Summertime is salad time! Cool and refreshing, salads are the perfect summer food. They’re easy to make, easy to tote, and best of all as heat rises they can easily transform from a side dish into the perfect “no sweat” entrée. In fact, when packed with healthy summer vegetables and lean protein, it’s hard to think of a better good-for-you meal than a salad.

Unfortunately most salads, whether served from a salad bar or ordered at a restaurant, don’t live up to their healthy reputation. High fat toppings such as cheese, nuts, bacon and mayonnaise based dressings can easily derail even the healthiest of salads. The great news is it’s not hard to make, or order, a satisfying salad that’s both nutritious and delicious if you know how.

Six Ways to Build a Better Salad

  1. Vary the lettuce. Look beyond iceberg (the least nutritious of all lettuces). Leafy red and green lettuce, romaine, butter lettuce, spinach, shredded cabbage and watercress add extra flavor and nutrients to your salads. Don’t be afraid to mix ‘n match.
  2. Pile on the veggies. Non-starchy vegetables including seasonal tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers, sweet bell peppers, mushrooms, summer squash and radishes add color, texture and flavor (and of course lots of great nutrition), and yet are low in calories, fat, and carbs.
  3. Be choosy with cheese. Each ounce (or ¼ cup shredded) of cheddar cheese adds 115 calories and 10 grams of fat to your salad. Using a reduced-fat cheese, or just a tablespoon or two of a strong flavored cheese like Parmesan or blue cheese, are better bets.
  4. Add fiber rich beans. Substitute creamy chick peas for croûtons and flavorful black beans for bacon. A quarter cup of beans has 50 calories, no fat, and 4 grams of fiber.
  5. Include lean protein. Steer clear of ground beef and “crispy” chicken and select lean protein sources such as egg whites, grilled chicken, shrimp or tuna (packed in water), to turn any salad into a satisfying meal.
  6. Dress For Success. A restaurant serving of regular dressing can add up to 500 calories to your salad. Opt for low-fat dressings when dining out and ask them to be served on the side where you control the quantity. At home, make your own vinaigrettes with equal parts oil and vinegar instead of the usual 3 parts oil for every part vinegar. Swap out regular mayonnaise with equal parts reduced fat mayonnaise and low-fat plain yogurt.

Here are two versatile dressing recipes to help you create lots of super salads: Sweet Balsamic Vinaigrette and Homemade Ranch Dressing.

Marlene Koch

Marlene Koch, RD, (pronounced "Cook") has specialized in delicious food and healthy lifestyles for over twenty years. Thus, when Marlene realized she couldn’t bake a delicious cake without sugar for her stepdaughter newly diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, she set out to find the sweet solution! Marlene is now a foremost authority on sugar and sugar substitutes and the author of the best-selling healthy, low-sugar hardback cookbook series which includes Unbelievable Desserts and Fantastic Food with Splenda, and her newest release, Marlene Koch’s Sensational Splenda Recipes: 375 Recipes Low in Sugar, Fat and Calories (M.Evans publisher). With combined sales of over 600,000 copies, Marlene and her books successfully bridge the gap between good food and good health!

Marlene graduated Magna Cum Laude with a degree in nutrition from U.C.L.A. in 1986 and is one of a select group of dietitians to hold an advanced certificate in Child and Adolescent Weight Management from the American Dietetic Association. Combining her love of food with her educational foundation, she has held such positions as Hospital Foodservice Director, Nutrition Professor, Cooking Instructor for the Columbus State Culinary Academy and as a national nutrition educator to chefs for the American Culinary Federation. Her passion for teaching others how to make healthy food taste delicious also extend to her private nutrition practice specializing in weight loss, diabetes, and wellness.

Marlene loves to teach (and to eat!); her energetic and upbeat style has made her a popular food and nutrition speaker for organizations such as the American Diabetes and American Heart Associations and sought after for television and radio appearances which have included affiliates for ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX and Shaw TV (Vancouver) and radio stations nationwide.

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