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Getting creative with salads

By Debra Schulze, Special to The Baltimore Sun

3:32 PM EDT, July 24, 2012

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Each week a nutritionist from the University of Maryland Medical Center provides a guest post to The Baltimore Sun's health blog Picture of Health (baltimoresun.com/pictureofhealth), which is printed here. This week, Debra Schulze, RD, LDN, weighs in on salads.

Summer is a great time to explore the light and fresh options of salads. Depending on your choices, it can be easy to build a salad that has as much fat and salt as a burger with fries.

A nice healthy salad goes a long way toward the two to three cups of daily vegetables recommended by MyPlate (myplate.gov though you should count every two cups of raw leafy greens as one cup toward that goal. Try to add at least 1 cup of various fruits and veggies to your salad (about the size of a baseball or your fist).

Getting started on great choices

The best way to approach a salad bar is to quickly scan the items then make a plan. Start with leafy greens, then top with various vegetables and/or fruits such as raw broccoli, carrots and berries. Your vegetable and/or fruit toppings should colorfully cover most of the greens. Consider choosing either a little bit of creamy dressing or dusting of cheese. Try to ignore the bacon bits and croutons to save extra calories, saturated fat and salt. A healthier choice would be sprinkling your salad with a few nuts. Save on calories, cost and saturated fat by making your own dressing. Consider a light vinegar-based dressing or lemon juice. Try the following recipe from Tufts University Health and Nutrition Letter for a basic vinaigrette:

2 tablespoons vinegar (cider or balsamic)

1/2 to 1 teaspoon Dijon-style mustard

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt (optional)

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (or other vegetable oil)

Whisk together vinegar, mustard and salt and pepper. Add the oil in a stream, whisking, and continue until vinaigrette is emulsified. Use your imagination by adding herbs, finely chopped shallots or green onions.

If you plan on a salad as your main course, consider adding a protein-rich food like lean beef or pork, chicken breast, fish, seafood and/or beans. Check out the various salad ideas on http://www.eatingwell.com.

Turbo-boost your salad.

Creativity can boost the nutritional value of the salad. Deeply colored greens contain vitamins A, C and K, beta-carotene and other carotenoids like lutein and zeaxanthin, calcium, folate and of course fiber. For example, green and red leaf lettuce contains nearly 15 times the amount of Vitamin A as iceberg lettuce, six times the amount of vitamin K, almost 20 times the beta-carotene, and six times the lutein and zeaxanthin. Consider including spinach, radicchio and arugula to turn your salad into a nutritional super star.

Building a smarter salad and broadening your salad selection starts with understanding what is available in your local markets. The pale color of iceberg lettuce should tip you off that it is not the best nutritional choice. Richer colored greens score higher in their amounts of phytonutrients, which can act as antioxidants and may help to combat inflammation and chronic diseases. Here is a list of examples:

•Arugula-also called "rocket" has a peppery taste and is a good source of vitamins A, C, K, folate, calcium, potassium, magnesium and iron.

•Butterhead includes Bibb and Boston. It is sweet, mild and tender and a good source of vitamin A, K, potassium, folic acid, and carotenoids.

•Endive comes in oval heads with a slightly bitter flavor and a good source of folic acid, Vitamin A and K, potassium, and manganese.

•Frisee has curly leaves with a slight bitter taste but nutritionally similar to endive.

•Mesclun is a mix of tender young greens which tend to have more concentrated nutritional values.

•Radicchio is red-to-purple with a slightly bitter taste yet a good source of Vitamin C and potassium.

•Romaine is mostly used in Caesar salads and packs lots of crunch. It is a good source of lutein and zeaxanthin which promotes eye health.

•Spinach is among the healthiest vegetable rich in Vitamins A, C and K, folate and manganese.

Don't forget about adding cabbage, chard, kale, leftover cooked veggies or whatever whets your appetite.

Be safe

The FDA does not recommend washing with soap or detergent or using commercial produce washes. If the label indicates the contents are pre-washed and ready-to-eat, the FDA says you can use the produce without further washing. If you purchase greens from a market, wash thoroughly under running water just before using and blot dry or use a salad spinner.

Enjoy the wonderful world of creating colorful salads, light on dressing to boost your nutritional health and not your waistline.