Nutritional Powerhouse Salad

If your dinner salad consists of a wedge of iceberg lettuce and a dollop of ranch dressing, think again. Your body deserves more than a cream-coated lump of empty fiber – and packed with the right ingredients – a veggie-rich salad can provide your body with a powerhouse of essential nutrients that strengthen your immune system, protect your heart and ward off a variety of diseases.

Start With the Right Greens. Though you may love that pale, crunchy stuff – the dark, leafy greens are where it’s at. Two cups of romaine lettuce is packed with enough beta-carotene and vitamin C to actually prevent the oxidation of unhealthy cholesterol. Butterhead is loaded with depression-fighting folate. Spinach contains 13 different flavonoid compounds proven to lower the risk of ovarian and prostate cancers. Combine all three for an instant boost of protection.

Don’t be Afraid to Add the Avocado. Once perceived as a forbidden fruit, heavy on fat-laden calories, scientists and nutritionists have determined that buttery, rich avocados actually have a small amount of the ‘bad’ saturated fat and are extremely rich in ‘good’ monosaturated fat, proven to be very beneficial in lowering cholesterol and maintaining a healthy lipid balance. Avocados are also packed with over 20 vitamins and minerals including vitamin E (for healthy skin) and potassium (for proper muscle function).

Toss in the Red Bell Peppers. Red bell peppers add a sweet, crunchy taste to any salad. They’re also loaded with antioxidants A, C and lycopene – a carotenoid beneficial in warding off cancers of the cervix, pancreas and bladder. Red bells are rich in B6 and folic acid, which play a significant role in reducing blood vessel damage and heart attack risk. They’re also high in lutein, a powerful antioxidant that protects against age-related eye diseases such as cataracts and macular degeneration.

A Little Bit of Onion Goes a Long Way. Whether you like them strong or sweet – green, yellow or red – a little bit of onion can offer your body a powerful shield against infection and disease, red onion is full of antioxidants. Onions contain bacteria fighting sulfur compounds which help fight colds, coughs, E.coli and salmonella infections. They help suppress tumor growth in the colon and protect against certain types of stomach cancer. Regular consumption protects the heart by lowering cholesterol levels and blood clot risk.

Dress for Success. If you’ve been hooked on bottled dressing you’re packing unnecessary calories and sugar when you could be soaking up good nutrients. A simple olive oil and vinegar, or what I prefer lemon dressing offers great health benefits and a serious reduction in high-cal no nos. Olive oil, with its distinctive, fruity flavor, has proven beneficial in reducing bad (LDL) cholesterol, and recent studies point to its ability to boost the body’s production of adiponectin – a hormone that revs up the metabolism and suppresses the appetite.

A tangy spoonful of vinegar appears to boost weight loss, by helping the body break down fat before it settles in those unattractive places. Once you’ve packed in the basics, time to get creative! Make your own whole grain croutons, toss in some calcium-rich almond slivers, or sprinkle a bit of low-fat, shredded cheese. Just remember to keep your salad light, crisp and loaded with a powerhouse of healthy ingredients.