If your top health concerns include losing or maintaining weight, warding off chronic disease, aging gracefully, improving your mood or thinking clearly, then you’re not alone. Most women in their prime worry about these issues and rightfully so! Fortunately, upgrading your diet to include an abundance of fruits and vegetables, which are loaded with vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants, can help you feel and look your best. They also can protect you against heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, some cancers, weight gain, mood swings and premature aging. Did you know that, for optimal health, you should eat 8 to 10 servings of produce a day? The easiest way to do this is to make one of your meals a salad. Incorporating protein, healthy carbs, and good fats into your bowl of greens can turn what once was considered an appetizer into a satisfying, nutrient dense and waist-friendly meal.
Salads can quickly become unhealthy calorie bombs so create yours wisely by following these guidelines:
1. Start with at least 2 packed cups of dark leafy greens.
2. Include unlimited veggies, ample protein and at least one source of healthy fat from the list below.
3. Add desired condiments.
4. Drizzle with fresh lemon juice and your favorite vinegar – no additional dressing needed.
5. What you leave out is as important as what you put in — pay attention to the foods I suggest avoiding below.
Vegetables: Of the 8-10 servings of produce you should be eating daily, at least 6-8 servings should be vegetables.
Adding unlimited amounts of traditional salad veggies (cucumbers, carrots, tomatoes) is great but don’t stop there. Eating a variety of produce ensures we’re getting all the necessary nutrients. Consider including beets, roasted asparagus and cauliflower, steamed broccoli, artichoke hearts or raw sugar snap peas to your salad too. Need more texture and flavor? Try grilled summer squash, onions, peppers, eggplant or fennel.
Healthy Protein: Don’t skimp here, protein will fill you up, keep you satisfied between meals and help slow the progression of muscle loss as you age.
Meats, poultry or seafood:
Adding lean beef, poultry, shrimp or fish that’s been grilled, baked or broiled to your salad will provide essential protein, iron and B12. A serving of 4 to 6 ounces is ample. If you’re adding ¼ cup beans to your greens, cut meat/seafood portions down to 3-4 ounces. Short on time? Canned salmon or tuna packed in water is a convenient and inexpensive way to get both protein and heart healthy omega-3 fatty acids into your diet.
Eggs: Not a meat eater? Two hardboiled eggs and ½ cup of lentils or edamame is a wonderful way to add protein and substance to your salad. If you have high cholesterol speak to your doctor before consuming numerous egg yolks each week.
Beans and Lentils: Legumes of all kinds are, in my opinion, some of the healthiest foods you can eat. They’re a wonderful source of protein and carbs as well as fiber and heart protective nutrients. Lentils are easy to cook, beans a little more time consuming so enjoy salt-free, canned varieties if you prefer. If choosing legumes as a source of protein, enjoy a full cup. If eating them with another source of protein, ¼ – ½ cup should do.
Fats: Fat fills you up, tastes great and keeps your metabolism working efficiently so enjoy healthy varieties in moderation.
Nuts, seeds, avocado and olive oil are a tremendous source of healthy fat that can add crunch, texture and flavor to your meal while improving your cholesterol. A small handful of nuts/seeds, 1 TBSP of olive oil or a ¼ of an avocado is all you need per meal and a much healthier choice than cheese or many dressings.
Condiments: The finishing touch …
Fresh herbs are the perfect complement to fresh veggies. Try adding basil, cilantro, parsley, or mint to your creation for subtle flavor.
Fruit: Tantalize your taste buds by topping off your greens with antioxidant-rich fresh fruit. 1 medium size piece of whole fruit or ¾ cup cut up fruit will added plenty of flavor and sweetness to your meal.
Foods to Avoid: These foods will turn your miracle meal into a mine field by adding excessive calories, unhealthy fat, salt and sugar to your culinary creation.
- Candied nuts
- Chicken, egg, or tuna salad made with mayonnaise
- Crispy noodles, corn strips, sesame sticks etc.
- Dried fruit
- Fried, breaded, processed or nitrate filled meats
- Premade grain salads doused in oils and sugar
- Salad dressings – Beware, they can add 300-600 calories to your salad