Lettuce Take Note: Why Americans Should Go All-In on Salads
By Donna Stark
May is the perfect time to celebrate improved health and better nutrition by turning over a new leaf, tossing those greens, and incorporating a variety of farm-fresh ingredients into your diet!
Gone are the days when salads were nothing more than wimpy piles of tasteless lettuce and little slivers of shredded carrots tossed on top. The salads of today are robust and flavorful and, more importantly, undeniably satisfying. Packed with vital nutrients, fiber, and heart-healthy fats, you simply can’t go wrong with choosing a chopped salad for your meal. But the best thing about salads is how incredibly easy and fun they are to make!
You don’t need National Salad Month to go all-in on salads, but if that’s what it takes for you to go green, so be it.
What Makes a Great Salad?
Transforming that ho-hum collection of greens sitting in your refrigerator into a main dish marvel doesn’t require a lot of skill, but if you want your salad to be full of depth, texture, flavor, and nutrition, there are some simple steps you should follow.
- Creating your base - Dark, leafy greens are key for increased flavor and nutrition, so try to mix things up by adding spinach, kale, arugula, and romaine lettuce for the base of your salad.
- Adding a protein - Protein is a great source of energy and essential for building muscle. It will also help make your salads more filling. Top your greens with chicken, salmon, turkey, eggs, roasted chickpeas, cottage cheese, or beans.
- Bulking it up with grains - Adding whole grains to your salads will also make your salads more filling, which will help keep you feeling full for longer. Quinoa, couscous, and brown rice are great options to choose from.
- Topping it off - Making a salad is like creating a piece of art -- there is no wrong way to do it! Add some dimension by topping your greens with colorful vegetables, dried and fresh fruit, cheese, seeds and nuts, and dark chocolate shavings.
- Dressing it up - The last step of making a healthy salad is to use more vinegar and citrus dressings, and less creamy ones that contain added sugar. Red wine or balsamic vinegar, lime or lemon juice, and extra-virgin olive oil is the way to go.
How Versatile Are Salads?
Because salads can be made with an endless supply of ingredients, there is no reason not to enjoy them throughout the entire year. Take advantage of all the salad recipes you can find online or let your own personal style shine through when shopping for ingredients. An easy way to do that is to let the different seasons and the produce that is available during them guide you. For example, toss some fresh berries, citrus, and watermelon into your summer salads, and showcase some of the heartier vegetables, such as potatoes and butternut squash, in your winter salads.
Also, don’t forget about your favorite pasta and proteins too! These ingredients will help you make the most delicious chicken, turkey, and pasta salads your lunches have ever seen! Just remember to skip the white bread for your sandwiches! Try spreading your turkey, tuna, or chicken salad on whole-grain crackers so you can get an extra dose of fiber and protein with your meal.
What Are Some Healthy Food Swaps?
It’s easy to go crazy with salad toppings, but if you aren’t careful with the ingredients you select, those well-intentioned bowl of greens can turn a healthy dish into a treacherous meal faster than you can clean a turnip. That’s why it is so important to make smart choices. Here are some of the simplest ways you can make your salads as nutritious (and delicious!) as they can be.
- Choose the right protein - Adding a protein source can quickly turn any side salad into a substantial meal, but you need to choose wisely. Stick with lean proteins, such as chicken, turkey, or salmon, and avoid anything that is fried.
- Add a sprinkling of cheese - Pay attention to how much cheese you add to your salad. Too much may increase your sodium, saturated fats, and caloric intake.
- Get your crunch - Looking for some extra crunch in your bites? Consider adding a handful of nuts or seeds to your salad in place of croutons. You’ll get more nutrition in your body by doing so.
- Dress your salad in style - Since most of the dressings found in your grocery store are high in calories, fat, and added sugar, your best bet is to avoid them. Try squeezing some lemon or lime juice on top of your salad or stick with balsamic vinegar and a dribble of olive oil instead.
- Ditch the mayonnaise - Creamy dressings, such as those that are used for Caesar salad or tuna and chicken salads, can be made healthier simply by using plain Greek yogurt, avocado, cottage cheese, or hummus in place of the mayonnaise.
- Sweeten with dried fruit - Dried fruit is a nutritious and healthy snack, and a good option if you like some extra sweetness in your salads. Just be careful when purchasing this type of fruit because some are covered in added sugar.
Why Should We Eat More Salads?
Everyone knows that salads can be a healthy addition to our diets, but many don’t know the extent to which they can improve our lives. Salads that are loaded with nutrient-dense foods can help improve our overall health and wellness in the following ways.
- Aids in weight loss - The fiber that is found in salads can curb cravings and help a person feel fuller for longer
- Keeps your brain sharp - Leafy greens have been shown to improve memory and slow the rate of cognitive decline
- Strengthens the immune system - Brightly colored fruits and vegetables are loaded with many of the vitamins, antioxidants, and minerals our immune systems need to function properly
- Improves heart health - Diets rich in vegetables and fruits can help lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and reduce the risk of heart disease
- Detoxes the body - Dark leafy greens are great at cleansing heavy metals and other environmental pollutants from the body
Make Today a Salad Day!
There’s no reason for your diet to “romaine” salad-free anymore! Stop by your local market today, load up on your favorite vegetables and toppings, and start creating! Your weekly menu plan won’t know what hit it, and in a good way, neither will your body.
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