Choose your salad dressing wisely!
When you think of a healthy meal, salads are more often than not your first option. Fresh green leaves, a smattering of juicy tomatoes, cucumbers, fruits and a handful of white meat which are then topped off with a drizzle of dressing to add flavour to the mix. Sounds good right?
But some salads can be misleading to the health-conscious eater – their calorie, sugar and fat content may be higher than originally thought. Salad dressings may even pack in close to 200 calories and 20 grams of fat per serving.
But wait, my salad’s fat-free isn’t it?
Light and fat-free dressings in your salad bowl may sometimes disguise a high sugar and sodium content to compensate for the lack of flavour and taste. Though it is advisable to steer clear of dressings or toppings whose labels show a high fat and sugar content, be mindful also of the hidden downsides to their low-fat and fat-free counterparts.
Additionally, low-fat dressings may even stifle the body’s capacity or ability to absorb carotenoid antioxidants found in salad greens and tomatoes – one of the biggest benefits of consuming salads as these compounds lower the risk of heart disease. A study conducted by Purdue University discovered that some healthy fats such as those found in olive oil helped the body absorb the benefits of other vegetables in the salad.
Some examples of healthy salad dressings include: low-fat Italian (22 calories, 2 grams of fat) or even its full fat version (86 calories, 8 grams of fat) and low-fat ranch (59 calories, 4 grams of fat) and balsamic vinegar and olive oil (133 calories and 14 grams of fat, but this fat helps with carotenoid antioxidant absorption as mentioned above). Or you can avoid dressings altogether and squeeze in some lime or lemon to add zest to your greens.
Make your own salads if you can
Salads prepared by restaurants or cafes may come in bigger portions, leading to you unwittingly consuming more food than needed.
Load up your bowl with nutrient-rich ingredients
Iceberg lettuce is fine if you don’t have an alternative, but where possible, use arugula or watercress which are full of cancer-fighting compounds. This is because iceberg lettuce is good for water content and nothing else. Spinach is another hero, with its cache of lutein which is viewed as a protection against cancer and blindness. Meanwhile, romaine and red-leaf lettuce have decent amounts of beta carotene.
Go for colour!
Rainbow salads contain phytonutrients which are not found in your regular green vegetables. Red tomatoes contain lots of lycopene – associated with a decreased risk in heart disease and cancer – while antioxidants in purplish vegetables may cut risk of heart disease and boost brain function.
Say no to croutons!
These add nothing to the nutrition value of your salad, but pack tons of calories instead, with a half cup totalling about 100 calories. If you need crunch in your salad, opt for flax seeds or some walnuts instead – these give you omega-3 fatty acids and add some fibre to your diet.
Avoid cheese and fried items!
Try not to drown your salad in cheese and use a healthier meat source for your protein component, rather than fried chicken strips or processed meats. These will turn your healthy salad into a fattening one.
Salads may appear healthy, but it’s what you put in them that counts. Avoid the above pitfalls and you’ll be on your way to eating clean.