Salad bars can be found almost everywhere nowadays and have become quite popular with the lunchtime crowds. However, you still have to consider what you choose for your salad because all that’s offered isn’t healthy for you. So when you’re ready to get your salad, consider what you will choose and what will be the best for you.
Keep in mind that the darker a green is the more nutritious it is. Here are the best choices:
- Spinach is dark green and very nutritious. It offers you Vitamin A for your eyesight, Vitamin K for your blood and folate for your well being. A cup of this leafy green has only 7 calories.
- Offering plenty of Vitamin A and Vitamin C is kale. It also has some calcium, potassium, and iron. Add a bit of vinegar or lemon juice to it so that you can better absorb the iron. With all of these special benefits, kale gives you 34 calories per cup.
- Choose the small, colorful leaves known as Spring Mix/Mesclun Mix which offer you around 30% of Vitamin A and have only 7 calories per cup.
- For some added color to your salad choose red cabbage which will provide you with 85% of your daily intake of Vitamin C. It also provides Vitamin K and has high amounts of anthocyanins which is a kind of antioxidant.
Make sure you choose from vegetables such as broccoli, cucumbers, carrots, avocado, beets and add in some chickpeas and black beans.
- Vegetables: Of four freebies, choose at least two vegetables. Carrots, cucumbers, broccoli, black beans, chickpeas, avocado, beets…there are many to choose from. Choose different colors of veggies to maximize the variety of nutrients in the salad. Fresh options are healthier than cooked or processed ones. For example, oil-drenched fried onions or sun-dried tomatoes add extra fat and calories. Also, steer away from canned options like olives if you’re watching sodium intake.
- Fruit: Fruit in your salad is a great third topping choice but it’s best when fresh like grapes, mandarin slices, and chopped apples. Ditch canned, syrup-heavy options and dried fruit which are heavy in excess sugar.
- Grains, Nuts, and Seeds: Almonds, walnuts, sunflower seeds, or a whole grain like quinoa adds texture and a crunch, but also protein, fiber, healthy fats, and some long-acting carbs to keep you full. Don’t hesitate to make this your fourth topping. Although higher in calories, remember that greens, veggies, and fruit are low in calories so if you added those already, you have some room before you hit the 300-400 calorie mark. If you want to opt for meat protein, you can choose that instead.
- Protein: Green-light grilled chicken, tofu, steak, or a hard-boiled egg for your salad protein. Bacon and chicken covered in BBQ sauce will cost you more saturated fat and sugar.
- Cheese: Cheese provides protein, calcium, and flavor. You can add it in place of one of the toppings above, but keep in mind that it won’t fill you up as much as the fiber and protein in the veggies and grains.
- Crunch: Croutons, noodles, and tortilla chips add “crunch” but not much nutritional value. Try not to add these to your salad if you want to keep it all clean. Nuts, seeds, and fresh veggies can add enough crunch!
What Is The Healthiest Dressing?
By this point, you may have created the healthiest salad you can, but choosing an unhealthy dressing will make all the difference. One ladle of creamy dressing like ranch, blue cheese, or Caesar can add more than 200 calories and over 20 grams of fat. The best option is to ask for some olive oil and your favorite acid, like balsamic or red wine vinegar or lemon juice. Remember, these acids will help absorb iron and other nutrients from your greens too. I have also noticed that some salad bars already have the vinegar and oil out there for you to add.