Auburn, Alabama—Salads are one of the best ways to pack many vegetables and nutrients into one meal, but all salads are not equally nutritious. A big bowl of lettuce with creamy dressing probably will not provide the health benefits you are looking for. A nutrient-dense salad depends on how you bulk it up with a variety of greens and toppings.
The first step to creating a nutritious salad is choosing the right foundation. Lettuce is the most common base for salads, but other green leafy vegetables can add new flavors and more nutrients to your meal. The antioxidants in leafy greens help prevent chronic illnesses, such as heart disease. The darker the greens, the more vitamins and minerals they have. Add red and dark greens to your salad for more antioxidants, folate and Vitamin A. Try different combinations of lettuce and greens to get a variety of health benefits and flavors.
“It is not just about focusing on one specific nutrient dense green, but getting a variety which increases the variety of nutrients and vitamins you get,” says Tera Glenn, an Alabama Extension nutrition regional agent.
There are endless variations of toppings you can add to the base of a salad. Adding fruit and vegetables brightens up a salad with color, texture and even more nutrients. Use raw produce such as carrots, peppers or apples for a good crunch. Berries, kiwi and oranges are packed with Vitamin C and make a delicious topping for a sweet salad. A great way to choose toppings is to use seasonal fruit and vegetables. This will keep your salads interesting all year and use produce you may have never tried.
Nuts are another topping that add crunch and diversity to salads. Nuts and seeds have unsaturated fats that will keep you fuller longer. Since nuts are high in calories, make sure you do not load too many on your salad. The USDA recommends 1.5 oz of nuts a day, or about 1/3 cup. Try roasting nuts at 350°F for five minutes to add even more flavor to your salad.
Salad dressing is where many people turn their nutritious salad into a not-so-healthy meal. Some dressings that seem healthy are actually packed with fat and sugars. A great way to know you’re not going to ruin your salad with an unhealthy dressing is to make it yourself. Measure out one serving of your dressing so you do not use too much.
“The amount of dressing used can sometimes be our downfall, most dressings have a serving size of about 2 tablespoons. Sticking to this will help control your intake of fat, sodium and calories,” says Christina Levert, an Alabama Extension nutrition agent.
The right combination of leafy greens, fruit, vegetables, nuts and dressing can make a delicious meal that is packed with tons of nutrients.
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