Thursday, April 21, 2011

Three Tips for Thursdays--Lighten Up Your Salad

 We've all done it.  We go out to eat, and in an attempt to be healthy, we "just have a salad, thanks".  It seems logical--lettuce, vegetables, fruits--it should be healthy, right???  Wrong!  In many chain restaurants, salads have over 1000 calories, and close to 100 grams of fat (think Chilis and Macaroni Grill).  Gross, huh?  So while we think we're making a good choice and eating healthy, our bodies are not thanking us.

It's not just the restaurants that get us, though.  It happens at home, too.  What salad dressings are in your refrigerator right now?  Go look.  Read the labels.  Read the serving size.  In Hidden Valley Original Ranch dressing, there are 140 calories and 14g of fat in 2 Tbs.  If Kraft is your go-to ranch, up the calories by 30 and the fat by 3g.  Then think about the rest of your toppings. Do you add many vegetables/fruits?  How much cheese goes over the top?  Croutons?  Bacon bits?  When you think about it, a salad can really just be an excuse for fatty toppings.

OK, so we've made our salad mistakes.  Where do we go from here?  Here are three tips to lighten up your salad and make it truly a great, healthy choice.

Go for Color
This seems pretty obvious.  But to start with, what I am referring to are the nice dark greens that are full of Vitamins A, C, and K, folate, iron, and calcium.  If you are using iceburg lettuce for your salad, you are getting zero nutrition out of it.  It's basically water.  Instead, choose a nice green romaine, and throw in some spinach or other greens.  They are heart-healthy and a great base for your salad.  Next, start adding as many colors as possible--red from tomatoes and peppers, orange from carrots,  yellow from peppers, "purple" from red onions, green from cucumbers.  Or go for fruits--purple from blueberries, red from strawberries, green from kiwi, orange from orange slices, and white from pear slices.  It will look beautiful, taste delicious, and be great fuel for your body.

Add some Protein
Protein is going to be key in filling you up.  Add some nice, lean grilled chicken, hard-boiled eggs, or shrimp.  Instead of croutons, add toasted pecans, almonds, or walnuts.  You get the same crunch with the added benefit of protein and fiber.

Watch your Dressing...and Your Cheese
A good salad can go bad very quickly when it comes to dressing.  Pick a full fat ranch like I mentioned above, and all of a sudden, your salad's not looking so great.  If ranch is really your thing, buy low-fat and use less.  A great option for store-bought dressing is Balsamic Vinaigrette.  I like Newman's Own Light Balsamic Vinaigrette--for the same 2 Tbs serving size, you get only 45 calories and 4g of fat.  Much easier to handle! You can also very easily make your own vinaigrettes. All you need is vinegar and oil.  Google vinaigrette recipes and find one that suits your tastes.  Also, don't drown the poor salad.  A light sprinkling will do!

Now...the topic I really don't want to discuss.  Limiting cheese.  My mom and I were recently looking up nutrition information on some basic ingredients, and my beloved cheese really disappointed me.  There's so much saturated fat.  It's really sad.  Fortunately, they do make reduced-fat cheese that makes me feel a little bit better.  Also using a more flavorful cheese can help you portion-control.  Try using gorgonzola, crumbled goat cheese, parmigiano-reggiano, or feta instead of the normal cheddar.  The strong flavors will help get you the flavor you want, while using less. 

As we head into spring and summer, salads are sure to be on the menu.  Let's be sure to load them up with the good stuff, and leave the bad stuff behind!

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