By Melissa Tewes
Often time, we turn to salad when we are trying to eat healthfully. After all, salads are considered a "diet food."
But salads can provide bulk to the diet — and, if built correctly — can provide minimal calories.
Salads are full of fiber, vitamins, minerals and key nutrients. Salads can offer a low-calorie, low-fat way to fill you up, but they can also sabotage your diet if you don't choose wisely.
Depending on the items you choose to fill your plate with, you can have anywhere from a nutrient-dense, low-calorie meal to one that is full of calories, fat, cholesterol and sodium.
Salads can be used as the starter to a meal to decrease total calorie intake or as a meal in itself. Use these tips to build a healthful salad.
Start with lettuce as the foundation for your salad, filling about two-thirds of your plate.
Lettuce provides substance, water, crunch and fiber, and it is very low in calories. Choose dark green leafy lettuce such as romaine, mixed baby greens and spinach to increase the nutrient value.
These greens are rich in vitamins A, C and K, manganese and foliate. Iceberg lettuce is still a very low-calorie choice if there is nothing else available, but isn't as nutrient dense.
Fill in the remainder of your plate with a variety of vegetables such as cucumber, red, yellow, orange or green peppers, carrots, sugar snap peas and tomatoes. Vegetables add flavor, fiber and vitamins without adding a lot of additional calories. Don't be afraid to try new vegetables to keep things interesting.
Use as many vegetables as you can pile on, but keep the portions of starchy vegetables such as potatoes, peas and corn at a minimum as they are higher in calories. Choose brightly colored vegetables to maximize nutrient potential.
If salad is to be your main course, be sure to incorporate a source of protein such as a lean meat, fish or poultry, or try tofu, eggs or beans as a meat alternative. Adding a source of protein will make your salad a complete meal and will keep you feeling full longer. Avoid protein sources that are deep fried and breaded such as fried chicken.
Most entree salads contain cheese of some sort. Be careful to limit the portion size to about 2 tablespoons, choose lower fat varieties, or choose strong flavored cheeses such as feta, Gorgonzola or sharp cheddar the strong flavor goes a long way.
Salad toppings can easily sabotage your otherwise healthful meal.
Be careful not to pile on the nuts and seeds; although they are a healthy fat, they are fat none the less.
Avoid crunchy toppings such as crispy noodles, croutons and bacon bits. Choose fresh fruit, crumbled whole-grain crackers or homemade croutons to pack on a healthier crunch.
For quick-and-easy homemade croutons that are low in fat and high in fiber, try rubbing a large clove of garlic over both sides of a piece of whole grain bread, cutting it into cubes and toasting it in a toaster or conventional oven.
So now you have your healthful salad. Don't let a good thing go bad by pouring high-calorie, high-fat salad dressings with a heavy hand. Often times, salad dressings are very high in calories, fat, and sodium.
When you pour salad dressing directly onto your salad, you often pour far more than is needed to flavor the salad. Try keeping the salad dressing in a side dish and dipping your fork into the dressing before picking up a forkful of salad. An appropriate portion size of salad dressing is about 2 tablespoons.
Typically vinaigrette dressings are lower in calories and fat, but not always.
Be careful with fruit flavored or sweet dressings as they tend to be high in calories. For a low-calorie, low-fat alternative, try using flavored vinegars, lemon or lime juice, or salsa.
Sometimes the addition of fruit can provide a burst of flavor that may also help you cut back on the need for salad dressings.
Melissa Tewes is the clinical nutrition manager at Meritus Medical Center. She has 16 years of experience as a registered dietitian and is also a certified personal trainer.
By Joe Fleischman
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This easy, colorful salad will quickly become one of your springtime favorites.
This recipe works equally well with grilled chicken, fish or beef, and can be prepared up to 48 hours before serving.
The Meyer lemon vinaigrette is extremely light and easy to prepare, making the salad a great option for barbecues, potlucks or unexpected guests.
Meyer lemons, although relatively new to the culinary scene in the United States, have been cultivated in China for thousands of years. Used mostly for decorative purposes, this lemon- mandarin orange cross has found a place in many professional kitchens throughout the country.
Meyer lemons have a sweeter flavor then regular lemons and are not as acidic, making them the perfect complement to salad dressings, marinades and desserts.
These hearty fruits are available in most markets from November to May and may be purchased online year-round.
Joe Fleischman is executive chef at Meritus Medical Center. He has 20 years of experience as a professional chef, culinary instructor and speaker.
Grape-tomato and garbanzo-bean salad
2 pints grape tomatoes, halved
6 ounces garbanzo beans, rinsed
1/2 green pepper, diced
2 ounces black olives, sliced
2 ounces carrots, grated
2 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped
Add Meyer lemon vinaigrette (see recipe below)
In a large mixing bowl, combine the tomatoes, beans, green pepper, olives, carrots and basil, mix well. Mix vinaigrette into salad mixture a small amount at a time until well coated. Reserve additional dressing under refrigeration for up to 2 weeks. For best results, chill salad overnight prior to service.
Serves 8 to 10.
Meyer lemon vinaigrette
Juice of 2 Meyer lemons
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon fresh garlic, chopped
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
In a small mixing bowl add Meyer lemon juice, balsamic vinegar and garlic.
Whisk in olive oil a small amount at a time until well incorporated, add salt and pepper to taste.