Build a Better Salad
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Build a Better Salad

Just because your meal is green doesn't mean it's lean. Get to know these all-star ingredients and sneaky fat traps -- so you can turn a green monster into a super bowl.

Ingredient Showdown

Toss In...

  • Almonds. Fiber, protein, and healthy fat keep you sated. Don't go too nuts, since they're calorie-dense; use just a tablespoon of slivered almonds.
  • Lean protein. The omega-3 fatty acids in grilled salmon help prevent heart disease and boost brain power. Go fish with 3 ounces, or a portion about the size of your palm.
  • A good egg. If you eat only the white, the yolk's on you. The yolk contains vitamin D, which may guard against cancer, diabetes, and more. It also has 4.5 grams of fat, so limit your salad to one hard-boiled egg.
  • Avocado. The monounsaturated fat in avocado helps slim your waist. Toss in a sixth of an avocado, which has about 55 calories and 5 (good-for-you) fat grams.
  • Go-to greens. The darker the leaves, the more vitamins and minerals. Try a spring mix (e.g., mesclun) for varied textures and flavors.
  • Soy beans. Research shows that soy may protect your ticker, lower your cancer risk, and build bone. Find precooked edamame in the supermarket's frozen-foods section.
  • DIY dressing. Nix fatty store-bought varieties. Mix 1/2 cup olive or walnut oil (both supply heart-healthy fats and flavor), 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar, and chopped parsley or thyme (makes four servings).
  • Various veggies. Load up on nutrient-rich picks like peppers, onions, carrots, mushrooms, and tomatoes. They have just 20 calories per serving, so you can't eat too many.

Toss Out...

  • Loser leaves. Avoid the iceberg: These greens are as low in nutrients as they are in flavor.
  • Fat bombs. Bacon bits add 100 calories and 4 grams of artery-clogging saturated fat per ounce. Use turkey or Canadian bacon instead.
  • Sweet nothings. Candied walnuts and sugared almonds have up to 180 calories per ounce. You might as well throw a bunch of M&M's on your salad!
  • Foe carbs. Buttery croutons are a recipe for high cholesterol. For healthy crunch, crumble a few whole-grain crackers on your greens.
  • Pollo loco. Fried chicken can pack up to 15 extra fat grams per 3-ounce serving. Yikes!
  • Scary dairy. Sad but true: One measly ounce of cheese contains up to 120 calories and 9 grams of fat. Use lower-fat soft cheese, such as goat or feta, sparingly.
  • Dressing disasters. Blue cheese is the worst offender of the creamy dressings, with 145 calories and 15 grams of fat in a 2-tablespoon serving.

Easy Time-Savers

Toss a stress-free salad with these strategies from FITNESS advisory board member Leslie Bonci, RD, director of sports nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

Use your head.

Daily lettuce prep gets tedious. Once a week, wash leaves and divvy them up into several containers (layer in a few paper towels to keep leaves crisp).

Do the can-can.

Canned baby corn, artichoke hearts, and diced tomatoes add low-cost, low-fuss flavor. And just because they have a longer shelf life doesn't make them less healthy.

Plan ahead.

Last night's grilled veggies are already chopped and ready for a salad. Boiling tortellini for supper? Make extra and throw together a veggie-pasta salad for tomorrow's lunch.

Originally published in FITNESS magazine, July/August 2009.