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Dinner Diva: Making the Most of Salads

Dinner Diva
Making the Most of Salads

When it comes to healthy eating, the first thing one thinks of naturally, is increasing one's portions of veggies in the form of a salad. Salads, after all, are the eighth world wonder when our bodies are screaming for nutrition. If we eat a lot of salads, we think to ourselves, we will become healthy, wealthy and wise.
EEEEEEEERRRRRK! Before you toss all your nutritional hopes on salads and head to the store for the fixin's, let's quantify that salad and make sure we have the understanding of what makes for a nutritious salad. To do that, let's belly up to the bar, the salad bar that is, and make a quick list of DO's and DON'T's...
DO: use a smaller plate to keep your portion under control, pile on the greens (see below for a guide), look for the lighter dressing (still, go easy!) and bulk up on the veggies. If this is your main course, go for lean proteins such as chicken, shrimp, or low fat cheeses (if labeled as such).
DON'T: pig out on the pasta salad, mayo-laden coleslaw and potato salad, croutons, bacon bits, cheese, crackers and other things not grown in the ground. See how easy that is? Potatoes might grow in the ground, but I've yet to see jars of mayo being harvested.
Let's make it even easier and just follow these simple guidelines, excerpted from my book, Saving Dinner:
In order to avail yourself of the nutrient-rich possibilities of a salad, it is necessary to understand what constitutes healthy when it comes to salad making. A pale hunk of Iceberg lettuce with a goopy ladle of blue cheese dressing doesn't cut it. And yet so many people think because they've eaten this "salad", they're giving their bodies the nutrition it needs. Not true!
A good rule of thumb for evaluating a good salad should be COLOR. Color is a great indicator of what's ahead: good nutrition or near-empty calories. The more vibrant the color, the healthier it is.
Let's go back to that Iceberg lettuce salad. It's pale green and white. The iceberg lettuce's value is mostly the water it carries. Fiber is minimal and nutrition almost non-existent. The blue cheese is dripping with all kinds of fat so that X's that off the list immediately. Let's do a salad makeover, shall we?
First of all, you need to choose GREEN. Green like spinach, salad bowl or romaine lettuces--all wonderful examples of what green should look like. The color is there and so is the nutrition.
Look for RED. Tomatoes come to mind. Vine ripened and full of vitamin C, tomatoes also contain the important phytochemical lypocene that helps fight cancer.
ORANGE or YELLOW? How about some colorful bell pepper or (when in season) summer squash? Carrots are fantastic sources for beta-carotene, a pre-vitamin for vitamin A. Beta carotene has so many important functions, but the best part about beta-carotene is that it will convert into only as much vitamin A as the body needs so there's no worry about taking in too much. You know what happens if you have too much beta-carotene? You turn orange! My son was orange for the first and second year of his life--he LOVED sweet potatoes.
I can't help but push the nutritional envelope hard when it comes to making salads. Your body needs all these veggies! The reasons for all this green boils down to the fact that we eat entirely too many cooked foods and rarely eat anything raw. A salad gives your body the alimentary opportunity to tackle a raw food and get those important enzymes, vitamins and minerals so readily available from uncooked produce.

For more dinner solutions, visit Copyright 2006 Leanne Ely. Published with permission for this publication.

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