By Carrie Brazeal, TSB Contributor
Summertime usuallymeans lighter meals for most people. One of my favorite meals in the summer are salads. How about you? My favorite salad includes romaine lettuce, tomatoes, pinto or black beans, corn, and grilled chicken, steak or pork with salsa. Served with a few baked tortilla chips and fresh fruit, it’s quick, easy and tasty.
We have several choices when it comes to selecting ingredients for a salad, especially the type of lettuce. Keep in mind that the darker the color of the lettuce, the more nutrients it has. I like to combine several different types of salad greens to increase flavor and texture as well as nutrients. Several different blends are readily available at your local grocery, saving you the time and expense of purchasing several different types of lettuce to make your own blend.
Here are the top 9 greens for salads according to their nutrient content:
*Kale: Kale is one of the “hot” foods this year. It’s a member of the cabbage family and contains several nutrients. One cup gives you enough vitamin A and vitamin C for the day. Kale also contains phytonutrients, which are natural chemicals that fight cancer and heart disease.
*Spinach: Everyone knows how nutritious spinach is. It’s packed with vitamin A and is a great source of vitamins A and K as well as iron and fiber. Spinach contains more folate or folic acid, which helps converts food into energy and produces healthy red blood cells, than any other salad green.
*Swiss Chard: This green is becoming more popular in the U.S. It’s a relative of the beet family and tastes similar to spinach. Although it has higher sodium content than other salad greens, it’s loaded with vitamins C, A and K and contains some iron and calcium.
*Watercress: We normally don’t think of watercress as a salad ingredient but it’s becoming more popular. It’s mostly used now as garnish in the U.S. It provides about half of our vitamins A and C but 1 cup has all the vitamin K needed for the day.
*Romaine: Caesar salads made romaine popular but it has a lot more uses. It’s one of my favorite all-purpose lettuces. Romaine is a good source of folic acid as well as being rich in vitamins A and K. I like to mix it with spinach or kale to increase the nutritional level as well as to give more flavor.
*Red or Green Leaf Lettuce: Commonly used as a garnish, leaf lettuce has a mild taste, which makes it a good choice for kids and picky eaters of all ages. It’s rich in vitamins A and K. I also like to use red leaf lettuce to give salads more color.
*Butter Lettuce: Usually called Bibb or Boston lettuce, this salad green has a soft, buttery texture and slightly sweet flavor. It’s normally sold with the roots attached to preserve freshness.
*Arugula: People usually have a love/hate relationship with arugula: they really like it or really don’t. Arugula has a peppery flavor so it adds flavor and variety to your salad. You’ll probably want to mix it with other salad greens so that the peppery flavor isn’t too overpowering. Arugula contains some vitamin A and C, iron and calcium but it’s really not that great as far as nutrition is concerned when compared to other choices.
*Iceberg: Of all the salad greens, iceberg is probably the most popular. It’s not the most nutritious choice since its low in nutrients but it’s still a veggie. Iceberg does have high water content so it contributes to your daily fluid needs.
If you need ideas for summer salads, check out our Dinner Tonight! website for several recipes for quick and easy main dish salads along with other entrees. You can find it at www.healthyliving.tamu.edu.
So the next time you’re in the mood for a salad, be adventuresome and try a new salad green. You may be surprised at the results.
Carrie T. Brazeal is the County Extension Agent for Family and Consumer Sciences for Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 972.424.1460, Ext. 4233.