The Building Blocks Of A Better Salad

woman eating salad smiling( – If you think that heading to the salad bar is a healthier choice, then you better think again, because when it comes to watching your waistline, all salads are not created equal. Low in calories but loaded with fiber and vitamins, salads are one of the healthiest meals you can have — that is if you make the right choices. Adding too many high-calorie toppings can actually cause you to gain weight.

Here are a few guidelines to help you keep your salad healthy and free of unwanted calories.

1. Start with a strong base. If you haven’t already, ditch that anemic-looking iceberg lettuce. Instead, try the fabulous (and far more nutritious) greens available at local farmers’ markets, produce stands and many supermarkets – a great choice is a spring mix, which includes frisée, oakleaf, red chard and radicchio. Even romaine lettuce is far more tasty and nutrient-rich than iceberg.

2. Load on the veggies. As with greens, the sky’s the limit. Choose a variety of colors and keep them raw or lightly steamed (overcooked vegetables taste bland in salads). Brightly colored veggies also have major health benefits: The rich red in bell peppers, bright orange in carrots and deep green in broccoli are courtesy of phytochemicals, natural plant chemicals that have been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease and macular degeneration, among many other conditions. The best-known phytochemical is beta-carotene, which is found in orange, yellow, red and even some green vegetables. Others include flavonoids (broccoli, onions, celery) and chlorophyll (green beans and sugar snap peas).

3. Don’t forget the protein. This is what makes your salad a meal. Choose lean sources of animal protein, such as skinless chicken or turkey, canned or fresh salmon, chunk light tuna (it has less mercury than white albacore), hard-boiled eggs or egg whites, and sirloin steak or other lean meat. Vegetarian options include tofu, chickpeas, kidney beans, pinto beans and other legumes (canned is fine; just rinse and drain). Choose one (or two if you’re extra-hungry) of the following: