On a warm day, could there be anything more refreshing, convenient and healing to the human body than a salad? It’s nutrient-dense, loaded with antioxidants that battle illness and aging, and full of fiber that cleans out your system and lowers your risk for heart disease. Best of all, it often requires no cooking. But with the wrong add-ons, you can turn your salad into the fat and calorie equivalent of a burger and fries. Real Health asked Constance Brown-Riggs, a New York–based nutritionist and author of Eating Soulfully and Healthfully With Diabetes (iUniverse), to help us belly up to the salad bar.


Drown it in dressing
A tablespoon of regular dressing can add as many as 60 calories and 5.5 grams of fat. “People don’t realize that dressing can produce a completely different salad,” says nutritionist Brown-Riggs.

Kill it with croutons
They may seem light, but these crunchy little cubes come with a heap of carbs and sodium.


Binge on beans
While a half cup of bean salad has tons of fiber, protein and antioxidants, it can hold as many as 110 calories and 17 grams of carbs.

Starch it to death
In small amounts, pasta and potatoes both can be nutritious, delivering iron among other nutrients. But in excess, they can load your meal with way too many carbohydrates.

O.D. on olives
Olives offer heart-healthy oils, but each one stuffs in 5 to 10 calories (even the ones packed in water).

Cram it with craisins
Dried fruits like raisins and craisins (dried cranberries) or veggies like processed beets, corn and sun-dried tomatoes have important nutrients—iron, fiber, minerals and vitamins. But they all come with extra sugar (in a quarter cup of raisins, about 25 grams’ worth).

Go nuts with nuts
Sure they’re rich in minerals and fiber, but just a quarter cup soars sky-high in fat
and has 200 calories.

To assemble a well-balanced meal on your next trip to the salad bar:

Line your plate or bowl with leafy greens. Go for two cups of romaine, radicchio, endive, arugula, spinach or watercress. The darker the leaf, the more nutrients. Pale iceberg lettuce is loaded with water.

Add at least five other raw vegetables. Try 1/4 cup cucumbers, 1 radish, 1/4 cup green and yellow peppers, 1/4 cup tomatoes or 1/4 cup onions. More colors = more antioxidants.

Add a healthy, low-fat protein. Try 1/2 cup plain tuna or a boneless, skinless turkey or chicken breast. If you’re going meatless, try 1/4 cup garbanzo beans. Craving cheese? Pick low-fat cottage cheese or mozzarella and don’t exceed about an ounce.

Dress it in moderation. Two tablespoons should be enough. Avoid high-fat creamy dressings like ranch or Thousand Island, and go for vinaigrettes (see “A Better Cobb Salad,” or “The Well-Dressed Salad,” for ideas). Even with 1/4 cup plain croutons, this salad has only 350 calories, 10 grams of fat and 26 grams of carbs.

To cobble a Cobb without hobbling your diet, substitute bacon bits (1.5 fat grams per tablespoon) for bacon strips (9 grams of fat per 3 slices); and limit the avocado to just one or two small slices.

Layer on a plate or bowl:
One cup leafy greens
1/2 cup chopped, boneless chicken breast
1/2 hard-boiled egg, chopped
1⁄3 medium tomato, sliced
1 tbsp crumbled blue cheese (or Roquefort)
1 tbsp bacon bits
1 small wedge avocado

Garnish it with chopped watercress, chives or scallions for extra bursts of flavor.

Dress it with two tablespoons low-fat vinaigrette or French dressing. If you’re at home, you can mix the following ingredients to make this tasty topper (makes 11/2 cups):
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
11/2 tsp lemon juice—a bit of the zest (grated lemon peel) is nice too
1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
3/4 tsp dry mustard
1⁄3 cup olive or Canola oil

Summer staples like coleslaw and tuna salad can be sneaky. Coleslaw shovels on sugar; tuna salad may be full of bread filler. For the latter, try this alternative:

Choose tuna canned in water. Limit your serving size to 3 ounces (a small can).

Add low-fat mayonnaise and/or low-fat cottage cheese.
Two tablespoons of low-fat mayo have 100 calories and 10 grams of fat (versus 200 calories and 22 grams of fat for its high-fat cousin). You may also add cottage
cheese smoothed out in a blender, or replace the lowfat mayo altogether with cottage cheese.

Add color and crunch with chopped celery, peppers, carrots and onions.

Sweeten it if you like, with a tablespoon of sweet pickle relish, which has about 20 fat-free calories.


Your salad looks naked. Here’s how to cover up

WORK THE BALSAMIC Balsamic vinegar has few calories (about 33 per cup) and carbs but lots of fl avor. For a creamy consistency, simmer the vinegar until syrupy; cool and refrigerate until needed. Add oil and herbs to taste, but reverse the usual oil-to-vinegar ratio: Try two parts vinegar per one of oil. If you crave full-fat dressing, thin it out with a bit of balsamic. Substitute rice vinegar if balsamic isn’t to your taste.

TRY A NEW OIL Olive oil contains lots of healthful (monounsaturated) fats. A new product, Enova, made from soy and canola, is designed to limit the body’s fat absorption and storage. Enova has less saturated fat than olive oil, though both have 120 calories per tablespoon.

TRY A DIFFERENT DRESSING Among “low-fat, low-cal” prepared dressings, Brown-Riggs recommends two: Walden Farms’ fat-free, sugar-free dressings and Wish-Bone’s salad spritzers. Ten sprays—an ample amount for a cup of greens— add just 10 calories to your salad.