Give Salads A Starring Role

Summer is coming with its abundance of garden-fresh vegetables and healthy salad options. It’s the season for embracing a plant-based diet that offers meals packed with super foods rich in vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, and fiber.

As a dietitian helping people lose weight and manage diabetes, I find once someone adds more fruits and vegetables to their diet, weight loss begins and blood sugars start improving. Other benefits show up, like lower blood pressure and cholesterol numbers. This means heart disease and stroke risk drop. Plant foods are high in potassium, a mineral essential for healthy blood pressure and are lower in carbohydrate value than processed foods. These fiber rich foods digest more slowly leaving you feeling full and satisfied.

Sometimes it takes deep motivation and devotion to switch eating habits to include more fruits and vegetables, but once it happens you begin to enjoy eating the variety a plant-based diet offers. If better health is what you are after, try salads as they are good medicine in every way. You’ll feel better and lose weight. Lab reports will improve. You’ll get a high-five from your doctor.

Building a Better Salad
Buying a variety of fresh ingredients requires a little planning and a system for storing what you buy to keep it fresh. Planning your salad meals is key as it helps reduce wasting good vegetables. If you need to buy a bag of something you can’t finish, share it with a friend or neighbor. You may find this person is ready to join your salad adventure. Explore cookbooks and online recipes for inspiration.

Storing Produce

  • Leafy greens stay fresher longer if you wash and cut as needed. A salad spinner is a must have kitchen tool. Most vegetables and fruits do best if kept dry.
  • Use plastic sealable bags- quart or gallon size to store greens. Pat produce dry as moisture can cause vegetables and greens to deteriorate more quickly. Poke holes or leave the bag partially unsealed so moisture isn’t trapped inside.
  • Use the crisper drawer in your refrigerator. It’s the coldest and most humid part of the refrigerator. Even though drying vegetables is important, balanced humidity keeps things fresh and crisp.
  • Store fruits and vegetables separately. Fruit can release ethylene gas that causes spoilage and loss of flavor.

Building Your Salad: Ingredients for building healthy, delicious salads are endless so this means enjoying variety. Just about any vegetable or fruit can be part of a salad and lettuce isn’t necessarily required. Salads can be a side dish or the main meal when it includes a protein. There are no salad rules!

  • Greens: The base of your salad can be chopped lettuce, spinach or kale or you don’t need to have a “base”. For example, cooked, cooled, quinoa can be added to the greens or be used alone and tossed with other ingredients.
  • Character Ingredients: Any vegetable works including avocado. Slice, chop or keep whole. Consider frozen (thawed) vegetables such as peas, corn, edamame. Tomatoes, grated carrot or chopped purple cabbage add color.
  • Proteins: Hard-cooked eggs, chicken pieces, sliced beef, seafood- salmon, shrimp, crab, and tuna all work well and give a salad more of an entrée role.
  • Garnish: To finish off a salad, add garbanzo beans, lentils, cooked and cooled farro, olives, nuts, seeds, grated cheese, sliced purple onion or diced scallions. These are ingredients that keep well so you can mix and match for variety.
  • Dressings: Dressings are tricky. This is where the calories sneak in. For example, 1/4 cup of purchased Ranch Dressing can be 260 calories; 234 of those calories come from soybean oil. Lightly dress a salad with a little olive oil to keep the fat calories down. Sprinkle or mist with vinegar for added taste. If you want a moist salad, chopped tomatoes are juicy and can the moisture you are looking for from salad dressing.

Bon Appetit!

Chickpea Greek Salad with Balsamic Dressing
In a large bowl combine 1 cup cooked chickpeas (garbanzo beans), 1 cup cooked quinoa, 3/4 cup sliced olives, 1-1/2 cups grape tomatoes, 1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion, 1 cup sliced cucumber, 8 cups mixed spring greens. Make vinaigrette dressing by mixing 2 Tbsp olive oil, 2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp black pepper, 1 Tbsp honey. Pour over salad and toss together.

Online recipe: CLICK HERE.

Written by: Mimi Cunningham, Registered Dietitian-Nutritionist, Diabetes Educator

Mimi Cunningham is a dietitian-nutritionist living in Eagle, Idaho. Her nutrition specialty is diabetes education and management. She loves writing about embracing healthy eating as fun plus a route to good health. She serves as a member of the Idaho Foodbank board of directors addressing food insecurity as a challenge to good health for Idaho children and adults.

On behalf of Smart Strategies for Successful Living, our sincerest appreciation goes to Mimi Cunningham for her contribution to our community website and commitment to healthy living and aging.