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Feature Articles: Eating Well

Healthy salads

Melissa Bess, Nutrition and Health Education Specialist, Camden County, University of Missouri Extension


Salads offer a lower fat and lower calorie meal for those looking for a light lunch or dinner. Salad bars are readily available and are usually fairly inexpensive. However, a salad can become a fat-laden, calorie-heavy choice if the right selections aren’t made when dishing up your meal.

Choose darker colored lettuce if it’s available, such as romaine or spinach. The darker the lettuce, the more nutrients it has. If you don’t like the taste of those alone, you can mix them with iceberg for added nutrients and better flavor.


Pile veggies on your salad, such as tomatoes, cucumbers, mushrooms, onions, carrots and beets. Most veggies have fiber, which doesn’t add calories or fat, but helps you feel full longer because of the sponge-like effect of fiber. Try to choose a rainbow of colors for your salad.

For a protein punch, add some kidney, pinto or garbanzo beans. Beans add flavor and fiber. Grilled chicken, ham or plain tuna (no mayonnaise) is also a good choice to add some protein without adding extra fat. Protein helps us stay full longer because it’s not digested as rapidly.


Here are some sources of protein to avoid. Fried or breaded chicken in a salad can raise the fat and calorie content. Choose grilled, broiled or baked chicken instead or eliminate the meat if there are no other options. Avoid bacon on a salad, including bacon bits, because bacon will raise the fat and calorie content. Cheese and eggs can add some protein to a salad, but limit the amount you use because they can also raise the fat and calorie content.


Sunflower seeds can add protein, fiber and healthy fat, but enjoy in moderation to keep the fat and calorie content lower. Croutons should be limited or avoided because of the added calories and fat.

Salad dressing adds flavor, but use low-fat or fat-free versions. Some dressings can raise the fat and calorie content of a salad close to the equivalent of eating a cheeseburger and fries. This is a hidden trap many of us fall into while enjoying a salad.

Put your dressing on the side and dip your fork in the dressing before each bite. This will reduce the amount of dressing you use, but you will still get the flavor of the dressing in each bite.

Creamy pre-made salads such as macaroni salad, tuna salad or potato salad can add lots of flavor, but these also pile on the calories and fat. Either avoid the creamy salads or try low-fat versions, try salads made with vinegar or have low-fat cottage cheese instead.

For a healthy salad, pile on lots of colorful veggies, add some protein and go easy on the dressing!


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Last update: Monday, May 11, 2015