In these busy times, grabbing a quick meal from the salad bar of your local deli or fast-food restaurant chain may not only help you shave off precious minutes from your busy day, it may also provide all the ingredients you need for a healthy heart-if you know what to choose.

Here's how to stay heart-healthy without sacrificing great taste:

  • Start With Dark Greens: All types of lettuce are low in calories and provide a good source of fiber. However, to reap the greatest nutritional value, stick to the darker varieties of greens, including spinach, Boston, and Romaine.
  • Include Fruits and Vegetables: These are good sources of vitamins and minerals and they are high in fiber and low in calories. They also contain plant substances that may help prevent cardiovascular disease. Carrots, radishes, broccoli, and avocados are all great choices. Fruits such as blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, apple slices, and raisins are packed with vitamins and antioxidants and can satisfy your sweet tooth without adding a lot of calories.
  • Add Low-Fat Protein Sources: Lean meats like cooked shrimp and poultry (without the skin) are all packed with protein, just make sure the foods you choose aren't fried to avoid unhealthy fats and high calories. Adding legumes, such as beans, peas, and lentils are also good sources of protein and contain less fat and no cholesterol, making them good substitutes for meat.
  • Choose Smart Fats: To keep the amount of calories consumed low while getting the heart-healthy benefits of eating salads, stay away from high-fat commercial dressings, which can add 80 or more calories to the meal-and opt instead for a drizzle of monounsaturated fats found in olive oil or canola oil and a little Balsamic or red wine vinegar. Adding a sprinkle of nuts like walnuts, pecans, or almonds gives you crunch along with a dose of polyunsaturated fats, which may help lower your blood total blood cholesterol. But all types of fat are high in calories, so use in moderation.
  • Avoid the Salt: Including a lot of sodium (salt) in your diet can contribute to high blood pressure, a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends that healthy adults have no more than 2,300 milligrams (mg) of salt a day, which is about one teaspoon. People ages 51 and older, African-Americans, and people diagnosed with high blood pressure, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease, should limit their salt intake to no more than 1,500 mg of sodium a day.

Mayo Clinic. "Heart-healthy diet: 8 steps to prevent heart disease."