With a base full of veggies, it’s understandable that salads are synonymous with clean eating. Truth is, however, not all salads are a sure-fire healthy bite to eat, especially if they’re store bought.
Obviously, veggies are incredibly nutritious, so chances are, a pre-prepared salad is better for you than most alternative lunches or dinner sides. The dressings, serving sizes and extra additions, however, play a huge role in determining whether the salad is truly doing your health a favour.
To help you decipher the good-for-you salads from the health food blunders, here’s what you’re looking for in the salad department.
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A sensible portion size
You might be surprised to learn this, but based on the average daily adult intake of 8700 kilojoules (2080 calories) and factoring in a few healthy snacks throughout the day, a healthy main meal can contain up to 2200 kilojoules (550 calories).
If your salad offers far less than that, it’s a wise idea to add to it to ensure you’re getting a well-balanced meal that won’t see your tummy grumbling again in 30 minutes. That might be a wholegrain bread roll for some often-lacking quality carbohydrates, or a handful of chicken, a tin of tuna or some hard-boiled eggs for hunger-busting protein, which brings me to my next point.
High in protein
Around 20 grams of protein is the ballpark figure you’re aiming for per main meal. Not only is protein important for muscle maintenance and growth, but it has a key role in filling you up and keeping you feeling satisfied (read: away from that block of chocolate sitting in your pantry or desk drawer).
As mentioned, chicken, eggs or tuna are some easy additions to bump up the protein content if necessary. If vego is more your style, look for salads made with beans, chickpeas and lentils. Grains (think: a wholegrain bread roll or a microwave brown rice cup) can provide a little boost of protein, too.
Low in sodium
The recommended daily maximum sodium intake is 2000 milligrams (in case you’re not aware, it’s bad news for your heart). That means per main meal, you’re after less than 500 milligrams – and that is rather tricky when you’re looking at pre-prepared packaged meals. I was gobsmacked to find some supermarket salad selections contained over 1000 milligrams of sodium, mainly thanks to salad dressings and cured meats. So, make sure you tread carefully and read the label.
Low in saturated fat
Another negative nutrient that’s bad for heart health, saturated fat is found in creamy dressings and cured meats – so again, buyer beware. When it comes to saturated fat, the less, the better. I’d suggest keeping it under 5 grams per serve.
Dietitian-approved supermarket salads
To give you a helping hand with choosing a truly healthy salad, I’ve selected five supermarket varieties that meet my criteria. So without further ado, they are:
- Woolworths Green Goodness Salad Bowl: Per 240g serve: 1970kJ, 14.6g protein, 2.6g sat fat, 23.8g carbs, 7.7g fibre, 355mg sodium
- The Salad Servers Lentil Salad: Per 200g serve: 1080kJ, 14.2g protein, 0.5g sat fat, 31.2g carbs, 543mg sodium
- The Salad Servers Quinoa Tabbouleh: Per 150g serve: 1540kJ, 12.8g protein, 1.3g sat fat, 53.4g carbs, 372mg sodium
- Coles Kitchen Superfood Salad Bowl: Per 185g serve: 1050kJ, 13.9g protein, 1.7g sat fat, 16.1g carbs, 276mg sodium
- Woolworths Mexican Style Chicken Salad Bowl: Per 185g serve: 1200kJ, 9.6g protein, 1.7g sat fat, 20g carbs, 2.8g fibre, 546mg sodium
Melissa Meier is a Sydney-based accredited practising dietitian. You can connect with her on Instagram @honest_nutrition.