Tuesday, January 17, 2012

A Salad A Day

Are Salads Healthy?

While salads can be nutritional powerhouses they can also be nutritional failures as in a pile of iceberg lettuce weighed down with cheese, croutons, nuts etc. and drowned with gooey fatty dressing.

Such a "salad" would not be a good source of nutrients; in a half-pound of iceberg lettuce, you won't find any vitamin B1, B2, B3, B5, B12, folate, biotin, D, E, K, nor any chromium, copper magnesium, manganese, selenium, or zinc.

However, there is absolutely no nutrient that cannot be obtained from a fresh, delicious salad. In fact, a salad containing a wide variety of vegetables- including root vegetables, green leafy vegetables, stalks, stems, and flowers-- will often be closer to a "complete meal" than any other dishes.

The use of seeds, nuts, and beans in salads is extremely helpful in contributing protein, fiber, minerals, and omega-3 fatty acids to the meal. Small amounts of "garnish" type ingredients - like a tablespoon of pumpkin seeds or a sprinkling of walnuts - are a very worthwhile addition in terms of nutrients. Trace minerals and small amounts of high-quality omega-3 fats are nutrients that most U.S. adults don't get nearly enough, and it doesn't take many pumpkin seeds or walnuts to bring at least some of these vital nutrients into the day's meal plan.

Practical tips

Think of a salad as a canvas upon which you can mix the different 'colors' of foods. Depending upon your mood, the season and what's in your refrigerator, mix a variety of your favorite vegetables into your salad bowl. Starting with a nutrient-rich lettuce like romaine or spinach and adding a mesclun or spring mix variety of lettuces will create a great foundation for any salad. From there you can add in a selection of leafy greens, stalks, root vegetables or other vegetables.

The sky's the limit (actually your imagination and palate are the limit) as to what combination of vegetables you can use. From there, you can add fruit, nuts, seeds, beans, legumes…. The list of what you can add to a salad to not only make it delicious but nutritious goes on and on. Mix up a lot of different foods that feature a spectrum of nutrients and your salad bowl may one day replace your multivitamin.

But I'm in a hurry!

I recently hostessed a bridal shower for a friend and as always prepared way too much food. Fortunately I had carefully prepared and packed my "back up salad" prior to the party. The extra salad was unneeded and went unserved and so I had washed torn greens, a variety of other washed and cut vegetables, and a yummy home made dressing on hand for several days. I was surprised not only how long it stayed fresh (pre-cut veggies actually lose very little of their nutrients when pre-cut) but how happy I was to throw a salad together every evening with this little bit of prep work done ahead of time.

Salad Dressings

While there are some commercial salad dressings that are low-fat and or low-cal most of them show a long list of unpronounceable ingredients. My favorite salad dressing is 1 Tablespoon of fresh olive oil (we need healthy oils in our daily diet) whisked with 2 Tablespoons of a favorite balsamic vinegar. My daughter in law often just uses a freshly squeezed lemon or lime to dress her salad. You might want to do a google search for some equally simple and yummy dressings.

Our challenge for this next week is:

Eat a green salad (no iceberg lettuce) every day. Make sure that it has at least 5 nutritious ingredients as well as a nutritious dressing.

* and yes you can count this toward your daily vegetable requirement

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