Green Salads Can Be Delicious and Nutritious

Kristen Welch,
State EFNEP Nutrition Ed. Assistant
Spartanburg Cooperative Extension,
Clemson University

HTG 1017

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“I’ll just have a green salad.”

How many times have you said that at a restaurant to show that you are serious about watching your calories?

American supermarkets carry four basic types of lettuce – iceberg, romaine, looseleaf and butterhead.
American supermarkets carry four basic types of lettuce – iceberg, romaine, looseleaf and butterhead.
Millie Davenport, @2017 HGIC, Clemson Extension

The green salad has gained such popularity that lettuce is now America’s second favorite fresh vegetable, behind potatoes. One reason is that greens are so versatile. When you think about all the different combinations of different lettuces, vegetables, meats, fishes, cheeses and dressings that can be prepared, the possibilities are endless.

In case you did not know, American supermarkets carry four basic types of lettuce – iceberg, romaine, looseleaf and butterhead. Iceberg is one of the most common, and the least nutritious. It has a tight, light green head and mild flavor. Romaine lettuce, the main ingredient in Caesar salad, is not only longer and darker than iceberg but also much more nutritious. Looseleaf lettuce does not form a head. Its leaves are green, often changing to a deep red on the edges. Looseleaf and romaine have as much as six times the vitamin C and 10 times the beta-carotene as iceberg. Butterhead lettuce gets its name from its buttery texture and mildly sweet flavor.

Americans often sabotage a good, low-calorie idea by loading up their salads with hard-boiled eggs, avocado, meats, cheeses and creamy or oily dressings so that they contain as many fat grams as a cheeseburger. While items like avocado are a healthy fat vegetable which provides good nutrients, you may want to cut back on the portion you add to your salad to keep it calorie friendly. One ladle of blue cheese dressing has about 150 calories and 16 grams of fat. These ingredients can help make a great salad, but you have to exercise moderation.

Do’s and Don’ts

  • Do accent your favorite bitter greens (arugula, endive, radicchio, watercress, chicory, and escarole) with sweet touches – fruit and fruit-flavored vinegars.
  • Do use strong vinegars with strong-textured and flavored salad greens. (Try sherry vinegar and spinach – a wonderful combination.)  With tender leaves – bibb, Boston and mache – rice wine, champagne or cider vinegars keep the dressing light.
  • Do use your favorite cooked grains, (bulgur, white or brown rice, wild rice, barley or kasha) or beans (limas or lentils) instead of mixed greens as a bed for your salad. Top with finely chopped vegetables and toss with a flavorful vinaigrette.
  • Do add dressing to starchy vegetable salads (potatoes or rice) while they are still warm. This will allow dressing to penetrate and maximize flavor.
  • Do think of balance and contrast when making your salad. Variety in texture, flavor, size, color, shape and aroma makes a salad more appealing and fun to eat.
  • Do mix fresh herbs with salad greens for greater flavor. Dill, basil, parsley, chervil and tarragon are all good choices and you get a vitamin A bonus too!
  • Do add color and luxury to your salads by using edible flower blossoms – borage, pansies, violets, marigolds, nasturtiums or rose petals. The more fragrant the flower, the greater the flavor.
  • Do not serve gritty salad greens – wash them well to remove soil and pesticides. Submerge leaves in water, rinse thoroughly and pat dry; rinse delicate leaves gently. Avoid soaking – it washes away nutrients.
  • Do not dress wet salad greens. Water on leaves prevents salad dressing from sticking and dilutes its flavor.
  • Do not boil salad vegetables. Steam or microwave to preserve nutrients. Cook until crisp, and then cool quickly in running water to maintain their crunchy texture and bright color.
  • Do not use old, wilted vegetables.
  • Do not use strong-tasting vegetables in large quantities. For example, be careful to add onions (finely chopped) sparingly.
  • Do not use warm plates for salad; they will make greens limp. For extra-crisp servings, use chilled plates.
  • Do not combine vegetables whose colors clash. Beets do not flatter tomatoes; radishes fight with radicchio.
  • Do not chop salad vegetables too finely – the more surface you expose, the more vitamins are lost.

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