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Green salads can be a powerhouse of nutrition

September 08, 2004|by LYNN F. LITTLE

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 older than 2 should eat a minimum of five servings of fruits and vegetables every day. Yet, only about 28 percent of adults meet this goal.

One way to increase your fruit and vegetable intake is to regularly consume 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. 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. Darker green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, romaine lettuce, watercress and arugula, generally contain more nutrients than paler ones.

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· Color your plate. Different color families of vegetables provide different nutrients as well as health-promoting plant chemicals called phytochemicals. Be creative. 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, melon balls and berries complement any green salad.

· Pack on the protein. If your salad is 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 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.

· Go easy on the croutons and bacon bits. Opt for more nutritious extras - 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. Using low-fat or fat-free dressings can help curb the calorie and fat content. For a low-calorie, nonfat topping, splash your salad with lemon juice or flavored vinegar.

The 5 A Day For Better Health program, a national nutrition campaign to encourage Americans to eat five or more servings of fruits and vegetables every day, is sponsored by the National Cancer Institute, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Produce for Better Health Foundation. For recipes and tips, the go to www.5aday.com on the Web.




Lynn F. Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with Maryland Cooperative Extension in Washington County.

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