Spring Into Salad Season

March 24, 2012

Jonnell, Registered Dietitian

Spring has officially arrived!  Even though I have been enjoying the nice weather for a while now, there is something about the first day of spring that makes me begin to crave salad.  I start thinking about arugula’s peppery burst of flavor, the crispness of romaine and the mild taste of baby spinach.  While I love the flavor of these salad greens, I also understand the health benefits to be gained from eating them.  All of these types of lettuce are not only very low calorie (about 10 calories per cup!), they contain vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals that may help to prevent diseases such as cancer and heart disease.  Usually, the darker the lettuce, the more nutritious it is.

Lettuces such as spinach, romaine, arugula, red leaf and green leaf contain beta carotene (a precursor to vitamin A and a powerful antioxidant), vitamins K and C, fiber, folate, and lutein and zeaxanthin (for eye health).  Spinach also contains iron (necessary for oxygen transport in the body) and romaine contains salicylic acid (the main compound in aspirin) so it may reduce inflammation.

Tips for enjoying lettuce:

  • Skip the dairy when enjoying spinach as the calcium found in dairy products decreases the absorption of iron
  • Add a source of vitamin C (such as fruit or a citrus based salad dressings) to spinach to increase iron absorption
  • Choose a salad dressing containing some fat (preferably a heart healthy fat such as olive oil) to increase the absorption of vitamins A and K

Some of my favorite salad combinations:

  • Spinach, berries, and sliced almonds
  • Arugula, cherry tomatoes, basil, avocado and pine nuts
  • Romaine, red onion, cucumber, tomato, oregano and a sprinkle of feta
  • Mixed greens, red bell pepper, grated carrot, radishes, and sun flower seeds