The 10 Best Picks at the Salad Bar

Choose wisely, and your salad can be a super-healthy meal complete with several servings of vegetables, protein and numerous essential nutrients.

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Creating a Healthy Mix

Just saying that you're headed to the salad bar is enough to make you feel virtuous, but not all salad fixings are created equal. In fact, if you choose poorly, you could end up with a bowlful of fat and calories — and not so much nutrition. Choose wisely, on the other hand, and that salad can be a super-healthy meal complete with several servings of vegetables, protein and numerous essential nutrients. As a general rule of thumb, avoid prepared salads (like tuna or pasta), as well as high-fat dressings (like blue cheese or ranch). Instead, opt for the freshest, most-colorful array of veggies mixed with lean sources of protein. Here are nutritionists' top choices for creating a healthy mix.

Dark Leafy Greens

Skip past the anemic-looking iceberg lettuce and head straight for the kale, spinach and arugula. The richer the color of the leaves, the richer they are in nutrients. Dark leafy greens are rich in vitamin K, vitamin A, vitamin C, B vitamins, folate, beta carotene, lutein and numerous flavonoids (antioxidant compounds). "You'll get lutein and zeaxanthin for eye health, and they're a source of dietary nitrates which have a vasodilatory effect," explains Leslie Bonci, R.D., director of sports nutrition at the UPMC Center for Sports Medicine, Pittsburgh.

Broccoli

This vegetable is a member of the cruciferous family (which also includes kale, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower). Cruciferous vegetables contain a unique category of phytonutrients called glucosinolates, which research shows to be important for preventing cancer.

Carrots

As the name would suggest, carrots are one of the richest sources of the antioxidant beta carotene, which has been shown to be beneficial for vision, as well as preventing cardiovascular disease and some cancers.

Beets

Antioxidants such as anthocyanins give beets their rich red color. And they are also what give beets their wonderful anti-inflammatory properties and heart-protective benefits. Beets are a rich source of folate, as well as minerals like potassium and manganese.

Bell Peppers

Red, yellow and orange peppers are great for adding vitamin C to your salad. In fact, a cup of chopped red pepper has almost three times as much vitamin C as an orange.

Beans

To make a salad into more of a meal, you'll want to add some protein. "Beans are a great option because they are high in fiber and protein," says Pam Fullenweider, R.D.N., a nutritionist in Houston. "Good choices include pinto, kidney, black beans, edamame or chickpeas."

Tuna

Fish is an excellent source of lean protein, plus it's rich in heart-healthy Omega-3 fatty acids. "Just be sure to avoid prepared tuna that's mixed with lots of mayonnaise or oil," says Fullenweider.

Quinoa

Adding a whole grain to your salad will not only fill you up (and leave you feeling fuller for longer), it will also add some important nutrients to the mix. Quinoa is an especially healthy choice because it contains protein, fiber, plus beneficial antioxidant phytonutrients.

Sunflower Seeds

Sprinkle a spoonful of these on top of your salad for a nice crunch, nutty flavor, and a healthy dose of vitamin E and selenium.

Olive Oil and Vinegar

Creamy dressings can add unnecessary fat and calories to your salad. And even premade vinaigrettes often contain sugar and more oil than vinegar. "Instead, dress your salad with a drizzle of oil and vinegar," suggests Bonci. "And make it more vinegar than oil — limit yourself to about a thumbnail-sized amount of oil."

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