How to Build a Better Salad

We’ve all been there –that moment of evaluating our dinner plate and admitting it could use more green. For one reason or another, people recognize the importance fruits and vegetables in a balanced diet. The challenge lies in knowing how to find and incorporate that balance.

The CDC recommends the average adult consume about 2 cups of fruit and 3 cups of vegetables daily. Visually, that’s filling half of your plate with fruits and veggies at each meal. One commonly practiced strategy for incorporating those servings is by eating a salad. But you can waste good intentions with poor ingredient choices when it comes to building a nutritive salad. Try making these five, simple modifications to ensure you’re salad is a success.

Swap the iceberg for spinachDSC_0571

Lettuce essentially has little to no nutritional value (it might as well be crunchy water). Raw spinach tastes virtually the same but is an excellent source of vitamins A, C, E, K, disease-fighting anti-oxidants, minerals, folate, iron, and fiber. It also promotes healthy heart and brain functions, lower blood pressure, is good for your skin and protects against certain types of cancer.

Ease up on the dressingDSC_0201

A pile of dressing quickly overpowers a wholesome salad. Store-bought dressings often contain chemicals and preservatives to prolong shelf life, thickening starches, mayonnaise, food coloring, sodium, MSG and a lot of added sugar. Instead, sprinkle your favorite herbs or spices on with some olive oil to add good taste without the excess junk. If you have to indulge a dressing craving, opt for a light vinaigrette and go easy on it.

Stronger cheese vs. more cheese

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While cheese brings a positive source of calcium and protein to a meal, don’t overdo it. By the ounce, cheese is as calorically dense as butter and also high in fat. Opt for stronger cheeses, like a sharp cheddar, fresh parmesan, feta or blue cheese. Get the same flavor for a fraction of the fat and calories.

Don’t skimp on protein

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Your body is largely made up of protein –it fuels your cells, tissues, and organs. The USDA recommends consuming around 50 grams of it daily, so that makes it a key component in any balanced meal, including salads. If you eat meat, avoid fried and go for lean or grilled chicken breast. Not a meat-eater? Not a problem! There are many sources of protein out there for vegetarians (fish, eggs, etc.) and vegans (nuts, beans, legumes, etc.). Add variety by trying different things!

Max out on veggies

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That would be the point of a salad after all: the greens! A few leaves of lettuce and shreds of carrot do not a healthy salad make. There is a world full of fruits and vegetables out there with different flavors and nutritional values. If you don’t like one, try another. They add nutrients and substance to fill you up and keep meals from getting monotonous.

If you want to improve the quality of your diet, just remember –what you put into it is what you will get out of it. You can never cheat or shortcut your way to better health, and you won’t stick with anything you don’t enjoy. So invest a little time to build a salad that you will actually want to eat and it will always be worth the effort.


All writing and images copyright © 20013 Rachel Elise Weems Woods

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