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Salad makes a healthy side dish or nutrient-rich meal.
Salad is a dieter's best friend. This low-calorie meal is loaded with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytochemicals that boost energy, strengthen health and immunity and fight aging. It does all this while satisfying hunger and helping you shed excess pounds. However, drowning your salad in nutrient-poor dressing that is high in sugar, saturated fat and calories, counteracts the health benefits and may add unwanted pounds. Keep your salad nutrient-dense with dark green and red vegetables, such as romaine, radicchio, spinach and tomatoes. Add a flavorful dressing that increases your salad's nutritional value and works with your diet, not against it.
Olive Oil and Lemon Juice
Combine olive oil and lemon juice to add a tangy flavor to your salad. Olive oil contains monounsaturated fat that improves blood cholesterol levels, decreases your risk of coronary heart disease and may help control blood sugar, according to MayoClinic.com. Lemon juice provides vitamin C, which aids the growth and repair of all body tissues. It also contains small amounts of calcium, potassium, folate and other vitamins and minerals that support good health.
Low-Fat Plain Yogurt and Chives
Mix low-fat plain yogurt with chives, garlic or herbs for a creamy salad dressing. Yogurt gives your salad a boost of protein for energy and tissue repair, as well as calcium to strengthen your bones. Chives and garlic contain phytochemicals that may help the liver produce carcinogen-destroying enzymes to protect against cancer. They also decrease cholesterol levels in the liver, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center.
Whether you make your own or buy the bottled variety, a 2-tablespoon serving of salsa will liven up your salad with only 10 tasty calories, zero grams of fat and 2 grams of sugar. Low-sodium salsa contains about 60 milligrams of sodium per serving versus 250 milligrams found in regular salsa. Made with tomatoes, onions, cilantro and jalapenos, salsa gives you a low-calorie, fat-free, healthful dose of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. According to Dr. Debbie Villalon, biology instructor at South Texas College, salsa lowers cholesterol and helps fight cancer, heart attacks and strokes.
Low-calorie bottled salad dressings might be higher in fat, sodium or sugar content than regular dressings. For example, a lite balsamic vinaigrette dressing may have 45 calories, 4 grams of total fat, .5 grams of saturated fat and 2 grams of sugar, but 350 milligrams of sodium. Regular balsamic vinaigrette dressing contains 90 to 126 calories, 9 to 13 grams of total fat, 1 to 2 grams of saturated fat, 1 to 2 grams of sugar and 168 to 290 milligrams of sodium. Look for low-sodium dressings -- lite or regular -- that contain about 150 milligrams. Whichever dressing you choose, avoid extra calories by not exceeding the serving size listed on the nutrition facts label, which is usually 2 tablespoons.
Instead of tossing your salad, shake it in a covered container or plastic bag. This helps to distribute the dressing thoroughly, so you get some with every bite and there is no need to add more. When eating a salad as your meal, add fruits for extra vitamins and antioxidants, nuts for heart-healthy fats and lean meats for protein. They increase the nutritional value without adding empty calories. When eating out, ask for your dressing on the side. Dip your fork in the dressing and then spear the salad. You get the same taste, with fewer calories.