Salads are becoming more popular as the go-to side dish for dinner and the healthy lunch option. Even with the popularity of salads, most Americans do not eat the recommended servings of vegetables each day. A visit to the salad bar will increase consumption of fruits and vegetables and legumes. These foods offer many health benefits and are an important part of the diet. They supply a rich source of dietary fiber, potassium, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, vitamin E, folate, and iron. The key to building a healthy salad is to select options that will add these important nutrients while keeping calories low. Also, select a dressing that will boost flavor, not fat, calories and sodium.
Building a healthy salad begins with the base ingredient, leafy greens. Many of the health benefits that leafy greens provide come from phytonutrients, antioxidants which help to prevent chronic diseases like cancer and heart disease. Lettuce, the most commonly consumed leafy vegetable, provides about seven calories per 1 cup serving. When it comes to satisfying your appetite, it helps to eat foods high in volume but low in calories like lettuce. Lettuce, spinach, and other salad greens are an important part of a healthful diet because they can be year-round sources of vitamin A, vitamin C, and other nutrients. Red and dark green leafy vegetables are generally higher in antioxidants, Vitamin A, folate, vitamin K and other nutrients than lighter colored greens.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetic's website, suggest these lettuce options to add more flavor, color and texture to your salad:
- For a peppery flavor: arugula or watercress
- For leaves that aren't green: red-and-white radicchio
- For flavor with a "bite": chicory or escarole
- For a mild flavor and delicate green color: mache, Boston or Bibb lettuce
- For a deep-green color: spinach
- For a crisp texture: Romaine
Toss some colorful (plain) fruits and vegetables into the salad for added appeal, texture and nutrients. Add shredded carrots, broccoli, bell peppers or tomatoes for vitamin A and C. Toss in bell peppers, shredded cabbage, strawberries, kiwi fruit or pineapple and oranges for vitamin C. Lean proteins can turn your salad into a real meal. Top with chopped cooked ham, turkey, smoked turkey, roast beef, and chicken. Add cooked or canned tuna or salmon, or top with chopped hard cooked eggs. Beans are also a great protein option for salads.
Enhance the salad with a healthy dressing. Make sure to read the Nutrition Facts label when selecting a salad dressing. Many salad dressings are loaded with calories, sodium and sugar. Look for dressings that have healthier oils, such as olive and canola, and are lower in sodium. Keep dressing serving size reasonable; a tablespoon of dressing is considered a serving.
Additional salad toppings can include seeds, whole grains, dried fruit and nuts. Although very tasty, these add-ons can also contain lots of extra calories, so limit the portions to one ounce (a small handful).
Salads are very popular in the summer, but are great year round. Team a salad up with a favorite sandwich or soup for a healthy lunch or include a salad with dinner.