When people are on a diet or want to choose the healthiest option they often say, “I’m being good, I’m just ordering a salad”. However, salads overdressed with creamy or sugary dressings, excessive amounts of cheese, croutons, and large portions of meat do not actually qualify as “healthy”.
For instance, the Grilled Oriental Chicken Salad at Applebee’s contains 1,390 calories, 98 grams of fat and 42 grams of sugar. That is over half of the average person’s daily calorie needs and a full day’s worth of fat and added sugar.
Now, don’t feel discouraged, salads can be a very healthy option, and they do provide a variety of nutrients and fiber. The key is to be a salad sleuth. The #1 thing to look out for is the salad dressing you use. Both the amount and the type.
Lightly drizzle your salads with your dressing of choice, instead of dumping a large portion on. Even if you choose a higher calorie dressing like Ranch, using a smaller amount of dressing ensures that you won’t break your calorie bank. Plus, when you add other fun toppings like a sprinkle of cheese, dried or fresh fruits, nuts or avocado, you don’t need a ton of dressing for flavor.
A bit of fat is good to have in dressings because it helps your body absorb the fat-soluble vitamins from all those vegetables. Oil-based vinaigrettes are made from heart-healthy oils, compared to creamy dressings such as Caesar and blue cheese, often containing high-calorie mayonnaise.
One way to avoid the funky, unnatural ingredients of store-bought salad dressings is to make your own. My favorite is this simple balsamic vinaigrette. It is quick to prepare and can be kept in the fridge for about two weeks. It is slightly sweet thanks to the touch of agave or honey and goes well with savory or sweet salads.
¼ C olive oil
¼ C balsamic vinegar
1 Tbs. agave nectar or honey
2 tsp. Dijion mustard
Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and stir vigorously until incorporated. Store in refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. When ready to use, you may need to microwave the dressing for a couple of seconds (5-7 seconds) to reincorporate the ingredients since there are no emulsifiers in it like there is in store-bought dressings.