Are you getting the most nutritional bang out of your salad? Lots of us turn to salad for a low-calorie side or meal, but we may be adding ingredients that are surprisingly unhealthy, defeating the best of intentions from the outset. Since not all salads are equally good for you, we’ve rounded up 8 tips for building delicious, wholesome, and nutritionally optimized salads every time. (No fat-free dressing allowed!)
Pick Powerful Greens 1 of 8Up your salad's nutrition power by opting for darker lettuces like romaine (which has loads of vitamin A and C) or arugula (which has lots of vitamin K), and skip the iceberg which is not as nutrient-dense. Or supercharge your salad with nutrient-dense dark, leafy greens like spinach, kale, or chard.
Make rainbow chard slaw
Add Lean Protein 2 of 8Chances are, you're making a salad as a means of staving off hunger, so don't skimp on the protein. Eggs, a chicken breast, canned salmon, or legumes can add lean protein to your salad. If it's a healthy meal you're after, add 1/2 cup of protein or an egg or two to a big salad, and reap the benefits of a sating, healthy meal.
Make Oriental chicken salad
Image: Angie McGowan
Have Some Fats 3 of 8You're not a rabbit — so don't eat like one! Healthy fats can not only make a salad more satisfying, they can actually boost your uptake of nutrients. Add some avocado to help your body absorb the healthful carotenoid antioxidants lycopene and beta-carotene.
Make avocado and mango salad
Opt for a Tasty Dressing 4 of 8When eating healthily, it's easy to feel like you should be as austere as possible and choose a low-calorie or fat-free dressing — or skip the dressing altogether. But you're already eating a salad, and there's no reason to be downright monastic. In fact, healthy fats can actually boost the absorption of nutrients, and a flavorful dressing means you're more likely to make salad a healthy habit and not an infrequent, flavorless punishment. To maximize your uptake of nutrients and minimize your calories, opt for a dressing made with olive oil or canola oil.
Learn the basics of a good vinaigrette
Image: Shaina Olmanson
Get Fruity 5 of 8The best salads are of the moment; make yours current, and delicious, by adding a little seasonal fruit. I love sour plums in salads this time of year, but berries, apples, pears, and citrus are all wonderful additions. Fruit will add fiber, nutrients, and possibly valuable antioxidants. It also adds natural sweetness and texture to your salad, which means you might want to go back for seconds!
The simple secret that will get them all eating salad
Go Nuts 6 of 8There's a lot to love about nuts. In a salad they can add flavor and texture and help to fill you up. The good fats in nuts will not only help with nutrient absorption, they'll also add things like "good" fats, Omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, vitamin E, and plant sterols (a cholesterol-lowering substance). Of course, nuts can provide too much of a good thing, so to keep calories in check and get the most out of your salad, add just a handful of nuts, and enjoy!
Make pear salad with walnuts and feta
Image: Angie McGowan
Think Outside the Box 7 of 8Cabbage, cauliflower, and broccoli are part of the cruciferous family: a superfood group loaded with vitamins like vitamins C and K, and folate, and healthful enzymes like sulforaphane, which is widely associated with cancer prevention. Next time you make a salad, consider trying a unique "lettuce" by using healthy veggies like cabbage, cauliflower, and broccoli as your base, or just adding them into the mix!
Learn more about superfoods we should be eating more of
Add Healthy Grains 8 of 8Make your salad a meal that counts (and leaves you feeling full) by adding some healthy whole grains. Quinoa, farro, spelt, bulgur, or brown rice can add fiber and lean protein. One cup of quinoa, for example, has 222 calories, with 8 grams of protein and 5 grams of fiber, not to mention folate, iron, and other valuable nutrients.
Make quinoa salad with roast squash and collards
Image: Angie McGowan
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