When good greens go bad

By • Published: August 16th, 2013
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

If you’re watching your waistline, salad may seem like a safe choice. But there’s a slew of tempting toppings out there that contain little nutrition and lots of empty calories. Like many salads currently on menus across the United States, your “healthy” alternative may end up containing more calories than a Big Mac.

So how can you to get a bigger bang for your caloric buck? Start with a bed of super greens. Iceberg is the most popular lettuce in the U.S., but it’s also the least nutritious. In contrast, spinach and romaine are bursting with vitamin K and vitamin A. Red leaf lettuce, arugula, collards and kale are similarly healthful.

Limit processed ingredients like bacon bits, croutons and dressing. Instead, get protein from an egg, grilled meats, nuts or legumes. Get the crunch you crave with fresh veggies or seeds. Try sunflower or chia. And dress your salad with salsa or a homemade blend of nutritious ingredients — like lemon juice, avocado or tahini. Skip all things breaded or described as “crunchy” or “crispy” —usually that’s just code for “fried.”

Watch out for toppings that contain a wallop of sugar like dried fruit and candied nuts. If you want some sweetness, opt instead for berries and chunks of fresh of fresh fruit like apples and citrus. If a salad simply isn’t complete without cheese, pungent varieties like blue, goat and parmesan provide plenty of flavor. Heart-healthy toppings like olives, artichoke and avocado contain good fats that lower cholesterol while being high in antioxidants. Marinated beets, sprouts, watermelon, lentils, fennel, kiwi, brussels sprouts, roasted squash or cauliflower … there are hundreds of vitamin-packed, low-calorie ingredients to keep you thinking outside the bowl all year. Have fun building a better salad.