Now that spring is here you may be more motivated to eat salad. Or maybe you have been eating the same salad for some time now and need to toss around a few ideas for new and nutritious ingredients.
The key to keeping salads interesting is to change some of the ingredients each time you make one.
Don't just think of the simple garden salad, but imagine adding fruits and nuts to your salad to make a great low-calorie, highly nutritious meal.
Check out these superfoods that will not only spruce up your salad but will also boost your nutrition for the day.
Chickpeas are an excellent source of soluble fiber. In fact, one cup of these legumes supplies almost half your daily requirement for fiber. The type of soluble fiber found in chickpeas is not only heart healthy, but also helps to stabilize blood sugars. Studies have also shown that legumes such as chickpeas help to lower cholesterol levels.
Add chickpeas to your salad to add even more fiber to your salad since they are one of the best sources around. Eating different types of legumes is a great way to provide protein with a lower fat alternative compared to meat or cheese.
Walnuts are one of the best plant sources of protein and can be part of your protein source on the salad. They are rich in fiber, B vitamins, magnesium and antioxidants such as vitamin E.
Nuts in general are also high in plant sterols and fat, but it's mostly monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats – omega 3 fatty acids (the “good” fats) that have been shown to lower LDL cholesterol. Walnuts, in particular, have significantly higher amounts of omega 3 fatty acids as compared to other nuts. Instead of using meat, toss in a few toasted walnuts to add some crunch to your favorite salad.
Berries are the best fruit source for antioxidants. Please don’t shy away from adding some fruit to your next salad. Berries provide the powerful antioxidant punch that'll help you fight off cancers and reduce cell damage. The great news: Whether you buy them fresh, frozen or dried, you can get their nutritional goodness year-round.
Grape tomatoes, like all tomatoes, contain high levels of beta-carotene, an antioxidant that supports the immune system and helps maintain healthy skin and tissue lining. They are packed with antioxidants that are essential for heart health, and are a good source of potassium. Tomatoes are also the richest source of lycopene, which is another very powerful antioxidant.
Haven't tried a grape tomato yet? A grape tomato is shaped like a plum tomato, but has the size and sweetness of a cherry tomato. They have grown in popularity since coming on the scene from Asia in the 1990s. So for a change of taste and appearance, skip the garden variety of tomato and opt for a more exotic grape tomato!
Avocados are a very healthy food and can make your salad much more exciting. They're loaded with vitamins, minerals and fiber. The avocado is also very high in oleic acid, a type of monounsaturated fat that can lower cholesterol. It has also shown promise in offering protection against breast cancer.
Studies have shown that another unique benefit of avocados is that when they are added to salads, the body absorbs more nutrients from the other vegetables and fruits than it would have if the avocado weren't included!
The firm, creamy texture of a ripe avocado is hard to beat, and the fact that it's so good for you is just another reason to start eating more of this great American food.
Remember, eating a healthy salad with or before your meal is an excellent way to ensure that you consume the recommended five portions of fruit and vegetables a day. So start tossin' to your health!
Rebecca Mohning is a Registered Dietitian and an Exercise Physiologist who believes that we can change our metabolism and achieve optimal health through proper nutrition and regular exercise. She has a Master's Degree in Exercise Physiology and a Bachelor's of Science in Dietetics from Iowa State University. She is a certified Personal Trainer by the American College of Sports Medicine. She specializes in weight management, performance nutrition, and eating disorders.