6 Steps to Building a Flavorful Low-Cholesterol Salad

Skip the fried and fatty toppings in favor of these healthier options

vegetables on cutting board with bowl of salad
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Salad for lunch seems like the perfect cholesterol-friendly option—but adding the wrong toppings and dressings to your greens can totally cancel out the health benefits. Many restaurant and takeout salads, while they may appear healthy, are filled with problematic fats, fried foods, fatty meats, and other cholesterol bombs, so it's crucial to be selective when ordering from a menu. It's easier to avoid saturated and trans fats, add high-fiber toppings, and choose cholesterol-lowering ingredients at home, of course, but that doesn't mean that you can't enjoy a meal out.

Use these guidelines to build a nourishing, flavorful cholesterol-friendly salad, whether you're whipping up a meal in your kitchen or dining out.

Try Different Greens 

Every variety of greens is going to be beneficial for your cholesterol and overall health, so when it comes to picking your salad base, it's a matter of personal preference. If you'd like a milder flavor of greens, try romaine, green leaf, or iceberg. If you like a little more of a bite, try using fresh spinach leaves, wild arugula, radicchio, or spring leaves instead. You could even do a combination of these options as well. The more variety in your choice of greens, the more nutritional diversity you will get from the vegetables, which is always a good thing.  

Load Up on Veggies

Greens are just the tip of the iceberg (pun intended) when assembling a low-cholesterol salad. Instead of loading up on unhealthy toppings such as bacon bits and cheeses, fill up on fiber by including a range of vegetables of different flavors and textures.

Everything from chopped celery and cucumbers to shredded carrots, radishes, or cabbage to fresh, creamy avocado to cooked or raw broccoli florets can bulk up your salad and keep you fuller longer, so you're less likely to reach for unhealthy snacks an hour after eating. 

Add Fruit for More Flavor 

Fruit is a great secret weapon to liven up a boring salad, and particular pairings go exceptionally well together.

For instance, arugula and raspberries; cucumber and watermelon (and mint, if you're feeling fancy); spinach and pears. They lend a sweet taste to your salad, often serving as a refreshing contrast to the other more savory or bitter ingredients. Fresh lemon and lime are also great for salad dressings and they pack a flavor punch (more on low-cholesterol salad dressing below). 

Throw In Some Nuts and Seeds 

Instead of using traditional croutons which are often full of refined carbohydrates, add a handful of heart-healthy nuts and seeds to your salad for some satisfying crunch. Nuts such as almonds and walnuts are composed of unsaturated fat, which can keep your cholesterol levels in check. A study published by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2009 found that people who supplemented their diets with walnuts, which are rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids, experienced a significant drop in total cholesterol and LDL-cholesterol concentrations. Seeds such as sunflower, flaxseed, sesame, and pumpkin also contain healthy unsaturated fats and add texture to your salad. 

Pass On the Bacon 

If you would like to include meat in your salad, try leaner cuts. Fattier and fried cuts of meat should be avoided since these have a tendency to be higher in saturated fats, which increase cholesterol levels.

Instead, try preservative-free turkey, shredded chicken, canned sardines, or wild caught salmon (fatty fish has been shown to lower total cholesterol and triglyceride concentrations in studies). You could also try plant-based protein sources, such as beans or quinoa. 

Skip Store-Bought, Full-Fat Salad Dressing 

Avoid creamy pre-made dressings since these often contain a high amount of saturated fat. Look for low-fat alternatives to your favorite salad dressing, and ask for plain olive oil and vinegar on your restaurant salad. Or better yet, make your own low-cholesterol salad dressing at home and bring it with you when you dine out.

Using olive oil as the base, you can add flavorful vinegars such as balsamic, rice, white wine, or apple cider vinegar, as well as spices such as fresh grated garlic or spice blends. Alternately, you could make a fruit dressing using raspberries or strawberries, lemon juice, olive oil, and salt. Or you could do a simple lemon juice, garlic, olive oil, and salt dressing. Don't douse the salad in dressing; rather, use just enough to lightly coat the leaves. 

Sources:

Deirdre K Banel and Frank B Hu. Effects of walnut consumption on blood lipids and other cardiovascular risk factors: a meta-analysis and systematic review. Am J Clin Nutr. 2009

Rajaram S1, Haddad EH, Mejia A, Sabaté J. Walnuts and fatty fish influence different serum lipid fractions in normal to mildly hyperlipidemic individuals: a randomized controlled study. Am J Clin Nutr. 2009 May; 89(5):1657S-1663S. 

Harvard Heart Letter. 11 foods that lower cholesterol. Updated: August 11, 2015

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