Dressed for Success: Tips for Lightening Up Your Salad

By Meghan Flynn, MS, RDN; Grace Kim and Marquita Johnson

May is a perfect time to commemorate National Salad Month.  As the days get warmer, we naturally want to eat lighter and turn on the oven less.  Whether served as a side, or being the star of the plate, it is easy to get creative with salads.  Stevia, a plant-based, zero-calorie sweetener, can also help you lighten up your salad by replacing the sugar called for in some homemade salad dressing recipes. Read on for some tips and recipes to build a better salad.

It’s All About the Base: Tips for Building a Better Salad

Go for (dark) greens:  Skip the iceberg and reach for nutrient-rich dark green, leafy lettuces such as spinach, kale, arugula, red leaf or Swiss chard

Free for all:  Load up on seasonal fresh or roasted/grilled vegetables and fruits to add flavor and texture

Lean-in on lean proteins:  Turn your salad into a meal by tossing in 3-ounces of grilled chicken, salmon or flank steak; hard cooked eggs, or a ½ cup of beans

Up the fiber with whole grains:  Adding a ½ cup of whole grains such as farro, wheat berries, quinoa or sorghum not only increases the fiber content but also makes for a more satisfying, filling salad.

A little (healthy) fat goes a long way:  Adding just a ¼ avocado, or a ¼ cup of nuts or olives can help with the absorption of nutrients such as lycopene and beta carotene.

When Salads Go Sideways

Salads typically go sideways nutritionally in two areas – toppings and dressings.

Tackling the toppings: It is easy to go overboard at the salad bar with high fat and calorie toppings. Say bye-bye to bacon bits and croutons, and opt for a healthier crunch with nuts, roasted chickpeas, or crisp vegetables such as peppers, carrots or jicama.   Cheese is another salad-sinner, where a little goes a long way.  Less guilty options include cottage cheese, parmesan or fresh mozzarella.  If you do opt for full-fat cheese, limit serving size to 1/4 cup.

Dressing Disasters: Most people associate salad dressings with being high in calories and fat.  But salad dressings are also a source of hidden sugar, especially the “light” and fat-free versions, which can contain two teaspoons of sugar per serving.  When making a dressing at home, you can substitute stevia in place of sugar to help balance out the acidity – but a little stevia goes a long way!  For every teaspoon of sugar called for in a recipe, use ½ a packet or ½ teaspoon of stevia sweetener.     

When it comes to portions, a typical serving size is two tablespoons, so be sure to measure it out versus pouring straight from the bottle, where it is easy to be heavy-handed.  If you are eating out and order dressing on the side, beware that the side-cup of dressing can contain double the recommended portion, so it is best to use the “dip” method versus pouring the entire contents onto your salad.

Colorful and Creative Salads
You don’t have to stick to building the base of your salad with greens.  You can thinly slice any fresh vegetables you have handy to build your salad from.  Here are two super simple, flavorful dressings to make ahead of time, along with two colorful side salad recipes, all sweetened with stevia in place of the sugar normally called for.

Lemon Summer Vinaigrette

Serves 5

Nutritional Information: 1 cup serving of salad dressing  

Calories 150, Total Fat 17 g, Total Carbohydrate 0 g and Protein 0 g


Balsamic Vinaigrette 

Serves 4

Nutritional Information:  1 cup serving of salad dressing

Calories 120, Total Fat 13 g, Total Carbohydrate 3 g which includes Sugars 3 g, Protein 0 g

Dill Carrot Ribbon Salad

This recipe features rainbow carrots, golden beets and watermelon radish for a side salad that is as colorful as it is delicious! 

Serves:  8


  • 6 medium rainbow carrots, sliced thin with vegetable peeler
  • 1 small golden beet, sliced thin
  • 1 small watermelon radish, sliced thin
  • 1 small red beet, sliced thin
  • 1 small red onion, sliced thin
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • ¼  cup grapefruit juice
  • 2-3 pieces fresh dill, chopped
  • 3 packets of tabletop stevia
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  • For extra crunchy vegetables, place all shaved vegetables into cold ice water for at least 20 minutes.
  • Combine olive oil, grapefruit juice, stevia, dill, sliced onion, salt, and pepper.
  • Drain vegetables and dry almost completely.
  • Dress vegetables with dressing.
  • Allow vegetables to marinate for at least 20 minutes or overnight.

Nutritional Information: 1 cup serving  

Calories 90, Total Fat 6 g, Total Carbohydrate 8 g which includes Sugars 5 g (none from added sugar), and Protein 1 g

Orange Pomegranate Salad

Peppery arugula pairs perfectly with tangy oranges and tart pomegranate juice, and toasted pecans and salty feta cheese are the perfect finishing touches to make this salad burst with flavor. 

Serves 4


  • 4 cups fresh arugula
  • 3 whole oranges, cut into orange segments
  • ¼ cup feta cheese crumbled
  • ¼ cups chopped pecans, Toasted
  • 1 cup Pomegranate Juice
  • 1 teaspoon Lemon Juice
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon Mustard
  • 3 packets of stevia tabletop
  • ¼ cups Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Dash coarse salt And ground black pepper


  • Layer arugula, blood oranges, feta cheese, and pecan on a platter or in a bowl.
  • In a small mixing bowl, whisk together pomegranate juice, lemon juice, Dijon and stevia.
  • Slowly whisk in olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.
  • Drizzle dressing on salad and toss to combine.

Nutritional Information: 1 cup dressed salad 

Calories 275, Total Fat 21 g, Total Carbohydrate 22 g which includes Sugars 18 g (none from added sugar), and Protein 4 g

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