When do healthy greens — whether from a popular chain or a DIY salad bar — become unhealthy? When they are mixed with extra-large portions of too many toppings. To enjoy a veggie-based bowl that’s also a balanced meal, begin with a foundation of dark greens, grab some tongs, and start building.
Pick a protein
Some salads are loaded with chicken, bacon, and cheese — too many sources of extra fat and calories. One protein is all you need. You can have a serving of meat, fish, beans, or cheese. Place a 3-ounce portion (about the size of a deck of cards) on your greens.
People who embrace a salad-a-day habit are more likely to meet their need for important vitamins, including immunity-boosting C and E, according to research in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association. To get the best healthy boost, stick with crunchy toppers like celery, peppers, carrots, and cukes. Skip croutons, noodles, and tortilla strips.
Have a little fat
Monounsaturated fats help you absorb carotenoids found in veggies like spinach and carrots, which are important for eye health, suggests recent research from Purdue University. Instead of traditional oil, try one of these: 10 olives, ½ oz nuts (12 almonds or 7 walnut halves), or ¼ avocado. Each of these is the fat equivalent of 1 to 2 tsp oil.
Strong cheese = big flavor
You only need small amounts of cheeses like blue, herbed goat, or Parmesan.
Go for bulk
Water-rich veggies (like peppers) are loaded with nutrients and will help keep you hydrated throughout summer.
EXPERT: Carolyn O’Neil, MS, Atlanta-based registered dietitian and nutrition adviser for The Center for Food Integrity, a watchdog group in Gladstone, MO.