Heart-Smart Salad Bar Selections

In these busy times, grabbing a quick meal from the salad bar of your local deli or fast-food restaurant chain may not only shave precious minutes from your day; it may also provide all the ingredients you need for a healthy heart—if you choose well. 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. Fruits and vegetables are good sources of vitamins and minerals while being high in fiber and low in calories. They also contain substances found in plants that may help prevent cardiovascular disease. Carrots, radishes, broccoli, and avocados are all great choices. Fruits such as blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, apple slices, and raisons are packed with vitamins and antioxidants and can satisfy your sweet tooth without adding a lot of calories to your meal.
  • Add low-fat protein sources. Lean meats, cooked shrimp, and poultry (without the skin) are all packed with protein. Just make sure the foods you choose aren't fried, as this will add calories and unhealthy fats. Legumes, such as beans, pea, and lentils are also good sources of protein. They're filling, and contain less fat and no cholesterol, making them good substitutes for meat.
  • Choose "good" 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-based dressings and a little balsamic vinegar. Adding some nuts like walnuts, pecans, or almonds gives you 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 eat no more than 2,300 milligrams (mg) of salt a day (about one teaspoon). People ages 51 and older, African-Americans, and those 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.