Salads aren’t the same as ice cream, but plenty of people eat them on a regular basis. In fact, a recent poll of 2,000 U.S. adults reported that 62% of the people eat salads four times per week. If that is the case, how do you explain the staggering rates of obesity in America? Well, the unfortunate reality is that people may be sabotaging their salads without knowing it.
A salad should be a large bowl of fresh, raw vegetables and leafy greens. You can also add fresh fruit, legumes, sprouts, quinoa, and nuts and seeds to enhance your salads. These ingredients make for a terrific, healthy salad, but it’s very easy to go astray and detract from a salad’s health benefits. Drowning your salad in store bought dressing, overdoing the carbs, and forgetting about healthy protein, among other missteps, can turn a nutritious bowl into a caloric nightmare.
Whether you order out or make your own, be mindful of the following ways you may be sabotaging your salad.
Drowning It In Dressing
Here’s the thing about dressings…they can be healthy, especially if you make them yourself. Ideally, you want a dressing that is not too light, but not too heavy, either. The dressing can drastically increase the calories of your salad because most store bought dressings contain excess fat, dairy products, sodium, and processed ingredients. You don’t want your salad to turn into a 2,000-calorie meal. Balsamic, apple cider, and red wine vinegars are all great to mix with olive oil, avocado oil, or grape seed oil. Choose your favorite seasonings and get after it! Be sure to comb through our salads and dressings section here for inspiration.
Going Crazy With The Croutons
Croutons, quite simply, are very high in saturated fat, sodium, and refined carbohydrates. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), just a half-ounce of croutons contains 99 milligrams (mg) of sodium and 10 grams (g) of carbs. While there are healthier versions of croutons, most of the available choices are unhealthy. Rather than cover your salad in processed bread cubes, add a satisfying crunch to your salad with nuts or seeds, chickpeas, kale chips, or dried seaweed.
Using Light Greens
We aren’t talking about weight, we’re talking about color. A lot of people use iceberg lettuce, which isn’t the unhealthiest thing you can eat, but it pales in comparison to darker leafy greens like spinach, kale, romaine lettuce, and arugula. For example, one cup of spinach provides 30 mg of calcium and .8 mg of iron, whereas a cup of iceberg lettuce only offers 10.3 mg of calcium and .2 mg of iron. Dark leafy greens are naturally rich in fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. Many reports and studies confirm that these greens contain health properties that can help combat heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and can improve gut health. Consider abandoning the lighter leaves and focus on darker, richer greens. Plus, using different greens helps change up your salad, which works to keep your taste buds interested.
If a salad is going to be your meal, you need to make it substantial. While you can have a large bowl of different fruits and vegetables, you may want to include additional sources of protein. A salad doesn’t have to be a wimpy afterthought! When people hear the word “protein,” they tend to associate it with poultry, meat, chicken, fish, or eggs. If you don’t want to include animal products, there are many vegan protein sources to choose from. Nuts, seeds, legumes, and whole grains all offer protein and other nutrients that help increase feelings of fullness. Don’t be afraid to put nuts or avocado in your salad because you think it will increase the calories too much. All those store bought dressings and croutons do the exact same thing in a much unhealthier way.
Store bought and packaged salad dressings, which can come in bagged salads, are very convenient, but they contain a lot of problematic ingredients. These dressings can contain high amounts of sodium, saturated fat, and artificial additives. Additionally, these dressings can be sneaky sources of added sugars. Some store bought dressings use low-quality oils that aren’t as healthy as olive oil or avocado oil. Soybean oil, which is the common oil in store bought dressings, was linked to an increased risk of heart disease in a 2018 study. Olive oil, on the other hand, works to encourage healthier heart function.
Your Salad Is Boring
If you eat the same salad every single time, you will tire of it quickly. Not only is mixing up your ingredients a great way to get a diverse mix of nutrients, but it also changes up the flavors. A salad of kale, pistachios, apples, blueberries, and sunflower seeds is much different than a salad of arugula, pears, and dried figs. If you enjoy a certain leafy green or a few specific ingredients, you can carry them over from salad to salad. Bell peppers, nuts, dried fruit, and in season produce can take your salads to the next level. And don’t forget about different herbs!