When people think of healthy eating, the first thing that comes to mind is often a salad. A salad generally has a lot of healthy ingredients, including a wide array of vegetables or fruits. But, not every restaurant salad is actually a healthy salad, and it isn’t always easy to tell which salads offer a clean eating experience and which will contain more calories than other food items like burgers or pizza.
To help you determine whether a restaurant salad is a healthy salad, here are some ingredients to look for and some to avoid in each category below.
Greens and Lettuces
Many salad feature greens or lettuces as a primary ingredient. While most salad greens aren’t inherently unhealthy, they aren’t created equal. Iceberg lettuce doesn’t have many calories, but it also doesn’t offer much nutritional value, making it a less than ideal choice when you are looking for a truly healthy salad.
When you are reviewing the ingredients in the dish, look for greens like romaine, spinach, or kale. These are also low-calorie options, but they offer more healthy vitamins and minerals than iceberg generally provides.
Meats and Proteins
Chicken is often marketed as a lean meat that offers a notable amount of protein. But whether the chicken is a part of a healthy eating plan depends on the kind of chicken used and how it is prepared. Skinless chicken breast is often an ideal choice when you want to create a healthy salad, but if you choose a crispy chicken option, it can actually turn a healthy dish into a calorie-laden one.
Crispy chicken features breading and is traditionally fried. Both of these increase the number of calories involved as well as the total fat if it is fried in oil. However, grilled chicken doesn’t have any of the added breading and doesn’t require heavy amounts of oil during the cooking process. This means chicken can be part of a healthy salad as long as you select the healthier cooking method.
If you don’t prefer chicken, turkey can also be a wise choice as long as you follow the same cooking rules as outlined above. Beans and other legumes can also be suitable, as well as grilled shrimp or eggs. However, avoid processed or cured meats as much as possible. Often, these aren’t just high in fat, but also feature a lot of salt.
Many people like to add cheese to a salad to create a more complex flavour profile. And, while cheese isn’t distinctly unhealthy, it does come with a notable amount of fat and will up the calorie count of the dish. If you do choose to add cheese, look for hard cheese like cheddar. Generally, hard cheeses have fewer calories (when compared to volume) than softer versions like mozzarella.
Also, if healthy eating is your goal, make sure to use cheese sparingly. Sometimes, choosing an option with a particularly strong flavour can help you use less while still enjoying the taste. For example, fresh parmesan or sharp cheddar often has a particularly strong flavour, helping a little bit go a long way. However, if you have another flavour in mind, see if low-fat versions are available. You can also explore vegan cheese substitutes made from soy if you prefer.
Salad dressing can easily be one of the least healthy components of a salad, especially if you choose a creamy dressing. Often, they have a significant amount of fat, salt, and even sugar, upcoming the calorie count quickly. However, dressings that aren’t classified as creamy can also be high in fat, depending on the amount of oil used, and can feature a lot of sugars as well.
When selecting a dressing, try and find a low-fat version. Additionally, vinaigrette dressing also tends to have fewer calories than many creamy dressings. You can also reduce the impact of dressing when you are trying to have a healthy salad by getting the dressing on the side. This allows you to control how much you use and can help you consume fewer calories.
If you want to take the healthiest, clean eating approach to your salad, consider skipping the traditional dressing. Instead, use some fresh squeezed lemon or lime juice to add a little kick, or straight balsamic vinegar and the slightest drizzle of olive oil for a small dose of healthy fats. You can also explore options like salsa for a strong flavour but relatively low-calorie count.
Croutons are another ingredient that adds very little nutritional value but come loaded with calories. In many cases, croutons are fried in oil to achieve the crispy texture, adding additional fat to the mix along with the calories. Baked versions will be healthier than fried versions in many cases, but they still add a lot of calories and might not be ideal for a healthy eating plan.
If you wanted to add croutons to have some extra crunch in your salad, consider adding a healthier topping instead. Items like walnuts and flaxseed can provide omega-3 fatty acids, one of the healthier fats, while still giving you that textural component you crave.
In most cases, you can’t go wrong with adding a variety of fruits and vegetables as long as you eat them raw. Tomatoes, carrots, onions, apples, and fresh berries can all work well in a salad and generally have low-calorie counts.
Fruits and Vegetables
However, there are some fruits and vegetables that should be used sparingly because they do have higher calorie counts and may feature fats. For example, avocado and olives have fats, so it is wise to use them sparingly.
If you are interested in restaurants that offer healthy salad options, Circle Café focuses on creating options that aren’t just good for you, but tasty too. Come in and explore our full menu of salad entrees that are sure to satisfy your appetite while providing your body with the kind of ingredients it needs to remain healthy.