For many of my clients, the thought of eating a salad as their main course isn’t very appealing – and that’s understandable. We’re all familiar with salads that, thanks to lack-luster ingredients and low-quality dressing, pack on the calories but still leave you hungry.
It can be tricky to build a salad that satisfies, especially when you are managing diabetes. Here are 5 steps to building mouth-watering salads that are great for maintaining healthy blood glucose levels and will leave you feeling fulfilled:
1. Choose your base
The base for your salad shouldn’t be just a boring vessel. Skip the iceberg and look for deep, dark greens that will add so much more flavor and nutritional benefits to your meal. Hearty greens like kale and spinach have higher amounts of fiber, which help to regulate blood sugar and keep you full longer. Another good option is to mix up lighter greens with spicy greens like arugula or radicchio and add in herbs like in this recipe to get a variety of nutrients in and a lot more flavor out of your veggies.
2. Pick a protein
The key to building a filling salad is to add in protein-rich foods that take longer to digest and won’t affect blood glucose. Try adding a sprinkle of slivered almonds, walnuts or sunflower seeds for a mix of healthy fats, protein, and crunch. You can also add a few ounces of grilled chicken or turkey to any salad to bulk up the protein.
If you are looking for a meat-free option, you might throw a handful of baked tofu cubes or tempeh on top of your favorite salad recipe. Or if you’re a seafood eater, you might try this modernized version of the classic Niçoise salad with soft-boiled eggs and grilled salmon that packs in protein and heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to be very beneficial in improving insulin sensitivity.
Finally, limit the amount of processed or fatty sources of protein whenever possible. Although bacon makes a great addition to a classic wedge salad, it might not be the best choice for every day. Deli meat is also very highly-processed and often times contains high amounts of sodium and other fillers. Choose your protein wisely to get the most out of your meal.
3. Add some healthy carbs
Have you ever tried eating a salad for lunch and felt a bit low energy the rest of the day? This might have been the case if you completely left out any source of carbohydrates from your otherwise healthy meal.
Even if you are living with diabetes and are trying to reduce your carbohydrate intake, it’s important to include at least a small serving of high-fiber carbs in at each meal to keep blood sugars stable and prevent energy levels from crashing.
Things like cooked beans or a serving of whole grain or wild rice are a great source of carbohydrates and make a great addition to any salad. Check out this recipe for some inspiration on how to include healthy, whole grains into your salad meals.
You might also try tossing in a handful of fresh fruit like berries, such as the ones found in this recipe. Avoid fried or refined versions of carbohydrates like wonton strips or pasta salads, when possible.
4. Be choosy with your dressings
Dressings can really make or break the quality of your salad depending on the one you choose. While you don’t have to completely eliminate salad dressing (you are not expected to eat like a rabbit!), you should aim for the higher caliber options.
Your best bet for having a healthy dressing is to make it yourself and keep it in-stock in your fridge. Try playing around with different sweet and savory options, like a homemade honey mustard or a soy sesame made with lemon juice and fresh-grated ginger. Here is a great guide to making a variety of different healthy salad dressings.
No time to whip up your own dressing? That’s okay—there are plenty of healthier versions on the market now, too. Look for a dressing with minimal ingredients and ones that you can easily pronounce. Vinaigrettes should contain heart-healthy oils like olive, avocado, or grapeseed oil. If you’re looking for something creamy, try finding a dressing that is made with Greek yogurt or avocado as the base.
Avoid anything with hydrogenated oils, long lists of ingredients, or hard-to-pronounce additives.
5. Get creative with flavors
The biggest mistake I see my clients make when trying to include salads into their daily routine is not adding enough variety. There are a million and one ways to make a salad to avoid getting stuck in a salad “rut” and feeling bored with your options.
The sky is the limit when it comes to salad ingredients. Don’t be afraid to branch out from your comfort zone!