6 Best Picks and Skips at the Salad Bar

6 Best Picks and Skips at the Salad Bar

Salad bars can be diet salvation or junk-food minefields. Here's how to get from one end to the other without detonating an explosion of bad fats, sodium, sugar and refined carbs.

1. Go dark on greens: Build a vitamin- and fiber-packed foundation by starting with roughly 1 cup of spinach and romaine leaves (for more than half of your daily vitamin A and all of your vitamin K). Skip 'em: Lighter greens tend to offer less nutrition. Iceberg lettuce, for instance, delivers only about 7 percent of the A you need, some K and not much else.

2. Go bright on veggies: Next, add about 1 cup of the most colorful crudites—think broccoli, carrots, cherry tomatoes, green and red bell peppers, beets. Ounce for ounce, vibrant veggies give you more fiber, minerals, vitamins, and disease-fighting antioxidants than their paler companions, like celery and cucumbers. Skip 'em: Anything coated in mayo or an indefinable dressing, including carrot-and-raisin mixes, coleslaw and potato salad.

3. Choose lean proteins: Aim for about 1/2 cup of these. Chickpeas and kidney beans are nifty sources of fat-free protein (6 grams each). Sliced hard-boiled eggs (8 grams) are another smart choice, just limit the yolk to limit the fat. Skip 'em: Chicken, tuna or crab salads—they're usually made with high-fat mayo; three-bean salad, which typically is afloat in a sea of oil; and cottage cheese, which is high in aging (read artery-clogging) saturated fat.

4. Sprinkle on extra flavor and crunch: Like cheese? Add 1 tablespoon of Parmesan (22 calories) to punch up the flavor, or 1 tablespoon of walnuts or sunflower seeds for some healthy crunch. Both have good-for-your-heart fats that help your body absorb the nutrients in all those veggies. Skip 'em: Cheddar cubes—you'll quickly eat more than you need; croutons—they may look harmless but at 100 calories per 1/4 cup, they're usually high-cal booby traps of refined carbs, sodium and trans fats. Ditto for crunchy Asian noodles.

5. Dress for success: Now swirl on about 1 tablespoon of heart-healthy olive oil, a splash of vinegar, a grating of pepper and toss, toss, toss. Ask any chef—it's the secret to a perfect salad. Thorough tossing ensures that all the flavors and textures are evenly distributed and lets you use minimal dressing to maximum effect. Skip 'em: Walk right past those vats of ready-made salad dressings. Even the low-fat or fat-free versions are usually loaded with salt, sugar and additives. And just 2 tablespoons of regular blue cheese or ranch have about 160 fat-packed calories.

6. Prefer a fruit salad? Easy. Go for whatever's fresh—melons, berries, pineapple, kiwi—and top with 1 to 2 tablespoons of chopped walnuts or sunflower seeds for a sprinkling of good fats and crunchy flavor. Then buy a small container of low- or no-fat yogurt or cottage cheese for creamy protein minus the saturated fat in dairy foods. Skip 'em: Syrupy canned peaches, apricots, pears, etc. They have far more calories and fewer nutrients than fresh fruit.

Medically reviewed in April 2019.

More On Eating Habits and Nutrition

Healthy Restaurant Eating

article

Healthy Restaurant Eating
The latest survey of restaurant meals in America reveals how easy it is to set off a nutrition bomb when you eat out. The Big Hook Up platter from Joe...
Dr. Hyman - Is Vegetable Oil Healthy?

video

Dr. Hyman - Is Vegetable Oil Healthy?
Using lots of different types of oils is the best way to keep your health on track. In this video, functional medicine expert Mark Hyman, MD, explains...
Where Are We In the Evolution of Healthy Eating Habits?

video

Where Are We In the Evolution of Healthy Eating Habits?
In this video, Michael Breslow, MD, explains out current level of healthy eating.
Eat Cereal for Breakfast, Be Happy All Day

video

Eat Cereal for Breakfast, Be Happy All Day
Breakfast cereal can be a bowlful of happiness, says Dr. Oz. In this Health Smarts video, he describes the good-mood benefits of of this healthy break...