The Best Summer Salads for People with Diabetes
Whether you're headed to a small backyard barbecue or staying in this weekend, round out your meal with side salads that are healthy choices for people with diabetes.
Leafy Greens Salad
Low in carbohydrates and rich in vitamins K and A plus folate, salad greens are a smart addition to your plate. Dark greens like spinach, kale and chard are more nutritious than those that are light in color like iceberg lettuce. Go easy on the dressing and watch out for sweet toppings like sugared nuts (salads with naturally sweet fruit are a better choice).
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Nothing says summer like crisp, refreshing cucumbers. They’re low in calories and their high water content can help keep you hydrated on hot days. Whether they stand alone or are tossed with red onions in a lightly-dressed salad, cukes are a summertime staple. Cucumber salads are perfect side dishes for cooling off spicy chicken skewers or jalapeno sirloin steaks from the grill.
If you see a tomato salad while you’re eyeing up the picnic buffet, it’s usually a healthy choice. Fresh tomatoes can taste sweet, but they are still low in carbohydrates. Whether you favor heirloom tomato salad or sweet cherry tomato salad with fresh herbs, you can typically load up your plate for a modest amount of calories.
One cup of fresh broccoli has just 30 calories and 6 grams carbohydrate. So, as long as it’s included in a salad with other healthy ingredients, it’s a smart choice. Watch out for broccoli salads that include ingredients that are high in saturated fat like cheese and bacon. A simple, lightly dressed broccoli salad is your best bet.
It’s true that fruit is high in sugar, but it’s naturally-occurring sugar, not added sugar. Unlike empty calories from sugary foods like candy, fruit comes with the benefit of nutrients our bodies need to stay healthy. Leave the skin on apples, pears and stone fruits to get the most fiber, which helps slow down digestion and keep blood sugar stable. A fruit salad dressed with a flavorful vinaigrette that includes healthy fat will also help slow digestion.
Cabbage is the ultimate low-cal veggie. It adds volume and crunch to anything from soups and casseroles to, of course, summer slaw. But coleslaw isn’t limited to just cabbage anymore. Try broccoli slaw, celery root slaw and more! Steer clear of coleslaw that’s loaded with sweetened dried fruit like dried cranberries.
Green Bean Salad
Green beans are a lovely low-carb vegetable that are sometimes overlooked for salads, but they can definitely hold their own as the star of any summery side. Blanch the beans first for vibrant green color and tenderness. Toss them with your favorite dressing, cheese and toasted nuts for a winning salad every time (try this version with Parmesan and walnuts).
Grain salads will add carbs to your meal, but they are usually rich in B vitamins and fiber, too. High-fiber grains like bulgur, barley, quinoa, brown rice and wheat berries are the best choices. If you’re unfamiliar with some of these grains, introduce them by mixing some into your favorite green salad. It will transform your recipe into a heartier version with nuttier flavor and more texture—like this quinoa salad with kale.
Whether you grow them in the backyard or you find them at a farmers market, low-carb zucchini and yellow summer squash are abundant during the summer months. Take advantage of them in a colorful squash salad while they are in season.
Like grains, legumes are high in carbs, but they also offer fiber and protein, which will help keep blood sugar stable. Think black beans, lentils, chickpeas and pinto beans. Using more than one type in the same salad will provide a wider variety of nutrients and create a festive and colorful bean salad.