Most Americans do not eat enough vegetables and fruits.
These foods are major contributors of many vital nutrients, including potassium, folate, magnesium, dietary fiber and vitamins A, C and K, that are underconsumed by many people.
Plant-based foods, including vegetables, fruits, beans and grains, contain phytonutrients, also called phytochemicals.
These are naturally occurring components of plant-based foods and have potential health benefits.
Specific phytonutrients come from different plant sources, and each is believed to have unique effects and benefits for the body.
Scientists have identified many phytonutrients, but only a small number have been studied closely.
Researchers continue to investigate health benefits of phytonutrients and how they function in humans.
Most vegetables and fruits are low in fat, calories and sodium when they are prepared without added fat, sugar and salt. Enjoying them frequently instead of foods higher in calories is helpful for people needing to achieve a lower body weight.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010, reports that the consumption of vegetables and fruits is associated with a reduced risk of many chronic diseases. Moderate evidence indicates that an intake of at least 2½ cups of vegetables and fruits daily is associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, including heart attack and stroke. Some vegetables and fruits may protect against certain types of cancer.
Choosing a variety of types of salads more often is a great way to increase the intake of vegetables and fruits and the nutrients they contain. The specific nutrients in vegetables and fruits vary, and that is why it is important to get a wide variety of vegetables and fruits ranging in many colors.
Salads can be a great source of many nutrients that are vital for good health and can be served as main dishes or sides. Salad can be based on lettuce, cabbage, beans, peas, lentils, fruit, pasta or grain. For a heartier salad, add chicken, beef or seafood.
Build a better salad
Starting with a bed of greens provides a simple foundation. But the options are plentiful:
•Arugula: an aromatic tender green that adds a sharp and peppery flavor to other salad greens.
•Butterhead lettuces (Bibb, Boston, etc.): soft, tender and silky delicately flavored leaves.
•Curly endive: a bitter flavored green with curly, chewy leaves — works well as an accent flavor in salads.
•Escarole: a type of chicory with tender pale green leaves and somewhat of a bitter flavor.
•Mesclun: a mixture of salad greens, including a variety of flavors, textures and colors — also called spring mix.
•Radicchio: a purple- to red-color green with satiny leaves, a firm texture and bitter flavor.
•Red leaf lettuce: a frilly, full-flavored green lettuce with a crisp texture.
•Romaine: a loaf-shape lettuce with a crisp texture and a refreshing flavor.
•Sorrel: a tender leaf green with a tart, acidic flavor.
•Spinach: a rich and hearty-flavored green with dark green and tender leaves.
•Watercress: a small leaf dark green with a pungent, peppery flavor.
Then add to the salad a variety of other raw vegetables in different colors:
•Artichoke hearts: canned and drained.
•Beets: canned baby beets or sliced grown ones, drained, add beautiful color.
•Bell pepper strips: green, yellow, orange or red.
•Broccoli: florets or chopped.
•Cauliflower: florets or chopped.
•Carrots: grated, sliced or chopped.
•Cucumbers: sliced or diced.
•Mushrooms: sliced or chopped.
•Onions: sliced purple or white onions or chopped green onions.
•Radishes: sliced or radish roses.
•Squash: zucchini or yellow, sliced.
•Tomatoes: sliced, diced or quartered.
Next add fruit. Like with vegetables, choose a variety of colors of fruits. Here are some to try:
•Berries: sliced or quartered fresh strawberries and whole fresh blueberries, raspberries and blackberries.
•Grapes: whole or sliced individual fresh green, purple, red and black grapes or clusters of grapes.
•Citrus: fresh orange or grapefruit sections.
•Melon: fresh cantaloupe, watermelon, honeydew or other melons, in balls or wedges.
•Pears: fresh, sliced or diced.
•Mango: fresh or frozen (thawed) chunks.
•Pineapple: fresh or canned chunks or rings.
There are many choices of protein to add to a main dish salad:
•Shrimp: boiled or grilled.
•Chicken: charbroiled and sliced or diced.
•Turkey: leftover, baked and shredded.
•Fish: broiled salmon or tuna fillet.
•Egg: hard-boiled and sliced or grated.
•Beef: broiled strips.
•Beans: garbanzo, red kidney, cannellini.
•Tofu: marinated in favorite low-fat salad dressing.
•Nuts and seeds: unsalted and used sparingly, because they are concentrated in calories.
Remember to add dairy. Good choices include:
•Cheeses: grated part-skim mozzarella cheese or cheese made with 2 percent-fat milk, shaved Parmesan or reduced-fat feta.
•Cottage cheese: scoop of low-fat cottage cheese.
Add a whole-grain breadstick or roll to complement the main dish salad. Finish your salad with a vinaigrette to dress the salad and bring the flavors together.
Simple Vinaigrette Salad Dressing recipe
1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons chopped green onion
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
•Combine ingredients in a small jar with a tight-fitting lid. Secure lid and shake to mix. Refrigerate until ready to dress salad. Shake again just before using.
•This recipe makes 12 tablespoons of salad dressing. One tablespoon contains about 44 calories and 5 grams fat. The calories and fat in the salad will depend on the ingredients used.
Healthy cooking classes
Becky Varner will teach healthy cooking classes featuring Mango, Strawberries and Soymilk Shake and Southwestern Wraps with Tofu at 9:30 a.m. May 6 at Uptown Grocery Co., 1230 W Covell in Edmond; noon May 13 in the Buy For Less at 3501 Northwest Expressway and noon May 20 in the Midwest City Buy For Less at 10011 SE 15 St.
Class size is limited, call 302-6273, ext. 332, for reservations.