Salads are always a healthy option, right? It might surprise you to learn that this isn’t always the case. The salads that you order at your favorite restaurant (as well as some of the ones that you make at home) may be loaded with way more calories than you think. Eating too many calories (hidden or not) is the main reason that people fail to lose weight. To help you stay on track with your weight-loss goals, we’re going to show you how to ensure that the salad you’re eating really is healthy for you!
How to Ensure that the Salad You’re Eating Really is Healthy
The ingredients commonly found in salads are generally healthy on their own. However, once you start piling them on top of each other, the calories add up fast. The following tips will help you make healthier choices and reduce caloric intake whether you’re dining out or eating in.
1. Choose Nutrient-Packed Greens
Most greens are essentially calorie-free, so you really don’t have to worry about them being the cause of your weight gain. Some options are more nutrient-dense than others, though. Greens like kale, spinach, romaine, cabbage, Swiss chard, watercress, arugula, and spring mix are all loaded with vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
Iceberg lettuce is the least nutritious green, as it is made up of about 95% water. It’s totally fine to eat it if you mix it in with the other greens above! We actually highly recommend combining several different greens so that you get a wide assortment of nutrients. Restaurants actually do a great job with this. You’ll almost always find several different combinations on the menu.
2. Load Up with Veggies
Once you have your base greens figured out, it’s time to add volume, color, and texture. Vegetables are the perfect way to do this. They, too, are low in calories but high in nutrition. We recommend adding in at least three different vegetables to your salad.
If you’re dining out, look for salads that include veggies like cucumber, shredded carrots, bell peppers, onion, tomato, chopped celery, cauliflower, and even corn. The more color, the better!
3. Add Extra Protein
Greens and veggies will provide you with all the fiber you need in a meal, but now it’s time to add in some protein. To be honest, there aren’t many forms of protein that don’t work well in a salad, just make sure they’re cooked the healthiest way. This often means looking for options that are grilled and not fried.
Grilled chicken, lean cuts of steak, shrimp, fish, and even turkey bacon are all excellent additions to a healthy salad. If you’re a vegetarian, you can add chickpeas, tofu, quinoa, hard-boiled egg, or an assortment of beans. Luckily, more and more restaurants are catering to the health-food crowd, so it’s getting easier and easier to find high-protein options.
4. Say No to (Most) Creamy Dressings
I know these types of dressing taste really good, but they’re also really high in unhealthy fat and calories. You can significantly cut down on calories by simply avoiding high-fat bottled creamy dressings like ranch, blue cheese, and thousand island. Instead, try dressings that are oil- or vinegar-based like Italian dressing, Greek dressing, or any vinaigrette.
Of course you can always make your own dressing so you’ll know exactly what’s in it. We have plenty of recipes for clean-eating dressing (even some creamy ones!). Consider giving one of these healthy options a try:
- Orange Ginger Sesame Salad Dressing
- Clean Eating Caesar Dressing
- 6 Plant-Based Oil-Free Salad Dressing Recipes
- Plant-Based Ranch Dressing
Bonus Tip: Always ask for dressing on the side when dining out! This will allow you to decide how much you want to add.
5. Avoid Unnecessary Ingredients
While things like croutons and tortilla strips are tasty and offer a nice crunch, they really don’t benefit your health at all. Plus, they can add quite a number of calories to a salad. Do yourself a favor and just avoid these add-ons all together.
6. Practice Portion Control with Certain Ingredients
Some ingredients are rich in nutrients while also being calorie-dense. For this reason, it’s important to practice portion control when adding them to your salads at home. Most restaurants will only use one serving per salad, so it shouldn’t be a problem there.
Some of these ingredients include fresh fruit, dried fruit, nuts, seeds, and a variety of cheeses. Each of these things offers essential vitamins, minerals, fiber, healthy fats, and more, but you must be careful of the amount you’re throwing into your salad. Fruit will tack on extra sugar and carbs, nuts and seeds alone can add an additional 200-300 calories, and cheese can very easily cause the salad’s fat content to skyrocket. You don’t have to eliminate them, just be mindful and practice portion control!
Putting each of these tips into practice, whether you’re at a restaurant or in your own kitchen, will ensure that the salad you’re eating really is healthy for you. Once you know what to look for and what to avoid, your salads will truly be one of the healthiest meals around!
Are you a salad fanatic like I am? If so, you’re definitely going to want to try these incredible recipes:
- Spinach, Lentil, and Beet Salad with Orange Vinaigrette
- Thai Chicken Veggie Salad with Peanut Dressing
- Roasted Sweet Potato and Mango Salad
- Spicy Black Bean & Shrimp Salad
- Strawberry, Avocado, and Spinach Salad