When we think of healthy foods. One of the first things that comes to mind is salad. Salad can be a great choice for those that are trying to get in some added nutrients while cutting some calories back….or is this truly the case? Salads can be packed full of nutrient dense ingredients but then again, they can be loaded down with added sugar, high fat dressings, and lots of dairy and salt. We can make a salad that is a little over 100 calories all the way up to a salad that is over 1000 calories. Yup, that’s right, a thousand calories. When we add creamy dressings, fried foods, high fat ingredients…the calories, fat, sodium, and sugars can add up.

For instance. Take a Cobb Salad from Chick-fil-A. It is 430 calories, 22 g of fat, and 1370 mg of sodium. This is WITHOUT the dressing. You add in the suggested Avocado Lime Ranch Dressing and you are looking at a salad that is now 740 calories, 54g of fat, 1890mg of sodium. Yes, it has 39 grams of protein, but one must weigh all the other costs.

I hear a “pfft, I am plant based or vegan.” This does not mean you are in the clear. Even though your choices may be cleaner without the diary and fried meat, some of our choices can lead us to a high fat and high sodium options. Let’s take a look at this: If we take romaine lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, and onions…you got a great salad, but then start adding in dried cranberries, raw beets, avocado, toasted almonds, olives, tomatoes, and Balsamic Vinegar dressing. You now have a salad that is 630 calories, 47g of fat, 1120mg of sodium, and 26g of sugar and only 8g of protein. (Facts taken from Nutrition Calendar)

So now that we know what NOT to do with a salad…. Let’s look at how to build a healthy and satisfying salad.

Starting with a base of: Greens (Spinach, Romaine, Kale…etc)

Step 1: Choose your starchy veggies and legumes, keeping your serving to ¼ cup or less. (Example: black beans, peas, or corn)

Step 2: Load up on non-starchy veggies, such as peppers, tomatoes, carrots, and cucumbers.

Step 3: Opt for lean protein like nuts or raw Non-GMO tofu.

Step 4: Dressing- choose no dressing, fresh squeezed lemon, or try a vinaigrette on the side to dip your fork before taking a bite. There are also some light vegan dressings out there too, just watch for sodium.

Step 5: Enjoy.

So what does this look like in calorie form? Following these steps here is the salad of choice:

Base: Spinach and Kale

Starchy veggies- Organic black beans

Non starchy veggies- cucumbers, tomatoes, carrots, and peppers

Lean protein- Non-GMO tofu.

Dressing: Fresh squeezed lemon.

This salad, according to Nutrition Calendar, is 330 calories, 6g of fat, 410mg sodium and 21 g of protein!

So take time to be mindful of choosing a balanced and healthy salad that will leave your body feeling happy and satisfied.