Healthy Salads
Emory-Adventist Hospital at Smyrna
Jennifer Fox, RD, LD Jennifer Fox, RD, LD

Learn more about getting your greens

Fresh salads can be an excellent summertime meal option as either a main entree or an accompaniment to your main course. Composed primarily of non-starchy vegetables, these are the lowest in calorie of all food groups.

One serving of non-starchy vegetables is equal to one cup raw or a half cup cooked. A serving contains only 25 calories but provides a significant amount of fiber, and is cholesterol-free and fat-free. This means that salads can be a great way to fill you up at mealtime without loading down your diet with excessive calories.

The base of all great salads starts with your selection of lettuce, so it’s important that you know your lettuce.

Butterhead (Boston, Bibb and Buttercrunch) - this lettuce boasts loose heads with grassy green leaves with a buttery texture.

Crisphead (Iceburg) – this lettuce has a crispy, crunchy texture with cold leaves. This lettuce forms dense, tight heads with a mild flavor similar to cabbage and has a high water content with little nutritional value.

Looseleaf (Oak leaf, Red leaf, and Green leaf) - this lettuce is joined at the stem, thereby not forming a lettuce head. Its leaves are mildly flavored.

Romaine (Cos) - this lettuce forms a long head of sturdy leaves with a firm rib down the center. This has been a popular texture choice for traditional Greek or Caesar salads.

Spinach or Arugula leaves - Small, flat leaves with longer stems. Extremely rich in antioxidants and excellent source of Vitamin K, Vitamin A, manganese, folate, magnesium, iron, Vitamin C, riboflavin, calcium, potassium, Vitamin B-6, tryptophan, Vitamin E, copper, phosphorus and zinc.

Salads in general are a low-calorie food and good source of many vitamins and minerals, however, it is possible to sabotage a healthy salad by loading it up with high-fat, high-calorie items such as cheese, bacon bits, croutons and creamy dressings.

Follow these steps to build a healthy salad:

  1. Start with a good base of salad greens. In general, choosing darker leaves will mean your greens are higher in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals.
  2. Add additional non-starchy vegetables for added health benefits and taste variety.
  3. Choose a lean protein source such as grilled chicken or fish, boiled egg whites, low-fat cheese (cheese with 3 grams of fat or less per ounce), chopped soy burger or cooked beans.
  4. Add a little fruit for a natural sweet addition. Blueberries, blackberries, raspberries or strawberries are high in antioxidants.
  5. Top salad with heart healthy fats such as unsalted nuts, seeds, low-fat salad dressings, canola or olive oil. Watch your portion size, since these fats are the most concentrated source of calories in your diet.


Emory-Adventist Hospital at Smyrna