Have you ever gone out to a restaurant and decided to stick with a salad to “be healthy”?
Now that many restaurants post their nutrition facts on their website it is easy to find out that many of the salads offered aren’t as health as we thought. When I looked up my favorite salad at a chain restaurant, I found it had more fat than the bacon cheddar burger, more sugar the than strawberry cheesecake, and more calories than if I ordered a ribeye steak with fries.
On the other hand, salads can be tremendously healthy. They are a great way to get in several servings of vegetables in one meal and get lots of color and variety (that means more nutrients). It’s easy to add a little healthy fat and protein to make a well balanced meal.
Let me take you step by step through making your most healthiest spring salad with the abundance of produce that is about to hit the local farmer’s markets. I’ve also included some tips if raw vegetables and salads seem to be hard on your digestive system.
Start with at least 2 cups of greens for your base. Spring mix, baby spinach, or arugula will give you the most nutritional bang. However, if you have digestive trouble stick we softer greens like bibb or butter lettuce that will be easier to digest.
You really can’t overdo in this department. Greens are so low in calories and carbohydrates and high in fiber and nutrients that you really don’t need to be concerned with limiting your serving size. You want to load up in step 1!
Add 1 cup (or more if you like) of additional raw vegetables to power up your plate with phytonutrients and antioxidants. To make vegetables easier to digest, steam or roast vegetables to break down some of the cellulose (the fibers that are difficult for some to digest).
Some popular vegetables to add are carrots, cucumber, tomatoes, broccoli, snap peas, bell pepper . . . the list goes on. Lightly steamed asparagus or snap peas are tasty, while roasted squash or cauliflower are an unexpected addition.
I mentioned my restaurant salad having too much fat and the big problem here is the inflammatory fats. You do want to add some healthy fats (if you are afraid to add fat to your salad, read this previous post on the many benefits 5 Favorite Healthy Fats (and why eat more of them) .
From avocado, olives, nuts (walnuts, pecans, cashews, etc.), or seeds (sunflower, hemp, chia, flax), there are many options. When it comes to fats be sure to stick to a serving size that is appropriate for your body since it’s easy to overdo in this department.
It’s especially important if this salad is going to be a meal that you add a serving of quality protein. This could be grilled chicken, hard-boiled eggs, baked fish, or grass-fed beef. You don’t want a meal to go by without getting meeting the protein needs of your body.
If you don’t eat animal products, your protein can come from lentils, quinoa, or tempeh. You might also consider chia or hemp seeds as your healthy fat in step 4 since they will also provide a protein boost.
Add in any extras that add a nutritional punch and raise the flavor bar . . . . fresh herbs (like parsley, cilantro, chives, or basil). Even in small amounts, herbs provide many nutrients that help with detoxification, digestion, and immunity.
If you know your body can digest lactose well, 1 ounce of full-fat cheese can add tang, a creamy texture, and extra protein. And when if your body handles carbohydrates well, fruit such as berries or diced apple can add a sweet twist.
That small cup of restaurant salad dressing can have as much as 500 calories! You are also probably getting inflammatory oils, artificial flavors, and a surprising large amount of added sugars.
Skip the bottle and make your own healthy and flavorful salad dressing. It’s an easy formula:
1 part vinegar (red wine, apple cider, rice wine, or balsamic)
2 parts healthy oil (olive, avocado, sesame, or walnut)
Flavors of your choice (herbs, mustard, salt, pepper, garlic, shallots)
Although it really isn’t very time consuming, if I can’t make my own, I trust the quality ingredients in Primal Kitchen brand dressings. I’ve loved them all!
What if you must eat out or get take out? Use the ingredients listed in each section above to make modifications to the salad on the menu. Don’t be afraid to ask for changes in order to make your meal optimal for your body.
Not sure what works best for your body? Maybe you are unsure about how much fat is right for you, if dairy is a problem, what oils would cause you inflammation, and if you should add or limit carbohydrates.
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