Nothing says summer like crisp, cool salads. After all, sunny days and action-packed activities require foods that help you chill out, not heat up.
Nothing says summer like crisp, cool salads. After all, sunny days and action-packed activities require foods that help you chill out, not heat up. What’s more, lettuce (especially the dark, green variety), cucumbers, tomatoes, carrots and other common salad ingredients are loaded with nutrients and disease-fighting chemicals called antioxidants.
Experts recommend shooting for three to five cups a day (the more, the better) – and salads are a great way to meet your quota – particularly if you opt for one that’s loaded with veggies. A bonus: research shows that eating a side salad before a meal can help you slim down. One study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found that when women had a 100-calorie salad before dinner, they consumed 12 percent less during their meal (even with the calories of the salad included).
But not all salads are created equal. Some are loaded with calorie-laden ingredients like bacon, blue cheese, even breaded chicken! And that’s before dressing. Want to make sure your salad is more healthy than heavy? Opt for dishes with our five favorite ingredients and a variety of colors for the biggest health benefits:
- Leafy greens – A no-brainer, maybe, but leafy greens are among the most beneficial vegetables because of their stellar nutrient profiles. Spinach, kale, arugula and other leafy greens are loaded with antioxidants including vitamins C, E and A. Researchers have identified at least 13 compounds in spinach alone that function as both antioxidants and anticancer agents. Plus, calorie for calorie, green leafy vegetables provide more nutrients than almost any food on the planet.
- Mushrooms – Mushrooms are rich in protein, fiber, B vitamins, calcium and disease-fighting phytochemicals. What’s more, mushrooms have powerful effects on the immune system – especially the maitake, shiitake and reishi varieties. Chinese physicians use mushrooms to complement cancer treatment, as these nutritional powerhouses are known to help counteract the toxic effects of chemotherapy and radiation while simultaneously shrinking tumors.
- Avocado – Sure they’re high in fat, but it’s the good kind (monounsaturated fat), which has been linked to a reduced risk of cancer, heart disease and diabetes. Avocados aid in blood and tissue regeneration, stabilize blood sugar and are excellent for heart disorders. They’re loaded with fiber (11 to 17 grams per avocado) and are a good source of lutein, an antioxidant linked to eye and skin health.
- Nuts – Look for salads topped with toasted almonds, pecans or walnuts (not the candied variety). In addition to taste and texture, these little gems also boast protein and heart-healthy fats. According to the Food and Drug Administration, eating 1.5 ounces of most nuts as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease. And even though nuts are relatively high in fat and calories, studies show that noshing on them can actually help you lose weight (their protein, fiber and monounsaturated fats are satiating).
- Beans – Chickpeas (a.k.a. garbanzo beans), black beans and red kidney beans are a great addition to summer salads. They’re loaded with fiber and disease-fighting phytonutrients. In fact, the U.S. Department of Agriculture rated small red kidney beans higher in antioxidants than almost any other food.
- Fish – Whether you opt for salmon or sardines (anchovies), topping your salad with fish adds a hefty dose of heart-healthy fats and protein. Eating fish helps cut the risk of heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s, stroke, diabetes and arthritis, and fatty varieties may alleviate depression to boot. The American Heart Association recommends eating at least two fish meals per week, especially wild salmon, herring and sardines, as they provide the most heart-healthy omega-3s.
Looking for a salad to help cool off this summer? Check out these Healthy Dining choices:
- Fire Roasted Cabo Jack Salad at Saladworks (390 calories, 19 g fat). Locations in CA, DC, DE, FL, IL, MD, NC, NJ, and PA.
- Apple Walnut Salad from Sandella’s Flatbread Cafe (370 calories, 13 g fat). Locations in AZ, CA, MA, MD, NJ, TX, and WA.
- Seared Ahi Caesar Salad from The Yard House (390 calories, 18 g fat). Locations in select states throughout the US.