By EatingWell Editors
When you hear “I’ll just have a salad,” you probably assume that’s a healthy choice. But salads at restaurants, loaded with dressing and cheese, often pack in far more calories than anyone needs in a single meal—according to research by the American Institute for Cancer Research. Loaded with too much dressing, cheese or fried chicken, many are over 800 calories. Luckily, when you decide to have “just a salad” at home, you can easily make all the right choices to keep it healthy and satisfying. Remember the key elements below and you’ll be set.
The foundation: Start with 1 to 2 cups of lettuce per serving. (Greens are full of fiber, which helps digestion.) Combine different types to balance textures and flavors. Try tender, mild Boston lettuce with crisp romaine and bold escarole.
The palette: Add plenty of vegetables for crunch, flavor and color. The more colors of vegetables you add, the more disease-fighting nutrients you get. For example, foods in the blue/purple/deep red range, such as radishes and eggplant, provide anthocyanins and proanthocyanidins, which are associated with keeping the heart and brain functioning well.
The fuel: Studies show eating protein helps you feel full longer, so add lean chicken, ham, turkey, fish or beans. Also include starches, such as potatoes, brown rice, whole-wheat croutons or whole-wheat pasta, all of which add nutrients and staying power.
The secret sauce: Fats in the dressing make it easier for you to absorb fat-soluble nutrients like lycopene in tomatoes and lutein and zeaxanthin in yellow and green veggies, including corn and zucchini. Plus when you make your own vinaigrette you can opt for olive or canola oil instead of soy oil or sunflower oil, which are found in most bottled dressings and are full of omega-6 fatty acids.