Nutrition Corner: Get to know your greens for healthier eating

July 29th, 2016 10:38 am

Ever wonder what the name is of the lettuce leaf that you are eating? Whether eating a salad at home or in a restaurant, mixed greens have become very popular. Be food savvy, know your greens!

Greens are divided into two groups — mild and savory. Examples of mild greens are dark-colored lettuces like leaf, butterhead and romaine. Butterhead is very tender and sometimes sold in a package to protect the delicate leaves. Other mild greens include spinach, kale and Swiss chard. Some of these are found in the salad mix called mesclun. They may also include endive and arugula.

The savory greens — collard, mustard, turnip and beets — can sometimes be found in a salad mix if they are very young. Traditionally you will need to cook mature savory greens.

Remember to wash your greens in drinkable water before eating. You do not need to wash them if they are purchased pre-packaged and labeled “washed,” “triple washed” or “ready-to-eat.” Store greens in the refrigerator above any raw meats to prevent cross contamination.

Keep salads interesting. Find a new variety of mild or savory greens at the farmers market or grocery store. Include a variety of flavor, mild and savory, to keep your palate engaged.

Once you have chosen your salad mixture, consider upgrading your salad dressing. Be cautious, however; dressing can also be a dumping ground for unwanted calories.

If you choose to buy salad dressing, look at the nutrition facts label. See how many calories are in the dressing as well as the serving size. Next, estimate your serving size of dressing and calculate the total calories. It’s possible that a 50-calorie salad without the dressing becomes a 350-calorie salad after the dressing.

Low-calorie salad dressings may not be your favorite. Making your own salad dressing is easy — it just requires a few ingredients and a shaker, or a reusable glass container. If you don’t already, you might find that it tastes good and is easy on the budget.

Here’s how to make a basic olive oil dressing using the guidelines for classic French vinaigrette.

A classic French vinaigrette is typically 3 to 4 parts oil (usually extra virgin olive oil) and 1 part acid (frequently red wine vinegar). At times, olive oil will harden in the refrigerator. Blend canola and olive oil together to reduce the solid oil formation and to cut down on your food bill.

Seasonings include salt, pepper (freshly ground) and often Dijon mustard and/or garlic. I choose to omit the salt. Other seasonings can be onion powder, basil, and oregano.

You may be able to use less oil and more acid ingredients if you use one of the following in your dressing: rice vinegar, white wine vinegar, raspberry, blueberry or other fruit vinegar; lemon, lime or orange juice.

Start experimenting by beginning with 2 parts oil to 1 part vinegar or citrus juice. For a better flavor, thoroughly mix the oil and vinegar. The standard procedure is to whisk the vinegar with the seasonings. Then add the oil in a slow steam, whisking constantly, until dressing is translucent. Or, shake the ingredients together in a small jar with a tight-fitting lid. If not using dressing right away, whisk or shake again before using.

Here is a favorite of ours. It has a bit less oil than most dressings.

Balsamic Vinaigrette Dressing

1/3 cup olive or canola oil

1/3 cup balsamic vinegar

1/2 teaspoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1/8 teaspoon pepper

1 teaspoon dried basil

1 teaspoon dried oregano

Mix together as directed above. If the recipe is too tart-tasting, add a bit of water.

Makes 3/4 cup. Calories per tablespoon is 57.

Nutrition Corner Mary R. Ehret Corner Mary R. Ehret

Mary Ehret is the Penn State Extension Nutrition Links Supervisor in Luzerne, Lackawanna, Monroe, Carbon, Sullivan and Bradford Counties. Reach her at 570-825-1701 or at