Health & Wellness

5 rules to make the best low-calorie salads

In the fourth part of our series, Summer Slim-Down Guide, “Today” looks at healthy salads. If you think a trip through the salad bar is the best way to help lose a few pounds, stop right there and drop those tongs. Although salads can be a great addition to your diet, many are full of fat and calories. Nutritionist Joy Bauer was invited on “Today” to  share her tips for building a healthier salad.

You’re trying to “eat light” and “watch your weight,” but watch out for salads! That’s right salads. For example, a Classic Cobb Salad with chopped bacon, egg, blue cheese, avocado, and creamy dressing, or standard restaurant Chef Salad loaded with Swiss cheese, roast beef, eggs, and dressing can contain more than 1,000 calories and 80 grams fat! For some people, that’s more than half their day’s worth of calories (and all their fat).

Don’t give up on salads; they’re loaded with nutrition and can be satisfying and delicious. Follow my guidelines for making a perfect low-calorie salad — and you’ll never have to worry again.

Joy's 5 rules for making a low-calorie salad:

1. Pile on leafy greens

For less than 20 calories per 2 cups, leafy greens like lettuce, spinach and mustard leaves, provide ample amounts of folic acid, and lutein, an antioxidant. Sop pile them high.

2. Load up on plain veggies

At 25 calories or less per serving, take advantage and load them up on your plate. Vary your vegetable selection to vary the nutrients — you’ll get a healthy dose of vitamin C, potassium, folic acid, a variety of antioxidants, and fiber. Be sure to say clear of veggies that are fried or swimming in marinades, mayonnaise or sauce. 

Popular salad bar items include:

  • Peppers (red, green, yellow)
  • Cucumbers
  • Shredded carrots
  • Onions
  • Mushrooms
  • Radish
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower

3. Add a few lean proteins

Enjoy 1-2 hearty scoops of lean protein. Popular salad bar items include grilled chicken, hard boiled eggs (go for egg whites when available), shrimp, wild salmon, canned light tuna, low-fat cottage cheese, black beans, and chickpeas. Avoid anything fried, crispy, or served in heavy sauce.

4. Indulge in one high-calorie “extra”

High-calorie extras can typically add more than 600 calories. And although, many of the following foods are packed with nutrition (sunflower seeds, walnuts, and raisins), they’re also packed with calories. Be mindful of portions and only choose one favorite for your salad (or select two and half portions). See calorie guide below:

  • Chinese noodles – 150 calories (1/2 cup)
  • Croutons – 100 calories (1/2 cup)
  • Shredded cheddar cheese – 225 calories (1/2 cup)
  • Feta cheese – 190 calories (1/2 cup)
  • Chopped Walnuts – 180 calories (1/4 cup)
  • Sunflower seeds – 180 calories (1/4 cup)
  • Granola – 115 calories (1/4 cup)
  • Raisins – 120 calories (1/4 cup
  • Olives – 40 calories (8 items)
  • Avocado – 150 calories (1/2 item)

5. Go easy on dressing

For some people, dressing is the best part. Unfortunately, it’s also loaded with calories. In fact, 1 tablespoon of your average vinaigrette is approximately 50 calories and 1 tablespoon of creamy ranch is about 90 calories. And who stops at a just one tablespoon? One small plastic container filled with dressing yields 4 tablespoons — that means 200 extra calories from vinaigrette and a whopping 360 calories from Ranch. And if you decide to go for that second plastic container of Ranch dressing … 720 calories and more than 60 grams fat! Yikes.

Joy’s solution: Look for low-calorie or low-fat dressing varieties, or stick with olive oil and vinegar (use 1 to 2 teaspoons olive oil with unlimited amounts of vinegar or fresh lemon).

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For more information on healthy eating, visit Joy Bauer’s Web site.