Why Salad has Startling Secret Powers for Your Family

Summertime usually signals the arrival of salad time, and it’s one of the easiest things to pull together during busy summer holidays. But did you know that your salad veg hold secret nutritional powers that benefit the whole family? Dietician Aoife Hearne from Operation Transformation tells us why salad has startling secret powers for your family.  Read on for some fascinating nutrition facts in association with Bord Bia Summer Salads Week.

salad week bord bia

Summer Salads Week 18-24 July is part of Bord Bia’s ‘Best In Season’ promotional campaign to explain quite simply what fruit and vegetables are available in Ireland and what’s ‘Best In Season’. By following their calendar of availability you’ll know when you’ll be able to find fresh, local produce. Local produce especially salad crops can be picked when they are riper and taste the best because they don’t have far to go. More than anything they want you enjoy the fresh flavours of summer salads – tomatoes bursting with flavour, crunchy cooling lettuces and cucumbers, sweet refreshing peppers.

Along with tomatoes the summer is a great time to get a hold of locally grown cucumber, peppers and lettuce. Here are some nutrition facts about these 4 types of commonly used salad veg:

What’s so good about tomatoes?

nutrition faces about tomatoes

Scientifically speaking tomatoes are defined as a fruit, however, most of us use tomatoes like a vegetable. Either way one medium tomato or 7 cherry tomatoes count as one of your 5-a-day.

The 5-a-day recommendation comes from the World Health Organisation’s research that shows eating 400g of fruit and vegetables each day lowers the risk of serious health problems such as certain cancers, diabetes, heart disease and stroke.

You are probably aware that tomatoes contain high levels of vitamin C but they are also a good source of Vitamin A, important because it contributes to the maintenance of normal skin and normal vision, and also to the normal function of the immune system.

Some Tomato Tips

  • Store tomatoes at room temperature for maximum flavour
  • Have a variety of tomatoes available for different purposes. Large tomatoes are great to be sliced for sandwiches while cherry tomatoes add great flavour to salads but also can be a fantastic base for a sauce.
  • Using fresh tomatoes to make a tomato based sauce for lunch and dinner will go towards your 5-a-day. Cook enough in the summer and freeze to ensure you have great quality sauce to last you through the winter months.
  • Tomatoes can be an easy way to get vegetables into breakfast by adding to an omelette.
  • Tomatoes are a super addition to soups and stews to up your families veg intake.
  • Use cherry tomatoes combined with cheese, hummus or avocado as a nutritious mid afternoon snack.

What’s so good about lettuce?

nutrition facts about lettuce

Lettuces, the foundation of great salads, come in a staggering variety of shapes and sizes. Adding great colour and crunch to the salad bowl, their leaves are best eaten as young and as fresh as possible.

Not only a must have for any mixed summer salad, lettuce is a good addition to a fresh sandwich or wrap but beyond the crunch, it also brings coolness and balance to other sandwich ingredients.

100 g of fresh lettuce provides on average just 15 calories but is a good source of vitamin A, and a source of folate.

That same 100 g of tasty leaf provides 44% of daily vitamin A, to sharpen up eyesight and those nutrients also get you looking good by supporting skin rejuvenation and enhancing your complexion.

Folate performs a number of important functions in the body, contributing to maternal tissue growth during pregnancy and to normal blood formation and psychological function. It also contributes to the normal function of the immune system, and to the reduction of tiredness and fatigue

What’s so good about cucumber?

nutrition facts about cucumber

Cucumber is very low in calories and provides only 15 calories per 100 g (about a quarter of a large cucumber). It contains little or no saturated fat. Cucumbers are an ideal way to bulk up salads, they taste delicious, and make your salads extra refreshing.

The phrase “cool as a cucumber” is not without merit. This vegetable’s high water content gives it a unique moistness and cooling bite. Cucumbers are scientifically known as Cucumis Sativus and belong to the same family as the courgette, pumpkin, and other types of squash.

The flesh of the cucumber is primarily water but it also contains caffeic acid. Cucumber preparations containing caffeic acid are often used in soothing skin cosmetics, applied topically for swollen eyes, burns and dermatitis.

It’s a shame to restrict the sliced cucumber to baggy-eye-relievers alone. You’ll get a real flavour-rich feeling by popping them in your mouth, not on your eyes! Add them to your menus during the warm summer months when they are best-in-season and at their most delicious.

Here are some ‘cool as a cucumber’ ideas to include them in your summer menus:

  • For refreshing cold gazpacho soup that takes five minutes or less to make, simply purée cucumbers, tomatoes, green peppers and onions, then add a little pepper to taste
  • Mix diced cucumbers with sugar snap peas and mint leaves and toss with rice wine vinaigrette
  • Make a classic Greek salad with chunks of cucumber, tomato, feta cheese and black olives
  • Use half-inch thick cucumber slices as petite serving “dishes” for cubed cheese such as feta, lovely for party canapés too.
  • Add diced cucumber to tuna or chicken salad for extra crunch and texture
  • Pour cucumber juice over ice cubes or drink it straight. Use cucumber juice in cocktails, smoothies, and other drinks. Cucumber ice cubes also make a pretty garnish for a bowl of summer punch
  • Chopped cucumber mixed with tomato, red onion and pepper makes an excellent salsa.
  • You can also make raita or tzatziki by mixing diced or shredded cucumber with yogurt and other spices. This makes a delightfully cool sauce for sandwiches, wraps, and curries.

What’s so good about peppers

nutrition facts about peppers

Sweet peppers are native to South America. The Spaniards in Mexico discovered them in the early part of the 16th century. It was not until the 20th century that these vegetables became popular throughout Europe particularly in Mediterranean countries.

Peppers and chillies are both members of the capsicum family. To distinguish between them, peppers are called sweet peppers, bell peppers and even bullnose peppers.

They come in a variety of colours – red, green,yellow, white, orange, and purple-black. The colour of the pepper tells you something about its flavour.

  • Green peppers are the least mature and have a fresh “raw” flavour.
  • Red peppers are ripened green peppers and are distinctly sweeter. They add colour and zest to salads and cooked dishes.
  • Yellow and orange peppers are similar to red peppers although a little less sweet.

Peppers are high in vitamins A and C. Vitamin C helps with the immune system and also helps to release energy from the foods we eat. They also help to reduce tiredness and fatigue. And are a source of vitamin B6 which contributes to normal psychological function.

To get the same amount of vitamin C as just half a red pepper, you would need to eat 2 oranges, 3 kiwis or 40 cherry tomatoes!

Aoife Hearne, Dietician

Over to you now. Did you know that your salad veg had so many secret powers? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below. 

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Jill is one of the co-founders of Mykidstime and a mum of 2 girls