For Fast Meals and Sides, Salad's in the Bag

Bagged salad greens are healthful and convenient.

From the WebMD Archives

A lot of folks must appreciate the convenience of having already-washed and chopped salad greens sitting in the crisper. Bagged salad greens now make up a big part of most supermarket produce sections.

In reality, you're probably saving yourself no more than five minutes by buying these pricey bags. But to many, those five minutes make it a lot more likely that salad will be served.

"If time has been an obstacle keeping you from eating more salad, these bags of salad are a great answer," says Karen Collins, MS, RD, nutrition advisor to the American Institute for Cancer Research. "On the other hand, you do pay for this convenience."

Still, when you consider all the waste that occurs when you wash and trim a head of lettuce yourself, the extra cost is probably just a few cents.

The Healthiest Choices

So which bagged salad greens give you more bang for your three bucks?

In terms of phytochemicals and nutrients, the spinach and Romaine lettuce options are your best bets. Spinach in particular is a nutritional star; after all, it's a member of the acclaimed "dark leafy green" type of vegetables.

Carol Ann Brannon, MS, RD, a "food coach," author and speaker on functional foods, says she always buys a bag of spinach to mix in with other salad greens.

"Compared to other dark greens, spinach and kale have the highest antioxidant values," she notes.

Check out these numbers:

2 cups spinach leaves, chopped: 25 calories, 3 g fiber, 88 mg sodium; 94% Daily Value for vitamin A; 8% DV for vitamin B1; 16% for vitamin B2; 5% for vitamin B3; 14% for vitamin B6; 121% for folic acid; 52% for vitamin C; 24% for vitamin E; 14% for calcium; 32% for magnesium; 31% for potassium; 20% for iron.

2 cups Romaine lettuce, chopped: 18 calories, 1.5 g fiber, 9 mg sodium; 37% Daily Value for vitamin A; 10% DV for vitamin B1; 8% for vitamin B2; 4% for vitamin B3; 3%, for vitamin B6; 85% for folic acid; 45% for vitamin C; 6% for vitamin E; 5% for calcium; 8% for iron; 16% for potassium.

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Serving and Storage Tips

The packages say "triple washed" and "ready-to-serve" but does that really mean you don't have to get out the colander and salad spinner? That's right, folks. The packagers wash the salad greens, so you don't have to. That's the beauty of the bag o' salad!

However, if you are buying the bag with three small heads of romaine lettuce in it, you may still need to rinse it well and pick out any older or browner pieces.

And how long do the bags of salad keep? Well, the first trick to buying them is buying the freshest bag in the store.

Check the "buy by" date stamped on the bag (usually in the upper right-hand corner), and the later the date, the better. Markets usually stock the newest bags in the back of the row, so try reaching back to the last few bags and checking their dates.

Keep the bags in the crisper, and they generally will keep for 3-5 days once opened. You'll know when you need to toss a bag because the greens will have brown areas and/or dry spots.

Embellishing Your Greens

Don't stop with salad greens. For taste and nutrition, try embellishing them with other convenient produce, like presliced carrots and prepared sugar snap peas (they usually come in small bags). Throw in some cherry or grape tomatoes and some sliced cucumber, and call it a salad!

For a supernutritious salad, Brannon suggests adding a bag of broccoli florets and/or shredded green or red cabbage to your greens. These cruciferous vegetables are rich sources of organosulfur and glucosinolates (groups of powerful anticancer phytochemicals).

You can also open a can of beans (red kidney, garbanzo, or black), rinse them, and sprinkle them over the top of your salad to give it a boost of protein and fiber.

Karen Collins, MS, RD, says a using a variety of different types of produce will provide a range of vitamins and phytochemicals to make your salads superhealthful (as well as interesting).

Fruits and nuts also make great additions to any green salad.

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Brannon advises her clients to toss dried raisins or blueberries into their salads. Both are excellent sources of ellagic acid, an anticancer pytochemical.

"And raisins, blueberries, and blackberries have greater antioxidant power than other fruits," explains Brannon.

Nuts not only add a welcome crunch to your salad, they boost its nutrition and make it more satisfying.

"Top your salad with roasted soy nuts," suggests Brannon. "They are a rich source of isoflavones and saponins -- phytochemicals that are proven to protect against certain cancers and heart disease."

Roasting or toasting nuts helps bring out their flavor. If you want to toast your nuts at home, toss pecans, walnuts, almonds, or pine nuts into a nonstick skillet and stir over medium heat until the nuts turn a shade darker and give off a pleasant aroma.

Make It a Meal

What's the difference between a side salad and a meal salad? Basically, a few hundred more calories and some protein. A salad becomes a meal when you add meat (try turkey or chicken breast or lean steak), seafood (shrimp, tuna, crab) or beans (kidney, garbanzo, or black), cheese, or eggs. Here are some "protein power" options:

Salad Add-In Ingredient: Protein (grams): Calories:
Chicken breast, skinless, roasted, 3 ounces 26 140
Lean London Broil beef, cooked, 3 ounces 23 176
Shrimp/prawns, cooked, 3 ounces 18 84
Reduced-fat cheese, 1 ounce 8 79
Red kidney beans, 1/2 cup 8 112
Egg whites (2) or 1/4 cup egg substitute 7 34
Mixed nuts, 1/4 cup 6 204
Gorgonzola cheese, 1/4 cup crumbled 6 102

You can get a nice dose of protein in your salad even if you're living la vida vegetarian. Adding just 1/2 cup of kidney beans, 1 ounce reduced-fat cheese and 1/4 cup of nuts brings you to 22 grams of protein.

WebMD Feature Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on August 15, 2006

Sources

SOURCES: Karen Collins, MS, RD, CDN, nutrition advisor, American Institute for Cancer Research. Carol Ann Brannon, MS, RD, food coach; speaker; author, Functional Foods part I: Legumes, Grains, Fruits & Vegetables.

© 2006 WebMD, Inc. All rights reserved.

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