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Healthy Salads: What To Toss In -- And Out

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Eating salads is a great way to curb your appetite and add nutrients to your diet. However, lurking in restaurants, the salad bar, or your fridge are salad staples that may up your fat and calorie intake more than you realize. If you want to know what to keep and what to toss, check out this advice on how to make healthy salads.

Healthy Salad Basics

Restaurants and Salad Bars: Most restaurant salads would be healthy if it weren't for the way they were prepared. At a restaurant or a salad bar, take a moment to look over the selection before you start preparing your plate.

First things first: When you do begin assembling or ordering your salad, ask for your vegetables and main dishes to be served without the sauces or pile up a large amount of leafy greens. For an added nutrient boost, swap iceberg lettuce for darker greens, such as romaine lettuce or spinach, as they pack more vitamins and minerals. Try to take up about three-fourths of your plate with greens, then pile on lots of other veggies -- sliced peppers, grape tomatoes, shredded carrots, sliced beets, and more. Avoid marinated veggies that look super-shiny -- those are probably loaded with oil.

Fridge: Be sure to keep loads of fresh veggies on hand so that you can make healthy salads at meal times or make Ready-to-Go Salad Bags. These portable salads are made to eliminate dirty dishes, save time, keep you healthy and losing weight! Making salads every time you want to eat one can be a deterring factor, since it takes a lot of prep time.

First, prep all your veggies by washing them thoroughly, then cutting them up into bite-size pieces. Next, lay all of your veggies out on a long counter or table top so that you have your salad assembly line ready to go. Then, take a zip lock bag and start at the end of the counter that has your greens. Put greens into the bag first, then move down the line filling it with veggies. End with toppings (not dressing), then squeeze any extra air out. Zip and put into the refrigerator. Dressing can be added at meal times by pouring the dressing into the bag and shaking thoroughly.

Healthy Salad Toppings

Toppings and dressings can turn a healthy salad into a diet disaster, but not if you choose wisely.

Crunchy toppings: Skip the croutons, tortilla chips, Chinese noodles and anything else that might be fried. Add some crunch to your salad with things like sliced water chestnuts, thinly sliced almonds (just a tablespoon or so), and crispy raw veggies.

Dressings: By now we all know that creamy salad dressings, such as ranch and blue cheese, really pump up the fat and calorie counts of our salads. Finding a reduced- or low-fat dressing isn't always so easy. Not only do you have to taste test until you find one you like, but as with all other food choices, you will need to always check and compare the nutrition labels.

It's possible that a reduced-fat dressing could have more calories than a regular kind. Typically, when fat is removed from a reduced-fat product, something else is added to compensate, such as sugar (which accounts for the extra calories) or salt. Look for reduced-fat dressings with 100 calories or less per 2 tablespoon serving.

If you don't find a light dressing that suits you, consider making your own. Oil and vinegar is a good choice, if used in moderation. Simply combine one part olive oil to two parts vinegar, adding additional herbs and spices to taste. Other calorie-cutting options include adding the juice from a few lemon wedges to your salad or using picante sauce or salsa as dressing. If you really crave regular dressing, you can dilute it with either lemon juice or vinegar to cut calories and fat.

Another problem with salad dressing is that few of us use the standard 2-tablespoon serving and instead land somewhere between drizzling and dousing our salads. Dipping your fork into a small container of salad dressing before you spear your salad, rather than pouring it on, is a good way to use less. And now that spray dressings are available, automatic portion control is even easier. Try a light spray variety, such Wish Bone and Ken's Salad Spritzers, which provide only one calorie per spray (about 10 spritzes are suggested for every cup of salad).

Give Your Salad Protein Power
Stick with lean protein to keep the calories, total fat and saturated fat to a minimum.

Good lean protein choices include:
• egg whites
• grilled chicken
• boiled or steamed shrimp
• grilled salmon
• roasted turkey breast
• water-packed tuna
• low-fat or fat-free cheese

If you don't eat meat, remember that you can get protein from other food sources such as:
• tofu
• lentils
• garbanzo beans
• black beans
• nuts (watch portion sizes)
• avocado (watch portion sizes)

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