Calories of Salad Ingredients: What You Need to Know to Make the Healthiest Choices

An easy and fun way to eat vegetables is to create a salad as most vegetables are naturally low in fat and calories and contain no cholesterol. Eating vegetables as part of an overall healthy diet can provide health benefits and reduce the risk of some chronic diseases. Vegetables provide nutrients that are vital for proper health and maintenance of the body.

While vegetables are the main component of a salad, there are other ingredients commonly added as well. It’s important to know the calories of salad ingredients as a way to maintain a healthy diet.

Getting Started

With any masterpiece, you need a canvas on which to create. The same is true when creating a great salad. The most common salad staples are iceberg or romaine lettuce and/or spinach leaves, all of which contain less than 10 calories per one cup serving.

The Salad Building Blocks

Most salad ingredients allow you to add volume, fiber and bulk to your meal without adding fat and calories. For example, one-half cup alfalfa sprouts or one tablespoon chopped onion adds only 5 calories. Adding one-half cup sliced red radish or a quarter cup jalapeno or sweet peppers only costs 10 calories. One cup mushrooms, chopped tomatoes, celery, red or green bell peppers, or cucumbers all contain approximately 16 calories each. Adding one cup of broccoli or cherry tomatoes adds 25 calories to a salad, while one-half cup carrots, a quarter cup diced or chopped ham, or two tablespoons of black olives adds a minimal 30 calories.

However, there are some ingredients that cost a few more calories than others. Just a quarter cup of real bacon bits or one-half cup of croutons will quickly add 75 calories and sprinkling just two tablespoons of sunflower seeds on top will cost another 105 calories. Got cheese? Be sure to add 110 calories for every one quarter cup of full-fat shredded cheddar cheese.

Dress It Up

Salad dressings and oils can add a lot of calories to an otherwise healthy salad. Be sure to check labels and nutrition information for serving sizes to ensure correct calculation of the calories of salad ingredients being used.

The lowest calorie option is using vinegar based dressings such as red wine or balsamic vinegar. Two tablespoons equal a very minimal 15 calories. Another low-calorie option is salsa; one quarter cup contains 25 calories. Those salad dressing options with a slightly higher caloric value include Italian, Russian, Thousand Island, and Catalina, all of which add between 43 and 62 calories per tablespoon serving. Creamier dressings may have a higher calorie content and should be used sparingly if using a reduced-calorie diet plan. The full-fat versions of Ranch, French, and Blue Cheese dressing will add between 70 and 77 calories per tablespoon.

Salads can be a very healthy meal option, provided the calories of salad ingredients is known and counted properly for all serving sizes.

Resources:

United States Department of Agriculture – https://www.ars.usda.gov/Services/docs.htm?docid=12089

USDA: My Food Pyramid – https://www.mypyramid.gov/

Food and Drug Administration – https://www.fda.gov/food/labelingnutrition/consumerinformation/ucm078889.htm

CDC: Fruits and Veggies Matter – https://www.fruitsandveggiesmatter.gov/