With the hot summer weather arriving quickly, a cool crisp salad can be the basis for a light and refreshing meal. They’re easy to make at home, and to order in a restaurant when dining out. And, with their multiple health benefits, consuming a serving of leafy greens each day can be one of the best habits to get into, summer or winter.
To get the most nutritional impact from your salads, let’s look at some of their benefits, what ingredients add extra dietary punch, and what to avoid to ensure that your dish stays nutritious and healthful. Aside from their natural good taste and great crunchy texture alongside wonderful colors and fragrances, eating a large serving of fresh, raw vegetables each day can have significant health benefits.
It makes a substantial contribution to disease prevention, healthy weight
and youthful energy – and who isn’t interested in a bit more energy and
Your leafy greens and raw veggies
are a superb source of natural fiber, and consuming enough fiber each day has
several health advantages:
- Fiber helps to reduce LDL or “bad” cholesterol.
- It helps to control blood sugar.
- Adequate fiber intake helps with weight loss and
healthy weight maintenance.
- It normalizes bowel movements, and aids in the
prevention of bowel disease.
- Proper fiber intake has been shown to reduce the
recurrence and prevention of a number of cancers including colorectal,
breast, mouth, throat and esophagus (1).
The idea that fresh vegetables and fruits are essential to our good
health and well-being isn’t anything we haven’t heard before, but it’s good to
be reminded of it every so often. The following quote is from an article at the
Harvard School of Public Health:
“A diet rich in vegetables and fruits can lower blood pressure, reduce risk
of heart disease and stroke, prevent some types of cancer, lower risk of eye
and digestive problems, and have a positive effect upon blood sugar which can
help keep appetite in check” (2).
It’s important to eat a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, in as many
different colors as possible. Combining them in a salad is both easy and
delicious! Loaded with vitamins and minerals, eating a salad a day will
also increase the level of powerful antioxidants in your blood.
The basis of any salad, leafy greens, offer a huge nutritional benefit. Among the best of the super greens group are: kale, spinach, beet greens, watercress and Romaine lettuce (3). For something a little different, try adding fresh dandelion greens and mizuna as well.
Brightly colored fruits and vegetables in the “red” family are of particular nutrition benefit. This includes produce with orange, purple, red and burgundy flesh. Some examples are tomatoes, red and orange peppers, carrots,strawberries, nectarines, peaches, plums, blueberries, blackberries, cranberries, and pomegranates.
Carotenoids are a class of compounds synthesized from the yellow, orange and
red pigments of plants. This includes vitamin A and all its varied compound
forms: beta-carotene, lycopene, lutein and zeaxanthin. All of these have
substantiated positive effects, plus antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits
within the body.
Eating a fiber-rich salad before your entree will help you to feel full
faster, so you’ll consume less calories than you might when a meal is served
without this appetizer. The more raw vegetables you can incorporate into your
salad, the greater the potential positive effects will be.
Add a couple of tablespoons of mixed raw or roasted seeds like pumpkin,
sesame, sunflower and ground flax or chia to boost your daily intake of
good fats. Experimenting with different kinds of oils in your dressings will
help with this, too.
Slicing a quarter of an avocado and adding it to your greens will
also give you a boost. These foods also help the body to absorb all of the
protective compounds, phytochemicals, and lutein.
Adding a healthy fat to your salad via the dressing, or by adding healthy
raw nuts or avocado will also make it more filling, as fats are among the most
Low vitamin K levels have been linked with low bone mineral density in
women. For healthy bone growth, a recommended full daily serving can be found
in just 1 cup of watercress (100%), radicchio (120%) or spinach (170%).
The carotenoids found in the green leafies like spinach, Romaine and Red
Lettuce help the eyes to adjust from bright to dark, and to filter out high
intensity light levels, protecting them from the formation of damaging free
The nutrients found in spinach not only help to build strong bones, they
also help to improve the performance of the mitochondria – little
structures inside our cells that help to produce energy, as well as
inform and power our muscles.
Romaine lettuce contains two key nutrients in significant levels that help to protect the heart muscle: folate and fiber. High levels of folate have been shown to assist in the prevention of stroke and cardiovascular disease (4).
The high levels of water found in salad veggies improves hydration in our
bodies, which is necessary for youthful skin tone and various basic bodily
You can give your salads an extra dose of antioxidants by making your own
oil-based salad dressings and including power herbs such as basil,
parsley, thyme, cilantro, dill, rosemary, oregano, garlic and lemon.
Choose your favorite herb combos, mix with a healthy oil plus lemon juice or
vinegar, and season to taste.
Adding fresh herbs goes a long way toward improving your nutrition, as many
are densely packed with vitamins and various phytonutrients. Because these
vitamins and phytonutrients are produced so intensely, they’re especially
nutritionally dense – meaning they’re thermogenic, and may help
to naturally increase your metabolism.
Adding sprouts to your salad is
like turbo-charging the nutritional value of your veggies. And, if you want
fresh and organic, they’re easy to grow at home, and economical as well.
Some of the popular choices for
sprouting your own come from a variety of common grains, vegetables and nuts,
- Wheatgrass, which has good amounts of vitamins B, C and
- Alfalfa, good for vitamins A, C, and K, with
significant amounts of phytoestrogens.
- Mung beans, with a nice protein count, fiber and vitamins
A and C.
- Pea shoots, rich in vitamins A and C, and folic acid
from the B family, they offer some of the most significant protein
levels in the sprout family. And, they taste like garden peas.
- Lentils, since the sprouts contain over 25% protein.
- Clover, high in isoflavones.
- Broccoli, a noted source of the anti-cancer enzymesulphoraphane.
- Sunflower, also offering significant levels
of protein along with healthy fats and fatty acids, fiber and minerals.
If you’re planning to sprout
some at home, pretty much any untreated, whole seeds will germinate if
given the right environment, and most offer significant nutritional benefits.
In general, leafy greens are highly nutritious because of the large variety
of vitamins and minerals they have to offer. And they contain naturally
occurring phytochemicals from plant compounds such as carotenoids, found in the
leaves due to synthesis with sunlight.
Leaves that are exposed to the greatest amount of sunlight contain the
highest amounts of these healthful compounds, such as beta carotene. And when
plants are young, their form is loose, so all leaves receive equal amounts of
light. This is opposed to mature plants, where only the outer leaves of heads
of lettuce receive direct sunlight.
As these nutrition-packed phytochemicals have been shown to offer a
range of potential benefits, including anti-cancer and cell protection
properties, selecting baby greens provides the highest concentration of
these important compounds.
Among baby greens, the young leaves of watercress, spinach and arugula
contain the highest levels of potent phytochemicals and other nutrients.
Salad Mistakes to Avoid
The many potential health benefits of adding a salad to your daily diet
can be quickly counteracted with the addition of certain cooked ingredients,
and commercially produced additives.
Among the worst offenders are salad dressings, as they’re often loaded with
high fructose corn syrup for flavor and processed trans fats to prolong shelf
life. Low-fat dressings usually have increased sugar levels, with fructose
added to compensate for the loss of flavor.
As excess fructose in your diet drives insulin and leptin resistance, major contributors to diabetes and other chronic diseases, it’s a good idea to avoid these added sugars when possible.
Make your own dressings instead, with a healthy oil, herbs and lemon or vinegar for a healthful condiment that will work with your salad, not against it. The healthy fats found in olive oil actually assist the breakdown and absorption of nutrients. Just don’t get carried away.
Another common “mistake” is the addition of cooked or processed foods to a salad. Ingredients such as deli meats (which contain high levels of preservatives and nitrates) full-fat cheeses, croutons, and salted or candied nuts all add flavor and texture, but they come with a price tag of calories, unhealthy fats and extra sugar. Use these ingredients sparingly to get the most out of your salad’s nutritional potential.
Protein for Salads
If your salad is going to be your main course, make it a balanced meal with the addition of some lean protein. Good quality protein sources for serving with your greens include tofu, eggs, tuna, salmon, prawns (or shrimp), nuts and seeds, lean chicken and turkey, as well as hard cheeses, cottage cheese and yogurt.
Kale is one of the super greens that packs a substantial nutritional wallop, but it can have a bitter taste. To take advantage of its many positive properties, try “massaging” your kale to soften it and remove the bitterness – this actually causes the kale to wilt, as its cellulose structure breaks down. It will soften, change color, and take on a silky texture, minus the bitterness… well worth the few minutes required.
for Life, we believe adding high-quality plant foods such as whole grains,
fruits, and vegetables to your diet can only be beneficial to your health in
the long run. We offer expert help here
at Doctor for Life in getting you
started on your Healthy Weight Lifestyle program. Give us a call today to schedule your first
Citations and Resources
(1) Mayo Clinic. “Dietary Fiber: Essential for a Healthy Diet.” http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/fiber/art-20043983?pg=1
(2) Harvard School of Public Health, The Nutrition Source. http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/vegetables-and-fruits/
(3) Oregon State University, Linus Pauling Institute. http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/dietary-factors/phytochemicals/carotenoids
(4) American Heart Association. “Stroke.” http://stroke.ahajournals.org/content/33/5/1183.full