Wdowik Column: Celebrate Summer with Salads

Note to Reporters: Melissa Wdowik is an assistant professor at Colorado State University in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, and director of the Kendall Anderson Nutrition Center.

With warm weather and long days, a refreshing summer salad might be just what you crave for lunch or dinner. It can be a treasure trove of fiber, antioxidants and vitamins, but be careful; many salads have hundreds of calories and a day’s worth of fat, cholesterol and sodium. Use these tips to make yours more colorful, filling, tasty and nutritious!

• Start with a green base – the darker the better. Spinach, arugula and kale provide more nutrients than iceberg. Romaine is a nice mild-tasting addition to the darkest greens, so feel free to mix things up.
• Get adventurous. If you’ve never heard of mesclun or fennel, try a little at a salad bar before taking some home.
• Add bright, varied colors. Try something from each color category:
• Red: chopped cabbage, radishes, tomatoes, beets
• Yellow: banana peppers, bell peppers, summer squash – raw or sautéed
• Green: artichokes, cucumbers, sugar snap peas, broccoli
• Orange: bell peppers, carrots, mandarin oranges
• White: onions, mushrooms, chopped garlic

• Beware toppings that provide mostly empty calories, including some croutons, sesame sticks and crispy noodles. Also avoid cream-based salads such as pasta salad and tuna salad.
• Cheese raises another caution flag. Blue, cheddar, gorgonzola and other cheeses spruce up salads but contribute unhealthy fats and sodium. Keep portions to 1 tablespoon crumbled or shredded.
• Experiment with savory, crunchy or sweet toppings such as water chestnuts, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, ground flax seed, apple slices or dried cranberries.
• Get creative with protein sources that turn your salad into a meal, keeping you full and satisfied longer. Top greens with grilled salmon, chicken, shrimp, lean beef or tempeh. Toss with chickpeas or garbanzo beans. Add drained canned tuna, pumpkin seeds or walnuts.
• Sorry, but fried chicken is not a recommended salad topper. Avoid terms such as crispy and crunchy; look for grilled instead.
• Limit classic salads that masquerade as healthy choices, including Cobb and chef’s salads. These often contain more ham, bacon, cheese and eggs than vegetables! Better choices would be spinach salad with toasted pecans, Greek salad with grilled chicken, or taco salad with lean beef and beans (leaving behind most of the shell).
• Don’t forget the fats. Nutrients in many vegetables are better absorbed when eaten with a little healthful fat such as olives, avocadoes or oil.
• Speaking of oil, which dressing is best? Olive oil and flavorful vinegar are good, as is vinaigrette made from these. They aren’t all low calorie so aim for a serving of just 2 tablespoons. Limit creamy dressings such as Caesar, blue cheese and ranch. While tasty, these contain the same amount of fat and calories as a pat of butter per tablespoon.

Unless you want a salad with as much fat and calories as a box of doughnuts, slim down your dish by focusing on the vegetables and accessorizing with fruit, lean protein and healthy fats!