Last time you had a salad for your main meal, did you leave the table hungrier than a wolf in a cabbage patch? Sure, a big bowl of greens is good for you. But you'll be raiding the refrigerator an hour later if it doesn't have more going for it than that. If it does, a salad can be seriously satisfying, even for you carnivores out there.
Sure, salads keep you looking good in your Speedo or tankini. And they give your brain and body a big-time nutrition bump: You're significantly more likely to get your fill of vitamins if you're a salad hound, according to a joint UCLA/Louisiana State University study (we don't have a clue how those two got together). What's more, feasting on veggies (plus some lean protein) helps you fend off cancer, osteoporosis, stroke and ordinary aging.
Before you start loading up the crisper, keep in mind that the best salads are real meals: lean protein, complex carbs and healthy fats. (The worst? They're usually restaurant salads masquerading as health food but that actually ooze fat and calories. Take Chili's Southwestern Cobb Salad: Without dressing, it has 650 calories and 32 grams of fat. With dressing? A Speedo-busting, heart-stopping 970 calories and 60 fat grams. Yeesh.)
For the best salads (the kinds that make your taste buds zing, your belly smile and your cells young), toss these ingredients into your bowl:
Big and little greens: We probably don't have to tell you that richly colored greens (baby spinach, arugula, romaine lettuce, watercress, radicchio) are the foundation of a great salad. They're packed with nutrients that inhibit cancer and help bones stay strong. But don't stop there. For a clean, bright flavor -- and a serious phytochemical boost -- add some fresh herbs. Go for mini-powerhouses like mint (filled with cancer-busting monoterpenes), basil (packed with inflammation-fighting volatile oils) or cilantro (it goes after bad cholesterol).
Powerful proteins: Protein keeps your stomach busy for a long time. It responds by telling your brain that you're full. Smart diet move. Instead of sodium-socked deli meats or full-fat cheese, aim for lean fixin's like 3 ounces (about the size of a tin of Altoids) of canned salmon, skinless chicken or turkey breast, chopped egg whites, low-fat cheese or cubed tofu. A quarter-cup of walnuts or a half-cup of lentils, chickpeas or beans also will kick up your protein count.
Major flavor boosters: We've got no beef with the old salad standbys like carrots, tomatoes and cucumbers, but to really punch up the flavor, toss in asparagus, corn, black beans, zucchini, portabellas, red and purple peppers, or baked, diced sweet potatoes. Even better, lightly roast the veggies in a little olive oil first. The deep smoky flavor is to drool for.
Complex carbs that aren't oil-soaked croutons: Anytime you're cooking up some whole-wheat couscous or pasta, brown rice or barley, make extra and save it for your salads. Ditto for quinoa (it's like tiny, fluffy rice but high in protein as well as fiber) or chia (a grain that's a good source of healthy omega-3s). Crave crunchy croutons? Toast and cube some rye bread.
Dressings that aren't fat-phobic: Your salad needs some good (i.e., heart-friendly) omega-3 (or omega-9) fats to help your body soak up fat-soluble vitamins like A, D and K, and disease-fighting carotenoids such as lycopene and beta carotene. Enter real dressings. It's hard to beat balsamic vinegar and a little olive or walnut oil. Swirl in some mustard, ginger or herbs; if the seasonings are likely to overwhelm the olive or walnut oil, switch to canola oil; it's less expensive and even healthier. If you prefer store-bought, check labels to avoid inflammation-encouragers (most other oils, added sugars).
Your goal: a dressing that's thin and slippery enough to coat your salad easily. Drizzle on about half as much as you think you need (roughly 2 tablespoons for a meal-size salad; add extra balsamic if needed). Then toss like crazy to coat every last lettuce bit. Dig in.
The YOU Docs, Mike Roizen and Mehmet Oz, are authors of "YOU: Being Beautiful -- The Owner's Manual to Inner and Outer Beauty." To submit questions and find ways to grow younger and healthier, go to realage.com, the docs' online home.