Comprehensive Dos and Don’ts for Building a Healthy Salad

By Dena Gershkovich
For Unwind magazine

We all know that salad is nutritious. However, many do not know how to build the healthiest salad. With May being National Salad Month, right now is a great time to learn. Although salads are often flaunted as the signature health food, they can easily become just the opposite.

First, I will orient you with some common salad mistakes (hopefully you won’t be guilty of any of them). I will then provide a guide for how to build a salad that will fill and fuel you throughout the day.

Myth #1: It’s a Salad; It Must be Healthy

Nothing could be more false.

If you combined taffy, chocolate, and gummy worms and called it a “candy salad,” would you still consider it a health food?

It’s easy to be tricked into thinking any salad is a nutritious one, since the word itself has evolved to connote that very definition. However, take caution. A “Caesar salad” comprised of a few lettuce bits, a shy handful of diced cucumbers, a pile of croutons and a puddle of high-fat, mayonnaise-based dressing is not going to earn you points in the I-ate-healthy-today book.

Salads have great potential to be healthy if done right.

Be sure to analyze the components going into your bowl. If there are more “treat foods” than good-for-you foods, you may want to reconsider what you’re eating.

Myth #2: Any Dressing Goes

If eating clean is your goal, this definitely is not true.

Sugar, salt and fat often sneak into salad dressings. It’s important to avoid unwanted calories on your healthy masterpiece! Be sure to read nutrition labels to discover with what you’re actually smothering your lettuce. Spoiler alert: you’ll be surprised.

Now that you know some common salad mistakes, here are step-by-step instructions on how to best fill your salad bowl.


Step #1: The Darker the Better

Deciding what leafy base to use can be quite overwhelming. Iron-rich spinach, calcium-filled kale and crunchy iceberg are only a few of the many green leafy vegetables to choose from.

When in doubt, go for the darkest leaves available, as these contain more nutrients, according to Jill Nussinow.

Step #2: Embrace the Rainbow

Eating healthy is considered expensive, but any college student can save some green while enjoying delicious vegetables.

Not only is eating in-season produce the most delicious way to consume your vegetables, but it’s also the cheapest way to go about food shopping, according to

Because more colors mean more nutrients, paying attention to the colors in your bowl is a great way to ensure a nutrient-rich meal.

Step #3: Protein!

No salad can be considered a meal unless it has protein. This nutrient must be consumed in adequate amounts, as our bodies are unable to store protein, according to

Protein is responsible for proper enzyme and hormone functioning. Although vegetables contain fiber, a nutrient which helps with satiation, a lack of protein will lead to hunger hitting very soon after a meal. Chicken, tuna, tofu and lentils are protein-rich foods to add to your salad to prevent those afternoon lecture stomach rumbles.

Step #4: Finish it Off Right

As previously stated, bottled salad dressings are too often loaded with undesirable ingredients.

Rather than combing the aisles for that one perfect dressing, it may be easier to make your own.

My personal favorite: Mix equal parts of extra virgin olive oil with fresh lemon juice and a sprinkling of salt and pepper. An added bonus of this dressing is that the vitamin C in the lemon juice will aid your body in absorbing the non-heme iron from the salad’s vegetables, which can be difficult for the body to manage alone.

Happy salad making!


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