A Salad a Day Keeps the Doctor Away: The Health Benefits of Green Salads
Eating a green salad every day is one of the healthiest habits you can get into.
Green salads are bursting with vitamins and minerals from fruits and vegetables. Eating two cups of Romaine lettuce alone will give you a nice boost of vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin K, iron, calcium, folic acid, and many more important nutrients. Add in some carrots, tomatoes, and olive oil-based dressing and you can forget about your multivitamin pills! Raw vegetables and fruits are also bursting with antioxidants, which protect against many types of cancer and other diseases.
Green salads are also high in dietary fiber. Those same two cups of romaine lettuce will give you about 10% of your daily allotment of fiber. Fiber not only improves digestive health, it also helps protect the body against heart disease and many types of cancer. Not only that, eating a diet high in fiber will help you lose weight. Many foods high in fiber are "bulky" but relatively low calorie, so you will fill up faster, eat less food, and consume fewer calories in the food you do eat.
If your goal is weight loss, eating a large green salad before your meal is an especially good way to fill up on healthy but low calorie vegetables and fruits, so you eat less of your higher calorie entrée. Just leave off the high fat dressings and bacon bits, or replace them with heart healthier vinaigrettes and walnuts, which are rich in essential Omega-3 fatty acids.
The Perfect Salad
As you've probably guessed, a wimpy little salad with iceberg lettuce and a single anemic tomato slice is not going to cut it. If iceberg lettuce is what you're used to, I'm not asking you to immediately start cracking out the arugula. I'm not a big fan of arugula myself. But do start mixing basic iceberg lettuce with more nutritious leaf lettuces, especially Romaine.
Even if you're an experienced salad eater, consider experimenting with alternative toppings. Carrots and tomatoes make a great start, but have you considered the following (not all in the same salad!):
spinach, arugula, watercress, sprouts, parsley, cilantro, red cabbage, radish, beet, celery, broccoli, cauliflower, cucumber, zucchini, green peppers, red peppers, red onion, shallot, baby corn, water chestnuts, bamboo shoots, artichoke hearts, green beans, peas, chickpeas, kidney beans, black beans, button mushrooms, baby bella mushrooms, shitake mushrooms, black olives, kalamata olives, avocados, walnuts, cashews, almonds, apples, pears, strawberries, blueberries, grapes, mandarin oranges, blood oranges, pineapples, currants, raisins, dried cranberries, pine nuts
In addition to bacon bits (real bacon, not fake!), other healthy(ish) toppings for carnivores include grilled chicken or fish (tuna and salmon are especially good) and grilled sirloin strips. Hardboiled eggs are excellent choices, and one of the tastiest salads I've ever eaten starred thinly sliced grilled duck with walnuts and raspberry vinaigrette. Greeks do fabulous things with a light crumbling of feta cheese.
The healthiest salad dressings are the vinaigrettes, which are mixes of oil (preferably olive or canola oil), vinegar, and spices or other flavorings. Vinaigrette dressings are actually quite easy to mix yourself, but you can buy good ones in stores as well. My favorite brand is Newman's Own.
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