Although a salad seems fairly simple, that little bowl can contain some significant health benefits! It can also pack a walloping calorie total if you aren’t careful. Today we’re going to check out the nutritional content of your average green salad, suggest some extra add-ons, and explore how to avoid hidden calorie bombs.
The green salad may be a bit basic, but it’s also a deceptively delicious mini-meal.
The bulk of a typical green salad is made up of crisp leafy greens like romaine, spinach or arugula, and garnished with chopped vegetables such as cucumber, peppers, onions, avocado, and tomatoes. You can add almost any dressing you like to a green salad, a simple balsamic/olive oil mix, a creamier dressing like bleu cheese, or even something fruity like a raspberry vinaigrette.
Although the exact ingredients used in a salad will affect its nutritional content, Livestrong estimates that a 1.5 cup serving of green salad without dressing can provide “approximately 21 calories, 2 grams of protein, 0.39 gram of fat, 3.5 grams of carbohydrate, [and] 2 grams of fiber”.
If you use spinach as a base, you’re also getting:
- 28 milligrams of vitamin C (approximately 47 percent of the recommended daily value)
- 194 micrograms of folate (approximately 48 percent of the RDV)
- More than 100 percent of the RDV for vitamin A
Making a green salad with arugula gives you:
- 47 milligrams of magnesium (approximately 12 percent of the RDV)
- 369 milligrams of potassium (more than 10 percent of the RDV)
A fantastic nutrient boost, for very few calories – even after you add a few tablespoons of your favourite dressing.
To take that basic green salad up a notch, you can add hard boiled eggs, fruit, cheese, and nuts/seeds. Changing up the ingredients you add to a green salad keeps it delicious and interesting day after day – there’s an endless combination of flavours, tastes, and textures to enjoy.
Not only do these add-ons create variety in your pre-meal salads, they also provide essential fats, proteins, vitamins, and minerals.
Hard boiled eggs: Adding a hard-boiled egg to your salad adds 71 calories, and 6 g of protein, making it a healthy, filling choice.
Cheese: Adding an ounce of cheddar cheese to your salad adds 6.5g protein, and 15% of your RDV for calcium, while an ounce of feta cheese provides slightly less of a nutritional punch with 4g of protein and 11% of your recommended calcium – but also fewer calories than cheddar, too (75 vs 115).
Fruit: Chopping up five fresh strawberries only adds 29 calories to your green salad but also provides 88% of your vitamin C and gives your green salad a delicious sweet spin.
Nuts and Seeds: Adding a handful of nuts and seeds to your salad gives a satisfying crunch and also supercharges the nutritional content of each bite. An ounce of almonds will add 6g of protein and 4g of fibre while an ounce of sunflower seeds provides 5.5 grams protein and 37% of the RDV for vitamin E.
Don’t Get Carried Away
Although each of these options adds something great to your salads, it can be easy to go overboard- especially if you’re trying to lose weight. Adding an egg, cheese, and nuts to a green salad can easily pack on more almost 350 calories – and that’s before adding salad dressing!
A simple homemade olive oil/balsamic vinegar salad dressing can clock in at 194 calories for 2-3 tablespoons and while good quality oils are great for providing healthy fats, after adding it your simple green salad is now almost 600 calories.
When weight loss is your goal, it’s best to choose one (or none) of the salad add-ons and focus mostly on the wonderful benefits of all those fresh greens and veggies. Limit your salad dressing to a tablespoon or so (consider adding lemon juice if you find your salad too dry). This is especially important when eating salad before lunch or dinner – if you aren’t paying attention, you could easily eat almost 30% of your daily calories before you even begin your main meal!
If weight loss isn’t a goal for you, feel free to fill up on the healthy fats that a fully-stocked salad can provide – although fat is often demonized, it’s essential to have healthy fats in our diet to become as healthy as we can.
Eating a bowl of salad before tucking in to lunch and dinner is such a wonderful gift to give your body. Packed with nutrients, vitamins, minerals and good fats, these salads are hiding some wonderful secrets – and the benefits are all just a bowlful away.