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Turn over a new leaf

By H.K. Jones

Eating salads is healthy, right? Not necessarily. Pile on croutons, cheese, bacon, eggs, whatever, and top it all off with a fatty dressing, and your "healthy" bowl of greens can end up being higher in fat and calories than a burger with fries. Gulp.

When done right, however, salads are a flavorful mix of tastes and textures, loaded with fiber, nutrients and disease-fighting antioxidants. Whether at home or out at a salad bar, try these simple tips to create sizzling salads bursting with good-for-you ingredients, flavors, aromas and colors.

Going Green
Most salads start with a pile of low-cal greens, but for today's sophisticated tastes, a bowl of limp iceberg lettuce just won’t do. In fact, there are so many exciting and widely available varieties of greens today, there’s no reason not to give nutritionally deficient iceberg lettuce the old heave-hoe.

Each green has a unique taste and can be eaten alone or mixed with other types for a blend of flavors. Bonus: Greens contain high amounts of beta carotene, folate, vitamin C, calcium, iron and potassium. In general, those with dark green or other deeply colored leaves have more nutrients than the paler varieties.

Whatever green you choose, start with the freshest greens you can find, those that appear just picked. Here are a just few flavorful and healthful options:

Arugula: Bright-green leaves with a sharp peppery flavor.

Butterhead: A delicate lettuce with a sweet and mild flavor.

Frisee or curly endive: Crisp leaves with a mildly bitter flavor.

Mache: Small, dark green, velvety leaves with a rich, sweet flavor, similar to hazelnut.

Romaine: Succulent, crispy leaves with a very mild flavor.

Raddichio: Dark scarlet leaves with creamy colored ribs that are somewhat bitter tasting.

Mesclun: From the Provencal word for "mixture," mesclun is a salad mix of young, tender greens, herbs and edible flowers. Among the greens commonly found in the mixture are arugula, dandelion, frisee, mizuma, mache, radicchio, oak leaf, endive and sorrel. Mesclun is also known as field greens, spring mix, spring salad mix or field greens.

While good greens are a great start, it's the extra ingredients that really make a salad sing. They add distinctive and unforgettable flavor, turning a bowl of boring greens into a mouth-watering meal.

Fruits and vegetables: Fruits and vegetables are not only tasty, but they can also help you lower your risk for not only cancer, but also heart disease, diabetes and other chronic illness. We need five-to-nine servings of fruits and vegetables per day, tossing some into your salad is an easy way to help you get there. Fruit can add bright flavor and surprise to your greens. Try adding sliced fresh strawberries, blueberries, raspberries or apples to your salad mix. Citrus fruit like orange or grapefruit and tropical fruits like pineapple, go especially well with dark greens. And veggies like green beans, snap peas, carrots, radishes, broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, asparagus, artichokes, avocados, tomatoes and cucumbers all add crunch, flavor and loads of nutrients.

Protein: To make more of a meal of your salad, try adding some healthy protein like shrimp, tuna, chicken breast or salmon. Think grilled, steamed or broiled, not fried, cheesy or fatty. Nuts also add protein, not to mention heart-healthy polyunsaturated fatty acids and a nice crunchy touch. Don't go overboard. Nuts are high in calories and add up fast.

Dressing: Just one tablespoon of regular salad dressing will add from 50 to 100 calories. To keep it from adding up to diet destruction, try adding just a squeeze of fresh lime and lemon juice with a splash of olive oil, or stick with the lower-calorie, fat-free or low-fat dressing. Always order your salad with dressing on the side and use it sparingly.