Tips to pick what’s best for you
Salad bars are good or bad for you depending on which foods you choose. The bad news is they can be junk-food minefields. Here’s how to get from one end to the other without detonating an explosion of bad fats, sodium, sugar, and refined carbs.
1. Go dark on greens
Build a vitamin- and fiber-packed foundation by starting with roughly one cup of spinach and romaine leaves (for more than half of your daily vitamin A and all of your vitamin K, plus some folate and vitamin C). Skip them: Lighter greens tend to offer less nutrition. Iceberg lettuce, for instance, delivers only about 7% of the A you need, some K, and not much else.
2. Go bright on veggies
Next, add about one cup of the most colorful crudités — think broccoli, carrots, cherry tomatoes, green and red bell peppers, and beets. Ounce for ounce, vibrant veggies give you more fiber, minerals, vitamins, and disease-fighting antioxidants than their paler companions, like celery and cucumbers. Skip them: Anything coated in mayo or an indefinable dressing, including carrot-and-raisin mixes, coleslaw, and potato salad.
3. Choose lean proteins
Aim for about 1/2 cup of these. Chickpeas and kidney beans are nifty sources of fat-free protein (6 grams each). Sliced hard-boiled eggs (8 grams) are another smart choice, just limit the yolk to limit the fat. Skip ‘em: Chicken, tuna, or crab salads — they’re usually made with high-fat mayo; three-bean salad, which typically is afloat in a sea of oil; and cottage cheese, which is high in aging (read artery-clogging) saturated fat.
4. Sprinkle on extra flavor and crunch
Like cheese? Add 1 tablespoon of Parmesan (22 calories) to punch up the flavor, or 1 tablespoon of walnuts or sunflower seeds for some healthy crunch. Both have good-for-your-heart fats that help your body absorb the nutrients in all those veggies. Skip ‘em: Cheddar cubes — you’ll quickly eat more than you need; croutons — they may look harmless but at 100 calories per 1/4 cup, they’re usually high-cal booby traps of refined carbs, sodium, and trans fats. Ditto for crunchy Asian noodles.
Now swirl on about 1 tablespoon of heart-healthy olive oil, a splash of vinegar, a grating of pepper, and toss, toss, toss. Ask any chef — it’s the secret to a perfect salad. Thorough tossing ensures that all the flavors and textures are evenly distributed and lets you use minimal dressing to maximum effect. Skip ‘em: Walk right past those vats of ready-made salad dressings. Even the low-fat or fat-free versions are usually loaded with salt, sugar, and additives. And just 2 tablespoons of regular blue cheese or ranch have about 160 fat-packed calories.
6. Prefer a fruit salad?
Go for whatever looks fresh — melons, berries, pineapple, kiwi — and top those fruits with 1 to 2 tablespoons of chopped walnuts or sunflower seeds for a sprinkling of good fats and crunchy flavor. Then buy a small container of low- or no-fat yogurt or cottage cheese for creamy protein minus the saturated fat in dairy foods. Skip ‘em: Syrupy canned peaches, apricots, pears, etc. They have far more calories and fewer nutrients than fresh fruit.
Here’s what RealAge.com has to say about nutrition from foods.
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