Keeping Salads in Check

With Americans eating more salads than ever, operators need to make salads healthier. Here are some tips for making it happen.

The traditional salad of iceberg lettuce with a slice of tomato and cucumber topped with creamy salad dressing provides only small amounts of vitamins, minerals, fiber and phytochemicals (plant substances that help prevent diseases like cancer and heart and eye disease). Yet, scientific studies show fruits and vegetables also reduce risk of hypertension, stroke, osteoporosis and weight gain.

A recent A.C. Nielsen study reported only 12% of Americans consume the amount of fruits and vegetables recommended in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Guide Pyramid. Healthy salads can help meet the goal of four servings (2 cups) of fruits and five servings (2-1/2 cups) of vegetables daily in a 2,000-calorie diet.

Most fruits and vegetables are low in fat, sodium and calories, cholesterol-free and packed with nutrients (e.g., Vitamins A and C, potassium, fiber) and phytochemicals like flavonoids. One serving is just one-half cup or one medium fruit, or one-half cup cooked or non-leafy, raw vegetable, or one cup of raw, leafy vegetables or six ounces of juice.

Building salads: Prepare nutritious, delicious salads by starting with two or more dark, leafy greens. Try romaine, Bibb, Boston or looseleaf lettuce, spinach, chicory, sorrel, arugula, mache, dandelion greens, purslane, escarole, endive, watercress or radicchio.  Add deep orange, red or yellow vegetables (e.g., tomatoes, peppers, carrots) and cruciferous vegetables (e.g., cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli), which are cancer fighters.

Usually the darker the green or orange color, the greater the amount of phytochemicals (e.g., lycopene in tomatoes) and beta carotene (precursor of Vitamin A). Most dark, leafy greens also contain calcium, iron, folate, Vitamins C, E and K, potassium, magnesium and fiber.

Boost fiber, vitamins and minerals with a variety of colorful fresh or dried fruits (e.g., raisins, berries, kiwi, melons, oranges). Add protein with some nuts (e.g., walnuts, almonds, peanuts), seeds like sunflower, beans (e.g., garbanzo, kidney, adzuki), firm tofu, lentils, fish (e.g., tuna, shrimp, salmon) hard-cooked eggs, lowfat cheeses, lean meat (e.g., ham, roast beef) or grilled poultry (skinless chicken or turkey breast).

For more fiber, include a variety of whole wheat pasta shapes or cooked, whole grains (e.g., barley, bulgur, millet, brown rice).

Healthy salads: Here are 10 tips for preparing healthy salads:

1. Combine one part bitter greens (e.g., chicory, endive, escarole) with two parts sweet greens like Boston or Bibb lettuce. Serve sweet dressings like raspberry vinaigrette or honey mustard with bitter greens. Top with sweet fruits or vegetables like berries, apples, melons, carrots, beets or red peppers.

2. Serve a low-fat vinaigrette with delicate greens (e.g., baby greens, spinach, mache or arugula), coleslaw or three-bean salad.

3. Offer low-fat, reduced-fat or fat-free salad dressings on the side. Use small ladles on salad bars.

4. Prepare macaroni or potato salad or coleslaw with low-fat or fat-free mayonnaise, yogurt or salad dressing.

5. Top salads with low-fat or fat-free grated cheese (e.g., Parmesan, Cheddar), low-fat cottage cheese or yogurt (high in calcium and protein).

6. Limit high-fat toppings like croutons, olives, avocado (guacamole), bacon bits, fried noodles (e.g., Asian salads), nuts and seeds.

7. For taco salad, use a baked (not fried) tortilla shell, low-fat grated cheese, black or other beans (not refried), and salsa or low-fat sour cream.

8. Use large, leafy greens (e.g., romaine or looseleaf lettuce) to garnish chicken, turkey, seafood, or egg salad. Add chopped fruits, vegetables or nuts for more crunch and flavor (e.g., tuna-apple salad, chicken-pineapple-walnut salad).

9. Include low-fat proteins like fish, poultry, lean meats, beans or tofu.

10. Prepare gelatin dessert with fruits (if canned, packed in juice). Top fruit salads with some chopped nuts and low-fat flavored yogurt or cottage cheese.