One good way to incorporate fruit and vegetables into any menu is to turn them into salads. You get a bonus by adding fruit to vegetable salads. It adds a sweet flavor and interesting texture.
Unfortunately, although salads are a terrific, fat-free way to consume important foods that are rich in vitamins, minerals and fiber, the dressing (which often imparts the most flavor) can sabotage that effort. Bottled dressings are easy to use--there's no doubt about it--but you have to be a careful label reader.
Most regular dressings contain at least 6 to 8 grams of fat and 75 calories per tablespoon. If you eat at a salad bar with a ladle for the dressing, be aware that the average ladle can hold from 2 to 6 tablespoons of dressing. (You can do the math.)
The following list gives you an idea of the fat and calories in two tablespoons of typical regular and low-calorie salad dressings:
* Blue cheese: 16 grams of fat (3 saturated), 5 milligrams of cholesterol and 151 calories.
* French (regular): 12 grams of fat (3 saturated) and 129 calories.
* French (low calorie): 2 grams of fat and 40 calories.
* Italian (regular): 14 grams of fat (2 saturated), 10 milligrams of cholesterol and 140 calories.
* Italian (low calorie): 3 grams of fat, 2 milligrams of cholesterol and 32 calories.
* Russian (regular): 16 grams of fat (2 saturated), 6 milligrams of cholesterol and 153 calories.
* Russian (low calorie): 1 gram of fat, 2 milligrams of cholesterol and 47 calories.
Unless you use the low-fat or nonfat varieties of bottled dressing (which can be more expensive and sometimes not very tasty), making your own is perhaps the best way to stay in control of what you add to your salad.
In a classic oil-and-vinegar-based dressing, you would use three or four parts of oil to one of vinegar. This can add a lot of fat, depending on how much you use. If you'd like to make a lower-fat version of this, try using a mild vinegar (our favorites are balsamic and Japanese rice vinegar) and a very strong oil (like sesame or walnut oil).
You will probably have to play around with the mixture for a while to find the exact proportions you like, but you may be able to get it down to two parts oil to one of vinegar. Another trick is to add some chicken broth to stretch the dressing out a bit.
One of the problems with using less oil is that the dressing does not thicken as well. Try mixing your vinaigrette in a small jar, put an ice cube in the jar and shake it up again. The ice will thicken the oil, and if you serve it right away (discard the ice cube), it will not water down the dressing.
If you are making more dressing than you can use at one time and you want to add garlic, try lightly crushing a whole clove of garlic and removing it from the jar before you store the leftover dressing. This will keep the dressing from becoming bitter during storage. If you want more garlic the next time you use the dressing, repeat the process.
There are a number of ways to get most of the fat out of even creamy dressings. Any dressing that calls for mayonnaise will work just as well with buttermilk or yogurt. If Thousand Island dressing is one of your favorites, try stirring together a little ketchup (tomato paste will work as well), some chopped-up dill pickles and plain low-fat yogurt. For the Green Goddess lovers in your family, combine low-fat yogurt with garlic, chives, parsley, lemon juice and some minced anchovy.
If you're feeling adventuresome, try unusual seasonings like cumin, coriander, hot pepper sauce and cilantro. The more taste you can put into the dressing, the less you will miss the fat.
One mistake that many people make is putting way too much dressing on the salad. You can produce a well-dressed salad by using no more than 3 or 4 tablespoons of dressing for 8 cups of greens. The more delicate the greens are, the less dressing you want to use. If you are using other vegetables in the salad, toss them with some dressing before adding them to the lightly dressed greens.
In a restaurant, ask for low-fat dressing on the side and use a teaspoon--not a tablespoon--to measure it. You'll use far less that way.
Dr. Sheldon Margen is a professor of public health at UC Berkeley; Dale A. Ogar is managing editor of the UC Berkeley Wellness Letter. They are the authors of several books, including "The Wellness Encyclopedia of Food and Nutrition." Their column runs every Monday. Send questions to Dale Ogar, School of Public Health, UC Berkeley, CA 94720-7360, or email@example.com.