Salads are usually served at the beginning of a meal, but a salad can also make a healthy, low-calorie meal all by itself. When you use lots of fruits and vegetables, they can also be loaded with vitamins and antioxidants. The key to keeping salads interesting is to change the ingredients each time you make one. Don't just think of the simple garden salad, but imagine adding fruits, nuts, and lean meats to your salad to make a great low-calorie, highly nutritious meal.
Most salads start with a pile of greens. Since greens are low in calories and are a good source of fiber, it's a great way to add volume to your meal without adding a lot of calories. There are different varieties of lettuce, such as iceberg, leaf, spinach, escarole, romaine, or butter. The darker lettuces offer more vitamins than pale iceberg, for example. Spinach has iron, and all varieties are low in calories. One cup of shredded lettuce has about 5 to 10 calories.
Almost any raw vegetable can be cut up and added to a salad. Green beans, snap peas, carrots, radishes, broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, asparagus, artichokes, avocados, tomatoes, and cucumbers are all great suggestions. We need five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables per day, so eating a salad is a good way to meet those needs. Brightly colored vegetables have bioflavonoids, and the dark green vegetables are lowest in calories -- about 20 calories per half cup serving.
Blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, apple slices and raisins add vitamins and antioxidants. The delicious burst of flavor and sweetness they add can also help you cut back on, or eliminate, high-calories salad dressings. A half cup of apple slices has 30 calories, and a half cup of berries has about 40 calories.
Meat and Cheese
To make a meal of a salad, you may wish to add some healthy protein sources like chopped or sliced hard-boiled eggs, lean beef, cooked shrimp, tuna, chicken breast, or strips of cheese. Make sure to measure your protein sources, since meats and cheese have more calories than fruit or vegetables. Avoid fried meats like chicken strips or battered and fried shrimp. They contain unhealthy fats and lots of calories. A quarter cup of chopped chicken meat or one egg will add 75 calories. Half a can of tuna will add about 80 calories. Two ounces of cubed or shredded mozzarella or cheddar cheese may add up to 200 calories.
Sprinkle a few nuts like walnuts, pecans, almonds, or cashews for a nice crunch. Just a few nuts will do, about one-eighth cup of nuts adds about 90 calories. Walnuts are a great source of omega-3 essential fatty acids, and all of the nuts add protein and heart-healthy polyunsaturated fatty acids.
One tablespoon of regular commercial salad dressing will add 50 to 80 calories, so be careful to measure how much you use. A large salad may tempt you to use a lot more, just remember that one-quarter cup of dressing could add up to 300 calories. Low fat dressings are available, which offer fewer calories, but they may not taste as good. A salad with a variety of fruits and vegetables really doesn't need any dressing; some freshly squeezed lemon or lime juice will likely be enough to suit your taste.
A Salad to Try
Here is a great example of a delicious, healthy salad:
• two cups of green leaf lettuce
• one-forth cup raw green beans
• one-forth cup snap peas
• one-forth cup chopped tomato
• one-forth cup sliced carrots
• one-forth cup apple slices
• one-forth cup blueberries
• one-forth cup chopped chicken breast
• one chopped hard boiled egg
• one ounce of shredded mozzarella cheese
• one-eighth cup walnut pieces
• lemon and lime wedges
This salad has lots of vitamins, antioxidants, phytochemicals and fiber and comes in at just under 400 calories. Serve this salad with a glass of iced-herbal tea or a big glass of sparkling water with lemon.
Salads can be changed and adapted to any diet. Choose low carb green vegetables for low carb diets and use low-fat or no dressing for low-fat diets. Choose the lowest calorie ingredients if you are watching your calories. Keep lots of salad fruits and vegetables on hand, and you will find it easy to create salads several times per week. Change the ingredients to create completely different flavors, and you will never get bored with healthy salad meals.
A nutritional counselor for more than 18 years, Violet Mueller specializes in writing about nutrition and dietary issues on the Internet. Violet was designated a Certified Nutrition Specialist by the American College of Nutrition (ACN) in 2000.