Nutrition Column – Salad Sense

It’s a fact – most Americans aren’t getting enough fruits and vegetables in their daily diet. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans, everyone over two years of age should eat a minimum of five servings of fruits and vegetables every day. Yet, roughly only 28 percent of adults currently meet this goal.

One way to increase your fruit and vegetable intake is to regularly enjoy a fresh green salad. Green salads can be served as a side dish or as a hearty main dish. They can be quick, simple and easy to prepare or more elaborate, with complicated preparation steps. Regardless of the elegance of the salad, when put together with the right ingredients, green salads can be a powerhouse of nutrition.

  • Begin with the greens. Salad greens are a good source of many vitamins and minerals including folate, vitamin C and beta-carotene. Keep in mind that darker green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, romaine lettuce, watercress and arugula, generally contain more nutrients than paler ones like iceberg lettuce.
  • Color your plate with a rainbow of colors. Different color families of vegetables provide different nutrients as well as health-promoting plant chemicals called phytochemicals. Be creative and go beyond the traditional tomato, carrot and cucumber. Peppers, beets, broccoli, cauliflower, green peas, onions and radishes all make tasty additions.
  • Don’t forget the fruit. Adding fruit to a green salad is a great way to add more color, taste and texture, not to mention more vitamins, minerals and fiber. Pineapple chunks, raisins, Crasins, melon balls, berries, orange segments and grapes are nice compliments to any green salad.
  • Pack on the protein. If your salad is being served as the main course, it’s important to include protein-rich ingredients. Try garbanzo beans, kidney beans, tofu, lean ham, turkey or chicken strips or canned tuna in spring water.
  • Count on calcium. Spooning on low-fat yogurt, cottage cheese or other cheeses adds the bone-building, osteoporosis-fighting nutrient calcium to your salad.
  • Get a little nutty. Before you dig into your salad, toss on some chopped nuts such as almonds, walnuts or cashews. Although nuts are high in fat, they contain mostly heart-healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats rather than saturated fat.
  • Go easy on the croutons, bacon bits and chow-mein noodles. Opt for more nutritious extras such as low-fat shredded cheese, hard-boiled eggs or ground flaxseed.
  • Dress your salad for success. Salad dressings often get a bad rap because they can significantly increase the fat and calorie content of an otherwise healthy salad. If you choose to use regular salad dressing, limit the amount used on your salad to 2 tablespoons, which will add roughly 150 calories and 15 grams of fat to the salad. Using low-fat or fat-free dressings can help curb the calorie and fat content, but you still need to pay attention to serving size. For an almost no-calorie (approximately five to 10 calories per 2-tablespoon serving), no-fat topping, splash your salad with lemon juice or flavored vinegar.