Whether you’re making a trip through the salad bar or creating your own salad at home, side and main dish salads can be a great way of getting in your "5-a-day" – eating five or more servings of colorful fruits and vegetables per day – and keeping calories under control. Salads also can become loaded with fat and calories if you’re not careful.
Salad greens form the basis of most salads. Gone are the days when green salad meant only iceberg lettuce. Today, most supermarkets offer many different types of greens. Look for red leaf, red and green romaine, mixed greens, butterhead, spinach, kale, watercress and arugula. Generally speaking, the darker the leaf, the higher the nutrient content.
Various colored vegetables add texture and interest to salads as well as provide health-promoting plant chemicals called phytochemicals. Be creative and go beyond the traditional tomato, carrot and cucumber. Red, yellow and green peppers, beets, broccoli, cauliflower, red cabbage, green peas, red onions and radishes all make tasty additions.
Vegetables are one of the best sources of fiber. Various forms of fiber help reduce blood cholesterol levels, cutting heart disease risk. Fiber also is considered important in cancer prevention. This may be due to its role in the intestinal tract, where it keeps foods, including potential carcinogens, moving through – and ultimately out of – the system. One-half cup of beans, broccoli, peas or corn provides more than two grams of fiber, a good start on the road to the 25 to 30 grams recommended daily.
For added color and taste, don’t forget the fruit. Adding fruit to a green salad is a great way to add color and texture along with extra vitamins, minerals and fiber. Pineapple chunks, raisins, Crasins, melon balls, berries, orange segments and grapes are nice compliments to any green salad.
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.
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.
Finally, be careful how you dress your salad, because this is where the fat and calories can pile up. If you choose to use regular salad dressing, limit the amount used on your salad to two tablespoons, which will add roughly 150 calories and 15 grams of fat to the salad. If weight loss is a goal, then consider one of the reduced fat and calorie dressings. You’ll still need to pay attention to serving size. If you prefer the "real" thing, consider vinaigrettes made with olive or canola oil. These oils are high in monounsaturated fats that, unlike saturated fats, actually can help lower blood cholesterol levels. For an almost no-calorie, no-fat topping, splash your salad with lemon juice or flavored vinegar, add salt and pepper and enjoy!
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by Pat Kendall, Ph.D., R.D., Food Science and Human Nutrition Specialist, Colorado State University, Cooperative Extension