Recently a student emailed me concerned that her “healthy” salad was a whopping 700 calories! All the good nutrition decisions she thought she was making seemed to be thrown out the window. Salads are healthy, end of story…correct? Tap the brakes, friend. You need a little nutrition 101 to help you understand how a salad is healthy and what causes it to cross the line.
1. Lettuce & other Greens: All lettuces are healthy, but choose one with a deep color to get more vitamins and minerals. When you look at the nutrition facts for plain spinach and plain romaine, they contain good sources of many vitamins and minerals. Combine these two greens with cabbage to see the vitamins and minerals skyrocket. A solid base of greens provides minimal calories; 2-3 cups of mixed greens and lettuce will provide approximately 25-40 calories.
Rule: Variety and deep color is best.
2. Vegetable Additions: Tomato, cucumber, bell peppers, broccoli, carrots, celery, cauliflower… the list goes on. These toppings are very low in calories and should be added to your greens. They provide color, crunch, fiber, vitamins and minerals. One handful will add only about 10-15 calories to your salad.
Rule: Add at least a handful or two to improve the quality of your salad.
3. Higher Calorie Vegetable Additions: Corn, peas, beans, potatoes, winter squash (acorn, butternut, spaghetti). These vegetables are a source of high-quality carbohydrates and provide more calories than other vegetables. Beans are an excellent addition to salad because of their protein content. Use beans in place of meat for a vegan or vegetarian salad. One handful will contribute approximately 100 calories.
Rule: For entrée salads, use 1-2 handfuls. For a side salad, use several spoonfuls.
1. Hard Boiled Egg: One of the best sources of protein, an egg can add interesting flavor and texture to a salad. A small handful of chopped hard-boiled egg will add 100 calories. Looking to lower calories, but still add protein? Choose hard-boiled egg white to add 50 calories for a small handful
Rule: Sprinkle hard-boiled egg on top of your salad for a little extra protein.
2. Cheese: This salad topping adds calories quickly. In addition to containing complete proteins, cheese is also a source of fat. A small handful of shredded cheese can provide over 200 calories. A mild cheese will not add much flavor to a salad, but will at significant calories. Choose a stronger flavored cheese so you can add less but still get flavor (strong cheeses: blue, feta, sharp cheddar)
Rule: Cheese should be sprinkled.
3. Olives: These are not calorie free, but they do provide a source of healthy fats. Two spoonsful of olives can add 20 calories and a significant amount of sodium. Doesn’t seem like much? Two spoonfuls can easily turn into 4…and now you are up to 100 calories.
Rule: Add a couple spoonfuls to your salad if you are looking for a source of healthy fats.
4. Nuts/Seeds: One spoonful of sunflower seeds or spoonful of slivered almonds will add 100 calories to your salad. Both of these toppings are a great source of healthy fats and can be an alternative to croutons.
Rule: Sprinkle nuts and seeds on a salad if you are looking for healthy fats with crunch.
5. Croutons: A handful of croutons is around 50 calories and 2.5 grams of fat, which isn’t bad compared to the nuts, seeds and olives…but they don’t contribute a significant source of vitamins, minerals or fiber.
Rule: Sprinkle sparsely on top of your salad or substitute for a sprinkle of nuts or seeds.
Dressing deserves its own category and is typically added at the very end. Unfortunately the perfectly built salad can come crashing down once dressing is added. A 2 oz packet of dressing can add over 200 calories, primarily from fat!
Rule: Choose a light or fat free dressing to minimize added calories.
What are we serving on campus?
If you don’t have time to stop by our dining halls to make your own salad, we offer salads to go at our on campus convenience stores. The three common salads we provide are balanced options…but it will be up to you to make the right choice with the dressing.
· Classic Garden Salad (no dressing)
60 calories, 13 g carbohydrates, 3.5 g protein, 4.5 g fiber
· Grilled Chicken Chef Salad (no dressing)
473 calories, 28 g fat, 10 g carbohydrates, 45 g protein, 3.5 g fiber
· Chicken Caesar Salad (no dressing404 calories, 18 g fat, 24 g carbohydrates, 37 g protein, 4 g fiber