It's time to trade in steamed veggies for garden salads, but a loaded up salad recipe can easily become as fattening as a burger and fries. To build the most balanced bowl and avoid overload, here’s my 5-step salad strategy:
Step 1: Start with a veggie foundation made from (preferably) organic greens like field greens, Romaine, arugula, spinach and any other raw veggies you love. Tomatoes, red onion, shredded carrots, cucumbers are great examples, however try to avoid starchy veggies like potatoes or peas. Aim for about 2 cups total, the size of 2 baseballs, and at least 3 different colors, like green, red and orange. Antioxidants are associated with the pigments that give veggies their color. Eating a rainbow of hues means you expose your body to a broader spectrum of these disease fighters and anti-agers.
Step 2: Add a whole grain. I love adding cooked, chilled whole grains to garden salads, like barley, wild rice, quinoa or organic corn (yup, whole corn counts as a whole grain). Again, aim for a half cup, the size of half a baseball. Eating at least 3 serving of whole grains each day (a serving is a half cup cooked) is linked to preventing nearly every chronic disease (including heart disease and diabetes) as well as staving off weight gain and reducing belly fat.
Step 3: For protein, add a scoop (about the size of half a baseball, which equals about half a cup) of either lentils or beans, cubed organic firm tofu or edamame, chicken breast or seafood. If you’re an omnivore, aim for bean-based meals about five times a week. Beans are loaded with filling fiber as well as antioxidants and important minerals like iron and magnesium. And regular bean eaters have a 22% lower risk of obesity and smaller waistlines!
Step 4: For “good” fat add either a small amount of extra virgin olive oil, no more than a Tbsp (the size of your thumb, from where it bends to the tip), a few tablespoons of nuts or seeds or a quarter a ripe avocado. A healthy, plant-based fat significantly boosts the absorption of antioxidants. In fact studies show that without any fat, very little antioxidants are absorbed.
Step 5: Dress your salad with balsamic vinegar, which adds a ton of flavor, even more antioxidants and has been show to boost weight loss and help control blood sugar levels. And add in some fresh citrus juice and herbs, from cracked black peppercorn to fresh basil. Herbs and spices have been show to boost metabolism, improve satiety, and they’re a feast for your senses. I love natural seasonings so much I devoted an entire chapter to them in my newest book, and I have a special name for them: SASS, which stands for Slimming and Satiating Seasonings – yum!
Lately my favorite concoction has been:
• 1.5 cups organic mixed greens
• Half red and orange grape tomatoes, sliced in half
• Half cup cooked, chilled lentils
• Half cup cooked, chilled wild rice
• A quarter of a ripe avocado, sliced
• 3-4 fresh, torn basil leaves
• 1-2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
• Squeeze from a fresh lemon wedge
• Freshly ground pepper
I don’t advocate counting calories because I believe that meal timing, balance, portion sizes, and quality are much more important, but just in case you were wondering this salad packs just 345 calories but it’s plenty big and satisfying!
Cynthia Sass is a registered dietitian with master's degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV she's a SHAPE contributing editor and nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays. Her latest New York Times best seller is Cinch! Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches.