With temperatures rising, the last thing people want to endure is more heat, especially in their kitchens. Summer is the perfect ‘thyme’ to enjoy seasonal produce from your garden, farmer’s market or grocery. There’s plenty of creative meals that can be made from fresh produce and pantry staples.
In addition to keeping the heat down, research shows that plant-based diets reduce the incidence of certain cancers, diabetes, heart disease and obesity. 1 Plant-based proteins such as legumes, lentils, nuts/seeds and soy-based products are becoming more popular for their health benefits including fiber, heart-healthy fat and phytochemicals. 2 These protein sources are also environmentally and animal friendly. 3
In this issue of Dietitian Pros, RDs from around the country weigh in on their favorite salad tips, toppers and tastes. Lettuce see what they had to say!
Leslie Bonci, MPH, RDN, CSSD, LDN, Owner of Active Eating Advice combines cubed watermelon, canned diced tomatoes, roasted chickpeas and fresh mozzarella and calls this her “reach across the aisles caprese salad”. She includes a fig balsamic and olive oil dressing and notes the salad “takes advantage of fresh, canned and dried with sweet, tart and crunchy”.
Hemp seeds are Allison Walker, MS, RD, LD, Owner of Rock Health’s choice. She notes “the seeds are a complete protein and provide magnesium, folate, phosphorus and zinc”. She likes to add a tablespoon or two to salads.
In Puerto Rico, Melissa Nieves, LND, RD, MPH Founder of Fad Free Nutrition Blog goes for “refreshing, water rich fruits and veggies”. She enjoys using leafy greens such as spinach and kale and also a popular lettuce in PR called lechuga del pais (translation- lettuce of the country). “It looks like a light green version of romaine”. Her other favorites include cucumbers, strawberries, watermelon, cherry tomatoes and bell peppers for cooling, refreshing salads.
Pasta salad using chick peas and cottage cheese is the choice of Liz Ward, MS, RDN, Owner of Better is the Perfect. She suggests using whole wheat pasta and cottage cheese in place of regular pasta and feta cheese because “they’re more satisfying”.
Holly Larson, MS, RD of hollylarsonwrites.com enjoys the “tangy-crisp flavor and crunch of pickled red onions and the probiotic of lacto-fermented vegetables” in her salads. She finds lacto-fermented veggies in the fridge of her health food store and makes pickled onions all summer long.
Blueberries are Amanda Izquierdo, MPH, RD, LDN’s favorite salad ingredient. She loves them as they add “the perfect amount of sweetness to a salad and are a good source of fiber and the phytochemical anthocyanin, which gives berries their color. Anthocyanins have been linked with lower blood pressure and reducing cognitive decline.” 4
Alisa Trairatana RD based in NYC “loves avocados in her summer salads because they contain monounsaturated fats, fiber, and protein! They’re versatile and can be a great addition to any type of salad regardless of dressing chosen.” She’s also a fan of fresh basil. Fresh basil “screams summer” and brings out flavors of simple ingredients. She includes wheat berries to summer salads because “they absorb flavors of ingredients added. They are packed with protein, fiber, and vitamins.”
Mediterranean salad is a favorite of Caty Scnack, RD, CDN in Brooklyn, NY. She combines quinoa or farrow with canned chick peas, chopped cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, red onion, kalamata olives and feta with a homemade balsamic dressing with chopped parsley. The salad keeps for a few days in the fridge. Plant-based protein including legumes have been found to reduce the risk of heart disease. 5
Kasey Hageman, MS, RD, LD Owner of LiveinspiRD loves salad ingredients including “mixed greens, strawberries, blueberries, pineapple, mandarins, pecans, and poppyseed dressing topped with a protein. Her go-to proteins include grilled chicken or tofu. The combination of fruit and crunch from the mixed greens and pecans is super satisfying on a warm summer day!”
“In the summertime, I love changing the base of my salad from greens to bitesize chunks of vegetables like cucumber, bell peppers and tomatoes. When I traveled to Greece, I noticed their salads had no greens, just veggies. I started doing this back home to use up ripe produce from the garden and local farmer’s markets. Chunks of vegetables give salad more texture with added crunch”. She loves adding fresh herbs like oregano, basil, or parsley for flavor and drizzling olive oil and vinegar for dressing, states Dayton-based dietitian Monica Nedeff.
Tanya Mezher, MS, RD, CDN loves the combination of several salad ingredients including baby kale, cubed watermelon, feta cheese and roasted cumin garbanzo beans. She also favors radishes for bitterness and balance, fresh or dried mint with a drizzle of olive oil. Citrus in salads, especially lemon, “is like sunshine in summer”.
As you can see, there’s a variety of ways to enjoy summer salads this year. Combining fresh produce and herbs with whole grains or legumes are popular choices. Hopefully these RD favorites inspire you to try something new this season.
1. Denita Biyanda Utami 1, Ardi Findyartini Plant-based Diet for HbA1c Reduction in Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus: An Evidence-based Case Report. Acta Med Indones 2018 Jul;50(3):260-267.
2. Rosi A, Mena P, Pellegrini N, Turroni S, Neviani E, Ferrocino I, Di Cagno R, Ruini L, Ciati R, Angelino D, Maddock J, Gobbetti M, Brighenti F, Del Rio D, Scazzina F. Environmental impact of omnivorous, ovo-lacto-vegetarian, and vegan diet. Sci Rep. 2017 Jul 21;7(1):6105. doi: 10.1038/s41598-017-06466-8.
3. Berry EM. Sustainable Food Systems and the Mediterranean Diet. Nutrients. 2019 Sep 16;11(9):2229.
4. Boespflug EL, Eliassen JC, Dudley JA, Shidler MD, Kalt W, Summer SS, Stein AL, Stover AN, Krikorian R. Enhanced neural activation with blueberry supplementation in mild cognitive impairment. Nutr Neurosci. 2018 May;21(4):297-305
5. Virtanen HEK, Voutilainen S, Koskinen TT, Mursu J, Kokko P, Ylilauri MPT, Tuomainen TP, Salonen JT, Virtanen JK Dietary proteins and protein sources and risk of death: the Kuopio Ischaemic Heart Disease Risk Factor Study. Am J Clin Nutr. 2019 May 1;109(5):1462-1471