Mix up salad to get more fruits and vegetables

July 25, 2007|By LYNN LITTLE

It's a fact: most Americans aren't getting enough fruits and vegetables in their daily diets. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Dietary Guidelines for Americans and MyPyramid, everyone older than 2 years old should eat 4 to 5 servings (2 cups) of fruits plus 4 to 5 servings (2 1/2 cups) of vegetables every day. Yet, only a small percentage of adults currently meet this goal.

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 to eat more colorful fruits and veggies every day and keeping calories under control. They can be quick, simple and easy to prepare, or they can be made more elaborate, with complicated preparation steps. Green salads can be a powerhouse of nutrition; however, they also can become loaded with fat and calories if you're not careful.

Begin with the greens. Salad greens form the basis of most salads. Gone are the days when green salad meant only iceberg lettuce. Today there are many different types of greens available. Look for red leaf, red and green romaine, mixed greens, butterhead, spinach, kale, watercress and arugula. 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, such as iceberg lettuce.


Color your plate with a rainbow of colors. Various colored vegetables add texture and interest to salads as well as providing health-promoting phytochemicals, vitamins and minerals. Be creative and go beyond the traditional tomato, carrot and cucumber. Peppers, beets, broccoli, cauliflower, green peas, 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 might 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 2 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 more color, taste and texture, along with extra vitamins, minerals and fiber. Pineapple chunks, raisins, dried cranberries, melon balls, berries, orange segments and grapes are nice complements 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.

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. 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.

Finally, be careful how you dress your salad, because this is where the fat and calories can pile up. Salad dressings 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 approximately 150 calories and 15 grams of fat to the salad.

If weight loss is a goal, then consider one of the reduced fat, reduced-calorie dressings. You 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 unsaturated 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!

Visit to find out how many fruits and vegetables you need, plus recipe ideas.

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

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