Eating Healthy

Salad Saviors: Power Foods for Your Greens

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By Bethany Thayer, MS, RDN

From the base to the fixins’, there are lots of ways to supercharge your salad. You just have to know where to start. Here are some must-have power foods to never leave off of your lettuce:

  • The base: A good rule of thumb when choosing a base lettuce for your salad is “the darker the better.” So spinach, mesclun, spring mix and kale are all great options. That’s not to say that iceberg has nothing to offer. It just doesn’t contain as much iron, potassium and vitamins as its darker counterparts. But before you kick it to the curb, try mixing it in with other lettuces for added crunch.
  • Veggie variety: Another rule of thumb for your salad is, “when it comes to veggies, MORE is more.” Toss in as many vegetable add-ins as you want. Carrots, peppers, cucumbers, mushrooms, cauliflower, onions, peas – with a variety of colors and textures in your greens, you can’t go wrong. These veggies are a great source of vitamins like A, B, and C. They’re also low in calories but high in water content and fiber, so they will definitely fill you up.
  • Protein: There are so many ways to cram protein into your leaves. Plant proteins high in folic acid include kidney beans, black beans and chickpeas. Nuts and seeds provide some protein and healthy unsaturated fats, just try to limit your portion to a handful (roughly 1 ounce). Animal proteins, like lean chicken, salmon, tuna or eggs, are always a good bet, too. Just make sure to keep your meat to the recommended portion size per serving: 3 ounces.
  • Extras:  It’s easy to go overboard on the add-ins. Overdoing it on even healthy items, like nuts, can place them in the “no-no” category, along with other waistline ambushing salad staples, like cheese, dried fruit and anything fried. Stay away from the creamy dressings, like Russian, Caesar, Thousand Island and Ranch, which may taste good, but the calorie and fat content they contain aren’t worth it. Even oil and vinegar-based dressings add about 70 calories per tablespoon. Try adding a sprinkle of lemon or lime onto your salad, instead. Or you can opt for red wine, balsamic or apple cider vinegar. Berries, citrus and other fresh fruit are a great option to add flavor and texture to your salad.

Whatever combination you choose, head to the salad bar with confidence. You now have all the tools you need to turbo charge your salad and up the benefits of going green.

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If you’d like to talk with a registered dietitian or learn more about our nutrition services offered at Henry Ford Health System, visit henryford.com/services/nutrition.