Choose healthy greens

If you’re one of those lunch-goers who virtuously passes up a juicy burger or an overstuffed sandwich in favour of a chef’s salad, you may not necessarily be making a healthy choice.

Some salads can be a minefield of fat. A chef’s salad, with its typical ingredients of assorted cheeses, meat and egg, along with dressing, can provide 600 to 700 calories and 40 to 50 grams of fat. That’s more artery clogging fat than you get in a burger and fries. But by using salad smarts, the nutritional ratings can soar. And the results can still be palate pleasing.

Dark green better
First, consider the choice of greens. Iceberg lettuce, the popular mainstay of many a salad bowl, pales nutritionally in comparison to its darker green counterparts.

Scientific research does link iceberg’s vitamin K content to protection against bone thinning. But the dark green options are richer in an assortment of other compounds. These may help to lower the risk of heart disease, stroke, certain cancers and high blood pressure.

Vitamins C and E and folic acid along with phytochemicals, the disease-fighting substances found in plant food, abound in dark green salad leaves/p>

For example, the phytochemicals lutein and beta carotene, the pigments or carotenoids which provide colour to these veggies, are linked to several health benefits, such as a reduced risk of colon cancer and maintaining healthy vision and arteries.

Many choices
There are lots of deep green selections to choose from, including romaine, spinach, arugula and endive.

Many of the mesclun or spring mixes now available also provide an abundant array of these greens and their nutrients.

Some people shun darker greens because of the slightly bitter taste, but by adding small amounts to salads on a regular basis, the palate will gradually adjust.

Make the transition over time by using mainly iceberg as the foundation of the salad and a few darker ones as a garnish, then slowly increase the amounts of dark leafy greens.

Tomato tips
Filling your salad bowl with a variety of both veggies and fruits will also provide a mix of nutrients and phytochemicals. Even varying the cooked and raw ingredients yields a different nutritional profile.

For example:

  • Using tomato juice in a dressing instead of puréed uncooked tomatoes yields more lycopene.

This red pigment is linked to protection against both breast and prostate cancer, although highly processed juices may yield lower amounts.

Lycopene is also a fat-soluble compound and more readily absorbed when combined with olive oil.

On the other hand, raw tomatoes are top-notch in their vitamin C content.

Fibre boost
Let the contents of your pantry and refrigerator guide you to greater nutritional heights. Add canned kidney beans and chickpeas for a fibre boost even when your salad is chock full of fresh items.

When using canned products such as legumes, artichoke hearts and asparagus, rinse them for a lower sodium reading before adding to your salad.

Grain salads are another terrific way of meeting fibre needs – especially during barbecue season when whole grains may not be a regular part of the menu.

As a change of pace, consider having a barley, quinoa or brown rice salad as a substitute for the standard potato salad.

Quality ingredients
But no matter how wisely you make your selection, remember that your salad is only as nutritious as the quality of the ingredients you use. Wilted, tired looking greens simply don’t measure up to the just-picked taste of the homegrown variety.

Nor will they rate high in the vitamin department when you consider that the term, ‘vita’ comes from the word ‘life.’ While the mineral content of vegetables and fruits remains constant, the vitamin content can decrease over time.

Proper storage and preparation are essential in maintaining the nutritional value of store-bought produce. Cutting up vegetables and then keeping them crisp in water in the fridge may certainly be convenient but can also send the nutrient count plummeting./P>

Mushroom Spinach Salad with Poppy Seed Dressing
For a speedy salad with a milder taste, opt for baby spinach. It requires minimal trimming and is free of sand. If you want a main-course salad, add cooked chicken breast strips.

1 tablespoon minced red onion   15 ml
4 teaspoons granulated sugar    20 ml
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard    5 ml
5 teaspoons apple cider vinegar    25 ml
1 tablespoon orange juice    15 ml
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil    25 ml
2 teaspoons poppy seeds    10 ml
1/4 teaspoon salt    1 ml
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper     .4 ml
2 large eggs, hard-boiled     2
6 cups raw spinach    1.5 l
1 cup sliced mushrooms    250 ml
1/3 cup thinly sliced red onion    75 ml

In food processor, combine minced onion, sugar, mustard, vinegar, orange juice, olive oil, poppy seeds, salt and pepper until well mixed. Set aside.

Coarsely chop one egg plus one egg white, reserving other yolk for another use.
In a large bowl, toss spinach, mushrooms, sliced onion and egg together. Add dressing and toss to mix. Makes 4 servings.

Per-serving nutritional information: Calories: 115, Protein: 5 g, Fat: 8 g, Carbohydrates: 5 g, Dietary fibre: 2 g, Sodium: 252 mg.