Crafting an arthritis-friendly diet? Not all salads are created equal. What starts as a healthy foundation of vegetables often winds up suffocated in condiments and high-fat toppings.
Be picky about what you put on your salad, says Barbara Rolls, PhD, professor and Guthrie chair in nutritional sciences at Pennsylvania State University, University Park. “When you cut down on calorie-dense ingredients, you can ultimately eat more salad,” she says.
Build a healthier salad with these tips:
Load up on greens: Dark green, leafy vegetables like romaine lettuce and field greens are high in fiber and nutrients. Baby spinach is a great choice. One cup has 60 milligrams (mg) of calcium, 335 mg of potassium and high doses of iron.
Mix in color: Adding a wide range of colors is the best way to get a variety of nutrients, says Rolls. Artichoke hearts, asparagus, bell peppers, broccoli, cucumbers, carrots, radishes, red cabbage, red onions and tomatoes have few calories but a big nutritional punch.
Dress cautiously: “The dressing is the biggest source of calories because of the fat content,” says Rolls, who recommends reduced-fat or vinaigrette dressings or simply using less on your salad. “Olive oil, paired with balsamic vinegar, is a really good choice because it’s a healthy fat,” she says.
Add protein: If you plan to have a salad as your meal, add lean protein, such as grilled chicken, turkey, tuna, shrimp, crab, hard-boiled eggs or a high-protein, low-fat cheese like feta. Aim for around 400 to 500 total calories of protein. Avoid fatty meats like bacon and steer clear of high-sodium ham.
Splurge wisely: Avoid high-fat, high-calorie toppings, like many cheeses, croutons, Asian noodles and corn chips. Instead, try avocado, sesame seeds, walnuts and garbanzo beans, which are still high in calories but contain healthier monounsaturated fats. But use them as condiments, says Rolls. The more you include, the smaller the salad must be if you plan to keep your meal’s overall fat and calorie counts low.