a salad. Add these toppings sparingly, and don't
use all of them at once--if you opt for cheese, skip the croutons, for
example. Filling your bowl with lettuce and vegetables, a handful of protein,
a slight amount of toppings and a drizzle of homemade dressing is the
best way to make a tasty, nutritious salad."
For more information on our Healthy Plate Classes and other programs, call
the Center for Health Promotion at (714) 618-9500.