Make a better salad decision

Q: Is iceberg lettuce good for you?

A: Iceberg, the most popular lettuce in the United States, is the least nutritious. It is mostly water and is low in nutritional value and flavor. Romaine lettuce has 10 times more vitamin A and seven times more vitamin C than iceberg lettuce. Leaf lettuce has 10 times more vitamin A and five times more vitamin C than iceberg lettuce. Choose dark green lettuce for your salads. That dark color means more nutrition. In addition to vitamin A and C, dark salad greens contain beta carotene, calcium, folate, fiber and phytonutrients. If your family is not used to eating dark green lettuce, start slowly. Mix iceberg lettuce with romaine or leaf lettuce.

Greens can add volume and nutrition to your diet while contributing very few calories. Lettuce provides about seven calories in a one-cup serving. Lettuce usually is served with an array of other vegetables, fruits and protein. It can add crunch to sandwiches or hold fillings as a wrap.

Make sure your salad is delicious and nutritious by following these tips:

• Greens: Darker is better. Choose romaine, green leaf and red leaf lettuces as well as baby spinach. To be more adventurous, mix in some arugula, curly endive, radicchio or mesclun (French for a mixture of tender young salad leaves). Although the mixes vary, it often contains a balance of sweet and bitter greens such as baby spinach, curly endive, dandelion, lamb’s lettuce, mizuna, purslane, red chicory, red oak leaf lettuce, rocket and romaine).

• Pile on the veggies. Add color and nutrition with tomatoes, carrots, mushrooms, broccoli, cauliflower, radishes, green onions, bell peppers (red, yellow and orange), cucumbers, celery, zucchini, shredded cabbage, sugar snap peas, green peas, corn and jicama.

• Raw isn’t the only option. Roasted veggies take salad to the next level. Asparagus, green beans, sweet potatoes, squash and onions roast up nicely and add flavor to your base of greens.

• Don’t forget the fruit. Fruit adds sweetness, texture and familiarity that might just win over the non-salad-eater in your family. Toss in some chopped apples, red grapes, Mandarin oranges, berries, pineapple or pears. Try grilled fruit for a scrumptious summer salad.

• Easy on the fat. A heavy hand with high fat ingredients (cheese, bacon and croutons) harms salad’s healthful reputation. But a little bit of “healthy” fat is fine. A sprinkling of slivered almonds, walnuts or sunflower seeds adds crunch. Avocado and olive oil add flavor.

• Make it a meal with protein. Turn a side salad into a main dish by adding lean protein. Chicken breast, salmon, tuna and lean beef are standard choices. Toss on chickpeas, black beans or chopped, hard-cooked eggs for a meatless option.

• Dress it simply and low in sodium. Drizzle your salad with extra-virgin olive oil, a squeeze of lemon juice and some freshly ground black pepper. Or make your own vinaigrette with extra-virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar and your favorite herbs. Flavored vinegars, spritz sprays and balsamic glaze are good. Take it easy on commercial salad dressings that are very high in salt/sodium. If you do use a commercial salad dressing (especially when eating out), trying doing what I do — ask for the dressing on the side. Instead of pouring it on your salad, dip your fork tings into the dressing and than stab your salad and enjoy each flavorful bite. It’s amazing how much dressing will remain in the container after you’re done eating your scrumptious salad!

If you need a little help getting in the swing of building a better salad, try this one to get started:

Pear and Cranberry Salad with Grilled Beef Strips

(Makes 4 servings)

12 ounces beef flat iron steak

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

2 cups spinach leaves, torn

4 cups mixed salad greens

2 medium pears, cored, cut into wedges

1/4 cup dried cranberries

Salt (optional)

4 tablespoons feta cheese (optional)

1/4 cup coarsely chopped nuts (optional)

Lite or nonfat raspberry vinaigrette dressing with extra virgin olive oil (optional)

Season steak with pepper. Grill, broil or cook steak in large, nonstick skillet to internal temperature of 145 degrees (medium rare) to 160 degrees (medium).

Meanwhile, divide greens evenly among 4 dinner plates. Top with pear wedges and dried cranberries.

Carve steak into thin slices and season with salt as desired. Divide steak slices on plates with salad. If desired, top each salad with feta cheese, nuts and dressing.

Nutrition information per serving (without feta and nuts): 200 calories, 7 grams fat, 15 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams fiber, 20 grams protein, 70 milligrams sodium. (With feta and nuts): 280 calories, 14 grams fat, 16 grams carbohydrates, 5 grams fiber, 22 grams protein, 180 milligrams sodium.

— Susan Krumm is an Extension agent in family and consumer sciences with K-State Research and Extension-Douglas County, 2110 Harper St. She can be reached at 843-7058.