Salads are an easy way to add fruits, veggies to your diet

July 24, 2012|Lynn Little

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. 

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. Gone are the days when green salad meant only iceberg lettuce. Today there are many 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 with the darker green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, romaine lettuce, watercress and arugula, generally containing more nutrients than paler varieties.
• Color your salad plate with a rainbow of colors. Various-colored vegetables add texture and interest as well as provide health-promoting nutrients. 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 also one of the best sources of fiber. Dietary fiber can help reduce blood cholesterol levels and risk of heart disease. Fiber also is considered important in cancer prevention. Eating 1/2 a 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. 

• 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 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. 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.

Spooning on low-fat yogurt, cottage cheese or other cheeses adds the bone-building, osteoporosis-fighting nutrient calcium to your salad. 

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 healthful 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 and calorie dressings and be sure to pay attention to serving size.  For an almost no-calorie, no-fat topping, splash your salad with lemon juice or flavored vinegar, add salt and pepper and enjoy.

Go to everyone to learn more about fruits and vegetables, plus lots of recipe ideas. 

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

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