Are you trying to up your vegetable game? Summer is the best time to do this because a lot of vegetables are in season. With the heat, salads are the top vegetable pick. Salads are often lower in carbohydrates and loaded with nutrients. We all know there are times that salads aren’t the best choice when they are covered in higher calorie additions. The truth is that salads can be a healthy choice with the right ingredients. I also hear salads are boring, but really the best part about eating salads is the variety you can make. Follow these steps to make a healthy salad.
Start with Greens
While iceberg or butter lettuce is a popular choice, try other leafy greens including romaine, spinach, kale, arugula, swiss chard, and collard, beet or turnup greens. While all these greens pack a nutrient punch, there isn’t one leafy green that is highest in all nutrients. So, mix up the greens for added nutrients and variety.
Pile on the Veggies
Once you have a plate of greens, add more vegetables. Think about including raw vegetables like bell peppers, cucumbers, carrots, cabbage, tomatoes, onions, and sprouts. I like to add cooked vegetables too including roasted broccoli, beets, squash, asparagus, eggplant, or green beans. Spiralized and riced veggies like riced cauliflower are also good additions. Try sauerkraut on your salad for probiotics. All these added veggies bump up the fiber which helps to slow down the rise in glucose. Just a reminder, if you are carb counting, 1 cup raw or ½ cup cooked veggies is around 5 grams of carb. Vegetables are a great way to eat your carbs.
Pump up the Protein
If salad is your main course, add some protein. Add leftover chicken, fish, or steak from dinner. Eggs and cheese are easy protein additions too. Salads loaded with veggies are lower in carbs so including some carbs from plant protein is a good choice. Try adding plant protein like garbanzo beans, black beans, edamame, quinoa, or wild rice. Including protein in salads will keep you feeling satisfied.
Find the Right Fats
Think about pairing your salad with some healthy fats to help with nutrient absorption and of course flavor. Fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K) are better absorbed when eaten with fat. A lot of salad greens are high in vitamins A and K. Consider some healthy fat additions like nuts, seeds, avocado, or olives. Nuts and seeds provide that added crunch and make a great sub for croutons. Salad dressing can also be a good choice for added fat.
DIY Salad Dressing
It may sound intimidating to make your own dressing but it’s easy. Homemade dressing doesn’t have any added preservatives or unknown ingredients. You control the ingredients. Start with olive oil, any type of vinegar, and some additional spices. It takes just a few minutes to make balsamic vinaigrette. Look for some new recipes and try to make your own salad dressing. Check out the Diabetes Food Hub for salad and dressing ideas. Don’t worry about keeping dressing on the side when you make your own.
Add the right foods to your salad to create a meal that will help you feel satisfied and keep blood glucose in check. If you want to get creative, try some salads for breakfast. This is one way to start your day off right with veggies. Most salads can be made ahead of time for easy entertaining. It’s summer so go enjoy some healthy salads.
by Christine McKinney, RD LDN CDE