Pastels are so right in spring wardrobes, but they’re not when it comes to salads. To get the most nutrients in your salad bowl, health experts say you should opt for darker-colored ingredients.

“Start salads with dark greens as a base for more nutritional value than pale lettuce,” said Karen Collins, a registered dietitian and nutrition adviser for the American Institute for Cancer Research in Washington, D.C.

Dark leafy greens are usually a good source for vitamins, especially folate, which promotes heart health and reduces the risk of birth defects, said Laura Palmer, a registered dietitian with the Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service in West Lafayette, Ind.

Spinach, for example, has six times the folate as iceberg lettuce.

“Dark, leafy greens are usually packed with dietary fiber as well, and most Americans don’t get their daily fiber intake (about 20 to 35 grams),” Palmer says.

Choose the right color and you also may protect your eyesight as you age, said Collins.

Watercress contains lutein, a substance that may reduce your risk of age-related macular degeneration, one of the major causes of blindness, according to Collins.

You don’t have to limit your salad selection to leafy vegetables, however.

“Cruciferous vegetables (including broccoli and watercress) contain compounds that inactivate cancer-causing substances before they can damage cells and start cancer development,” Collins says.

Healthfulness is one obvious advantage, but no one’s going to eat dark leafy greens if they don’t taste good. And that’s another selling point: These vegetables are bursting with robust flavors.

If you’re ready for the dark side, add one or more of these to the salad bowl:

• Arugula, a spicy-tasting green

• Spinach or easy-to-prepare baby spinach, which is more delicate tasting than the adult version

• Romaine lettuce, with a sweet flavor and juicy, crisp texture (select the package with darker leaves)

• Watercress, a moist, crisp vegetable with a peppery taste

Here’s a refreshing lunch entrée salad using healthful greens. Serve with whole-grain bread and iced tea.

Watercress, arugula and shrimp salad

• 2 cups watercress leaves, well washed

• 2 cups baby arugula

• 1 large red bell pepper, diced

• 12 ounces cooked and peeled large shrimp

• 1 6-ounce carton low-fat plain yogurt

• 1 tablespoon minced chives

• 1 tablespoon olive oil

• 2 teaspoons white wine vinegar

• 1/4 teaspoon salt or to taste

• 1/8 teaspoon pepper or to taste

Combine watercress, arugula, bell pepper and shrimp in large salad bowl. Toss gently but well. For salad dressing, stir yogurt, chives, oil, vinegar, salt and pepper together in a small bowl. Toss the dressing and the salad. Makes 4 servings.

Each serving has: 200 calories, 4.5 grams total fat, 16 grams protein, 6 grams carbohydrates, 112 milligrams cholesterol, 320 milligrams sodium and 1 gram dietary fiber.

© CTW Features

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