Toss a Healthier Salad

May is not only National Egg Month[1], it’s also National Salad Month. With summer right around the corner, the chances are pretty good that you’ll soon be crunching on salads, if you haven’t been doing so already. Salads seem to go hand-in-hand with any healthy eating plan, but they can be a double-edged sword, too. Going overboard with certain ingredients can quickly turn a salad into a calorie- and fat-laden disaster. Learn how to make your salads healthy, tasty, and filling with the tips below.

Salad fun facts
Before we dig in to tips for healthy salads, you might be interested to know that:

• Christopher Columbus introduced lettuce to America.

• We Americans love our salads: we eat about 30 pounds of lettuce every year!

• Iceberg lettuce is 96% water.

• Some salads have as many calories as a Double Cheeseburger.

• Caesar salad was created in Tijuana, Mexico, by restaurant owner Caesar Cardini.

Toss it up
Now that you’ve learned some salad trivia, it’s time to start making salads that are better for your waistline and your blood sugars.

Build your base. There are many varieties of greens to choose from when making a salad. And the good news is that they all provide nutritional value — even iceberg lettuce! How to choose? Go for the darker greens. For example, kale is packed with vitamins A, C, and K, along with phytonutrients that fight cancer and heart disease. Other good choices: mesclun greens, baby spinach, Swiss chard, romaine lettuce, and red or green leaf lettuce. For some zest, throw in watercress or arugula.

Add more veggies. Sure, lettuce is fine, but that’s just the beginning. Really pack a nutritional punch by adding a variety of vegetables. The more variety, the better. Add tomatoes, different color peppers, cucumbers, radishes, mushrooms, red onions, and carrots, for example. If you’re at the salad bar, skip any veggies that are marinated — they add too many calories. Instead, go for fresh veggies or vegetables that are lightly steamed.

Put in the protein. You don’t always have to add protein to your salad, especially if you’re already eating protein as another part of your meal. But if salad is “the” meal, it’s a good idea to add a healthy protein source. Doing so will keep your appetite in check and keep your blood sugars stable for longer. Here are some protein foods to consider:

• Chicken or turkey breast
• Tuna or salmon
• Lean beef, such as tenderloin or sirloin steak
• Hard-boiled eggs
• Tofu
• Legumes (chickpeas, pinto beans, black beans, edamame, lentils)
• Cottage cheese

Skip processed meats like salami or bacon, as well as anything fried.

Consider some great grains. If your salad is your main meal, it’s a good idea to include some healthy carbohydrate for energy, fiber, and B vitamins. Grains can be added warm or cold; the key is to go for whole grains, though, not refined. Good choices are:

• Brown rice
• Wild rice
• Quinoa
• Whole wheat couscous
• Bulgur

Or go with fruit. Fruit is another good way to add nutrition to a salad. It’s best to choose fresh fruit: think sliced or cubed peaches or nectarines, apples, berries, or kiwi, for example. You can also toss in dried fruit, such as raisins or dried cranberries. Remember that fruit is typically higher in calories and carbs than vegetables, so don’t go overboard.

Finish with fat. Fat adds flavor and also keeps you feeling full for a longer period of time. The drawback is that fat is high in calories, so watch your portions of high-fat ingredients. Avocado, nuts, and seeds are healthy sources of fat and go perfectly in any salad. Then, there’s the dressing: Salad dressings can be the downfall of any salad, often weighing in at up to 100 calories per tablespoon (and who stops at just one?). Light or fat-free dressings are an option, but the less fat, the more sugar, in some cases. Read the Nutrition Facts label. Consider making your own vinaigrette dressing. It’s easy enough to do, and involves whisking olive or canola oil with vinegar, a pinch of ground mustard, a dash of pepper, and sprinkle of salt. And remember, don’t drown your salad with dressing; instead, use it lightly to help enhance the flavor of everything else in your bowl.

Salad in a jar
We all know that salads are great to eat, but the reality is that they can take time to prepare. Eating salads can be both healthy and convenient if you try this approach: Mason jar salads. Read my post for instructions on how to assemble an individual salad in a Mason jar.[2] You start with the dressing on the bottom, and add layer upon layer of other ingredients. You can even make up a batch of jar salads for the week — all you have to do is grab a jar on your way to work!

People with diabetes are nearly twice as likely to to experience depression, and after 30 years with Type 1, Amy Mercer found herself dealing with depression. Bookmark[3] and tune in tomorrow to learn the initial steps she took to seek help.

  1. National Egg Month:
  2. Read my post for instructions on how to assemble an individual salad in a Mason jar.:

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Amy Campbell: Amy Campbell is the author of Staying Healthy with Diabetes: Nutrition and Meal Planning and a frequent contributor to Diabetes Self-Management and Diabetes & You. She has co-authored several books, including the The Joslin Guide to Diabetes and the American Diabetes Association’s 16 Myths of a “Diabetic Diet,” for which she received a Will Solimene Award of Excellence in Medical Communication and a National Health Information Award in 2000. Amy also developed menus for Fit Not Fat at Forty Plus and co-authored Eat Carbs, Lose Weight with fitness expert Denise Austin. Amy earned a bachelor’s degree in nutrition from Simmons College and a master’s degree in nutrition education from Boston University. In addition to being a Registered Dietitian, she is a Certified Diabetes Educator and a member of the American Dietetic Association, the American Diabetes Association, and the American Association of Diabetes Educators. Amy was formerly a Diabetes and Nutrition Educator at Joslin Diabetes Center, where she was responsible for the development, implementation, and evaluation of disease management programs, including clinical guideline and educational material development, and the development, testing, and implementation of disease management applications. She is currently the Director of Clinical Education Content Development and Training at Good Measures. Amy has developed and conducted training sessions for various disease and case management programs and is a frequent presenter at disease management events.

Disclaimer of Medical Advice: Statements and opinions expressed on this Web site are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the publishers or advertisers. The information, which comes from qualified medical writers, does not constitute medical advice or recommendation of any kind, and you should not rely on any information contained in such posts or comments to replace consultations with your qualified health care professionals to meet your individual needs.