How to build a better salad for your health

Just because something's called "salad" doesn't make it healthy. In fact, it can be the exact opposite. Here's how to make your salad nutritious, tasty and filling:

Keep it colorful. A salad with iceberg lettuce, celery and cucumbers has significantly fewer vitamins than one with romaine or spinach leaves, carrots, broccoli and tomatoes. "Generally, the darker and brighter the color, the better the nutrition," says Holly Hicks, a registered dietitian in Newport News, Va.

Add lean protein. Without it, your stomach likely will be rumbling again soon. Good choices include grilled chicken breast or shrimp, lean beef, canned salmon, beans, baked tofu and hard-boiled eggs.

Sprinkle on some crunch. Add a small handful of raw almonds or walnuts or seeds for protein and healthy fats. Avoid sugar-coated nuts, which are basically candy. You also can shave kernels from a leftover ear of corn.

Avoid high-calorie culprits. Fried meats and creamy, mayonnaise-based items such as chicken salad, macaroni salad and potato salad are bad for your waistline. Also steer clear of full-fat cheeses, croutons and bacon.

Watch the dressing. Choose olive oil and vinegar or light dressings -- not creamier options such as blue cheese or ranch -- and limit the serving size to 1 or 2 tablespoons. Even better, dip your fork in the dressing and then in the salad instead of pouring on dressing.

Add flavor. Fresh herbs such as basil, cilantro, parsley and mint keep salads interesting and also might help prevent high cholesterol, cancer and inflammation that can lead to heart disease. Asparagus, red peppers and portobello mushrooms also add zing.

Keep it raw. Make sure the majority of ingredients are fresh, plain vegetables or fruit -- not vegetables marinated in sauces or fruit salads in sugary bases.