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Build a Smart Salad

By: Karen McPartland, RD
Senior Dietitian

Salads may sound like a healthy, calorie-conscious choice when dining out, but, The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) found that salads at several national restaurant chains tend to have more calories than the typical person needs at a single meal. 

Generally loaded with too much dressing, high-fat cheese, crunchy noodles and other high calorie ingredients, entrée salads may not be the best choice.  However, salads are a good idea in principle since they can sometimes provide lots of fiber, disease-fighting nutrients and terrific taste.  

The key is to be aware of how to build salads so that they are nutrient-packed, but lower in calories and fat than the ones highlighted by AICR.  If the restaurant has a salad bar or create your own salad option or if you would like to make a salad at home, keep these tips in mind so that you can get all the health benefits of a salad without packing in too many calories or too much harmful saturated fat:

  • Start with 2 cups of lettuce (per person or per serving).  Mix different types of lettuce together for texture, flavor and visual appeal.  For example, mix tender Boston lettuce with crisp romaine lettuce.

  • Next add a variety of vegetables.  The more colors you add, the more disease-fighting nutrients you get.  So, pack it with orange, red, yellow and green peppers, bright tomatoes, dark green broccoli florets and spinach, orange carrots, etc.  You can add more color and flavor with a sprinkling of fruit like a handful of red grapes or blueberries, some apple or pear slices, or even some small orange wedges.  If you want to rely on dried fruit, choose brands that do not have any added sugar (check the ingredient list!).

  • Add some protein to help keep you full longer and to give you long-lasting energy.  Chicken breast, turkey breast, fish (canned or fresh), low-fat cheese and beans are good choices.  Steer clear of fried meats and full fat cheese.

  • Add more nutrients, flavor and texture with a sprinkle of brown rice or whole wheat pasta.

  • Then enhance your nutrient absorption and stimulate your palette by adding some healthy fat like vinaigrette made with olive or canola oil, some avocado slices or some chopped nuts like walnuts or almonds.

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