Toss some diversity into your salads

You probably have a favorite leafy green that you always use in your salad. But, as I said on  Tuesday, it’s important to mix a few different greens into your salad (just as it’s important to mix different foods into your diet). Even arugula–the “salad rocket”–can’t provide you with every necessary nutrient you need to achieve optimal health. The truth is, almost every food is high in some nutrients and “deficient” in others.

That’s why you should to strive for dietary diversity. This means you should eat lots of different kinds of vegetables. It is the single most important dietary factor for preventing diseases and achieving optimal health.

Making a colorful salad is an excellent solution. Where one ingredient may be lacking in a nutrient, another can provide it.

To start building your salad, as I suggested on Tuesday, toss in a variety of greens. Begin with arugula. And then add other greens, such as Swiss chard and spinach.

Then, how about some scallions?

Also known as green onions, these nutritional gems have more than five times the amount of phytonutrients than do white onions. Just be sure to use the entire onion in your salad, since the green portion is more nutritious than the white bulbs. Or you may want to opt for red or yellow onions. They also have more nutrients than white onions. (In general, color is a sign in nature of healthy pigments like anthocyanins and carotenoids.)

If you are a fan of Asian cuisine, you will find fresh, green scallions atop many popular soups and noodle dishes from China, Thailand and Vietnam. And don’t forget the whole, cut scallions that are rolled into pancakes and buns with a little Hoisin sauce in that classic of Chinese Mandarin cooking, the Peking duck dish of North China.

Now, let’s add some fresh herbs.

Herbs are essentially wild, green plants. And, since cooks use them to flavor food, they have been specifically cultivated for their intense flavors and aromas. Therefore, they have not lost their nutrient value. Unlike corn, even cultivated herbs still have their active ingredients  intact.

Add some fresh dill, parsley, basil, and oregano to your salads. They’ll add a burst of flavor, and you’ll get lots of healthy benefits. In fact, these fresh herbs can restore important nutrients missing from many foods.

You can grow your own herbs in your garden, in a planter box, or in large flowerpot. Lately, you can even buy fresh, organic herbs at the grocery store. Some come with their own little root balls for $2 to $3 each. When you get home, plant them in a pot. You can bring the pot inside by a window when the weather turns cold and grow them year-round.

In general, people tend to think of salad greens as good sources of fiber. But one serving of greens usually only provides only about one gram of fiber. Spinach is the exception. It provides 5 grams of fiber per serving. And watercress has zero.

So, here again, you need to mix it up to get the missing fiber.

Try adding some cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, and other cruciferous vegetables. Also, chop up some celery and green, red, or yellow peppers to add to your salad. It will provide the missing fiber, as well as additional healthy phytonutrients.

The cruciferous vegetables are full of vitamins, as well as many other phytonutrients not classified as vitamins. But these phytonutrients have potent anti-cancer and pro-health benefits. Peppers are high in vitamin C and in phytonutrients that are good for joint health. Celery is pretty much a serving of water and fiber. But it’s a great filler since it has essentially zero calories.

Remember, dietary diversity is the single most important factor for a healthy diet. Where one food may be lacking in a nutrient, another food can substitute. So, “mixing” a colorful salad is a great start.