Choosing the Healthiest Salad

“Oh, I’ll just have a salad.” Is that your first thought when you head to lunch with your friends, or out to dinner with your spouse? Chances are, it’s your go-to choice on the menu, and one that leaves you feeling pretty virtuous.

While your instincts are right on, salad can be one of the most unwise choices you can make for your medical weight loss program. But it doesn’t have to be. Make the right choices and salad can be great for your health and your weight loss plan. But with a wrong turn, it can spell disaster. Here are some tips for keeping your salad light, healthy, and delicious:

Green Means Lean…

Just about anything green you put on your salad is a good choice. Here are some delicious and wise veggie selections to pile on:

  • Broccoli florets
  • Green peas
  • Green peppers
  • Green onions/scallions
  • Cucumbers
  • Zucchini
  • Asparagus

Also remember this rule when selecting the greens for the base of your salad. Baby spinach, romaine, and arugula are better choices than iceberg lettuce. Generally speaking, the deeper the green, the better it is for you.

…But White’s Not Right

Steer clear of anything white on the salad bar or listed on the menu as a topping for your salad. Two exceptions? Cauliflower and onions. Skip these:

  • Pasta or pasta salad
  • Potatoes or potato salad
  • Any other mixed salad that’s white (which means it’s been made with mayo)
  • Coleslaw
  • Croutons
  • Regular white salad dressings like ranch, blue cheese, buttermilk, Caesar, etc. Instead, choose the fat-free versions of these.
  • Sour cream
  • Cheese
  • Oyster crackers

Paint a Rainbow

Now that we know that white’s not part of our salad rainbow, let’s look at some other great colors we can use on our salad:

Red: tomatoes, red peppers, salsa
Orange: carrots, mandarin oranges, shredded butternut squash
Purple: sliced beets, radishes
Yellow: winter squash, corn

Watch Your Protein

Restaurants have done a wonderful job of sneaking the fat-laden protein they put on their sandwiches into your salad, knowing it will sell. Here are just a few of the offenders:

  • Chicken strips and chicken fingers
  • Popcorn shrimp
  • Steak strips
  • Bacon
  • Shredded cheese

Instead, opt for lean protein on your salad like grilled salmon or chicken, broiled shrimp, or black beans.

Proceed with Caution

There are some wonderfully nutritious foods you can find at a salad bar that come with a little higher dose of calories. That doesn’t mean you can’t eat them, just do it in moderation. Try no more than a sprinkling (less than a tablespoon) of the following on your salad:

  • Dried fruits like raisins
  • Nuts like chopped walnuts and sliced almonds
  • Seeds like sunflower and pumpkin
  • Diced hard-boiled egg
  •  Avocado slices
  • Sliced olives

Just Forget About it!

There are some foods that have unfortunately lost their way and ended up on salads everywhere. They are loaded with fat and calories, and contribute few nutrients. Help them find their way home by refusing them refuge on your salad:

  • Tortilla strips
  • Fried noodles
  • Breadsticks
  • Tostadas