Everyone knows salads are diet food. Yet a heavy hand with dressing will increase the calorie count of even the healthiest salad. Still, eaten before a meal, a salad can take the edge off hunger, while filling your stomach with its bulk. This should curb your appetite enough to modulate overindulgence for the rest of the meal.
Though Romaine provides decent nutrition, iceberg lettuce does not, so to make the ultimate fat-fighting salad, use plenty of leafy greens. Wonderfully flavored greens like raddichio, arugula, endive, chicory, and escarole make a salad stand out in taste and nutrition. Some greens back up their fat-fighting bulk with a decent amount of fiber. When fighting off pounds, fiber can curb your appetite by filling you up faster.
The 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend eating about 2 cups of vegetables each day. It takes two cups of raw greens to equal one cup of veggies, according to the Guidelines.
The darker the color of the salad green, the more nutritious it is. Beta-carotene is the chief disease-fighting nutrient found in the darker-colored greens. As an antioxidant, it battles certain cancers, heart disease, and cataracts. A dark-green color also indicates the presence of folic acid, which helps prevent neural-tube birth defects in the beginning stages of pregnancy. Researchers are uncovering other important contributions folic acid has to offer to your well-being, like its role in the prevention of heart disease and inflammation. Most salad greens are also notable sources of vitamin C, potassium, and fiber.
Chicory is a good source of vitamin C, another antioxidant nutrient linked to prevention of heart disease, cancer, and cataracts. Some salad greens, including arugula and watercress, are members of the cruciferous family, adding more ammunition to the fight against cancer.
Selection and Storage
Avoid salad greens that are wilted or have brown-edged or slimy leaves. Once they reach this point, there's no bringing them back to life. They should have vivid color, and leaves should be firm. Store greens in your refrigerator's crisper drawer, roots intact, in perforated plastic bags.
Romaine is a produce-department staple, and it's definitely better for you than iceberg. Less-recognizable greens come in a wider variety of sizes, shapes, and colors, and some manufacturers prepack a variety of these delicious treasures in handy salad packs.
Arugula: Also known as rocket or roquette, these small, flat leaves have a hot, peppery flavor. The older and larger the leaves, the more mustardlike the flavor. You're more likely to find arugula in ethnic or farmers' markets than in supermarkets. It's so delicate, it keeps for only a day or two.
Chicory: This curly-leaved green is sometimes mistakenly called curly endive. The dark-green leaves have a bitter taste but work well in salads with well-seasoned dressings.
Endive: Belgian endive and white chicory are names for this pale salad green. The small, cigar-shaped head has tightly packed leaves and a slightly bitter flavor. Endive stays fresh for three to four days.
Escarole: A close cousin to chicory, escarole is actually a type of endive. It has broad, slightly curved green leaves, with a milder flavor than Belgian endive.
Radicchio: Though it looks like a miniature head of red cabbage, this salad green is actually a member of the chicory family, with a less bitter flavor. Radicchio keeps up to a week.
Romaine: Also known as cos, Romaine lettuce has long leaves that are crisp, with an oh-so-slight bitter taste. Romaine is hearty, storing well for up to ten days.
Watercress: This delicate green is sold in "bouquets," or trimmed and sealed in vacuum packs. Choose dark-green, glossy leaves and store in plastic bags; use in a day or two. Unopened vacuum packs last up to three days.
Preparation and Serving Tips
Dirt and grit often settle between the leaves of salad greens. Separate the leaves, then wash well before using. For small bunches, swish leaves in a bowl of water, then rinse.
In general, the stronger and more bitter the salad green, the stronger-flavored the dressing should be. Try warm mustard or garlic-based dressings with strong-flavored salad greens. Rely on simple basalmic vinegar and olive oil, or use nonfat yogurt or buttermilk as a base.
Lettuce is exceptionally low in calories. Remember, dark lettuce leaves are rich in folate and contain useful amounts of beta-carotene as well as vitamin C, potassium, and certain phytochemicals. By adding healthy ingredients, you can use lettuce to create a low-fat, low-calorie fresh meal, perfect for weight-loss.
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