When it’s time for lunch, one of the best overall bargains is a salad, whether it comes from a salad bar or is made at home.
But not all salads offer good nutritional value. The ingredients chosen will determine whether the salad is an energy booster bursting with nutrition to help you sail through the afternoon, or one that deadens cellular energy and provides very little nutritional value for the money spent.
Salads that offer the most nutrition are made with a variety of fresh vegetables. Color is key, and those veggies with the bright, vibrant colors are trying to tell you something. The more colors you put on your plate, the more the salad can keep you looking and feeling great. This is because each veggie color reflects a different antioxidant that slows the aging process and wards off disease.
Build a salad with a solid foundation
Get your salad off to a good nutritional start by making a bed of leafy dark green vegetables. Lettuce is the traditional favorite, but stay away from the iceberg variety. Iceberg is the only vegetable that provides no vitamins whatsoever. Choose instead from romaine, green leaf lettuce, and spinach. Better yet, mix in some of each. Field greens, sometimes called spring mix, are a good choice too.
All of these varieties are excellent sources of Vitamins A, E and K. Vitamin A supports eye and respiratory health, and makes sure the immune system is up to speed. It keeps the outer layers of tissues and organs healthy, and promotes strong bones, healthy skin and hair, and strong teeth. Vitamin E slows the aging process, maintains positive cholesterol ratios, provides endurance boosting oxygen, protects lungs from pollution, prevents various forms of cancer, and alleviates fatigue. Vitamin K keeps blood vessels strong and prevents blood clots.
Greens are also excellent sources of folate, manganese, chromium, and potassium. Folate prevents heart disease, defends against intestinal parasites and food poisoning, promotes healthy skin, and helps maintain hair color. Manganese keeps fatigue away, helps muscle reflexes and coordination, boosts memory, and helps prevent osteoporosis. It keeps you calm, cool and collected. Chromium helps normalize blood pressure and insulin levels. It prevents sugar cravings and sudden drops in energy. Potassium regulates the body’s water balance and normalizes heart rhythms. It aids in clear thinking by sending oxygen to the brain.
Other green veggies with big nutritional bangs include broccoli, green peppers, parsley, asparagus, cucumber, okra, arugula, lime, and sea vegetables.
Pile on all the colors
Load up the bowl with carrots, yellow and orange peppers, sweet potatoes, and yellow summer squash. Yellow and orange veggies are super rich in beta carotene and Vitamins A and C. These are powerful free radical scavengers that prevent damage to cells. Free radicals are thought to be responsible for clogged arteries and heart disease, cataracts, blood vessel damage, inflammatory diseases, arthritis, asthma, and even cancer. Vitamin C plays a big role in the formation of collagen, which is important for the growth and repair of body tissue cells, gums, blood vessels, bones and teeth. It helps keep the skin young and supple so wrinkles don’t develop.
Purple cabbage, purple endive, and purple fruits are rich in a phytonutrient known as anthocyanin, a flavonoid that fights the damage to cells that comes from daily living. Besides making the salad look absolutely gorgeous, purple cabbage is able to signal genes to increase production of enzymes involved in detoxification, the cleansing process that eliminates harmful compounds from the body. This means free radicals, carcinogens, and toxins are disarmed and cleared from the body by eating purple.
Studies have shown that people who eat the most cruciferous vegetables like purple cabbage and broccoli have a much lower risk of several cancers including breast cancer. These veggies promote gastrointestinal health, and a clean and healthy liver. They keep away ulcers, and purple cabbage helps prevent Alzheimer’s Disease through the ability of anthocyanins to protect brain cells against the damage caused by amyloid-beta protein.
Be sure to include red in the salad. Along with being rich in Vitamin C, tomatoes and sweet red peppers provide high levels of the carotenoid lycopene, known for preventing and fighting prostate cancer. Coumaric and chlorogenic acids found in tomatoes help keep lungs healthy even in smokers by blocking the effects of carcinogenic nitrosamines found in cigarette smoke. The carcinogenic effects of eating meats preserved with sodium nitrates can be blocked by adding tomatoes.
Beets are another excellent red choice. Throughout history they have been used to detoxify and build the blood. Beets are high in folate, iron, and calcium. They contain betaine, a compound that detoxifies and protects the liver and bile ducts from free radical damage. Studies show betaine contributes to coronary and cerebral artery health, and shrinks tumors.
Other red veggies with big nutritional powers are radishes, chili peppers, red onions, and radicchio.
Many white foods are wastelands of nutrition, but not so for white veggies. Cauliflower has the nutrients of other cruciferous vegetables. Onions and garlic are considered superfoods for their potent health benefits. They are each high in sulfur content.
Onions are considered a prebiotic, meaning they feed the probiotic bacteria and yeast in the intestinal tract. Both onion and garlic are known for lowering blood sugar levels and fighting inflammation. They have strong antibiotic properties and can be used to fight infections. They lower high cholesterol and blood pressure, help prevent heart attacks and stroke, reduce colon cancer risk, and halt tumor growth.
More white foods that go great in a healthy salad are mushrooms, jicama, and daikon.
Chopped salad gives the digestive system a head start
Chopped salads are popular fare in many restaurants catering to people looking for a healthy meal. Chopping salad ingredients makes salads taste super because some of each ingredient is available in each bite.
Lunch is often eaten on the run, and quickly consuming big chunks of veggies can make for an afternoon of digestive unease. Chopping a salad gives the digestive system a head start on its work of breaking down all the components and releasing their nutrients. Chopped salads fit easily into the mouth and allow for adequate chewing, so necessary for complete digestion.
If you make a salad at home, each ingredient can be chopped into very small pieces as it is added. If salad bar ingredients are in large chunks, grab a knife and fork and start chopping. As the afternoon wears on, you will probably be glad you did.
What the salad is wearing makes all the difference
What you put on your salad is just as important as what you put in it. Most dressings sold in both traditional and health oriented grocery stores are made with polyunsaturated oils that deaden cellular energy and promote vitamin D deficiency by decreasing the ability of vitamin D to bind with D binding proteins. Polyunsaturated oils have been linked to a variety of diseases, ranging from digestive disorders to cancer. Most of these dressings also contain the excitotoxin monosodium glutamate (MSG), a compound that tricks the brain into believing cheap ingredients taste really good. MSG is toxic to brain cells.
Instead, increase the value of your salad by dressing it with extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice, or red wine vinegar. Fresh vegetables and olive oil are some of the basics of the anti-aging and longevity-enhancing Mediterranean diet. Olive oil actually increases cellular energy through its antioxidant capabilities. Olive oil has been a nutritional staple for thousands of years and has a fabulous nutritional profile.
Add herbs, fresh chopped garlic if you like, and a good pinch of sea salt to the dressing and mix it well. Dressing made with olive oil is so health promoting that it should be added liberally to the salad. Mix it up until dressing coats every tiny piece and your salad glistens with goodness. Sea salt helps release juices from the vegetables, adding even more flavor to the dressing and increasing digestibility and alkalizing minerals.
What else to put in and what to leave out
A salad made with a large bed of dark green leafy vegetables contains a good amount of protein. You can beef up the protein content by adding seeds or chopped nuts. One ounce of pumpkin seeds boosts protein content by 9 grams and adds some crunch, too.
Adding sprouts is another way to increase protein. Alfalfa sprouts are 35% protein. Broccoli sprouts are 26% protein and provide super antioxidant power, as well as compounds known to prevent and fight many cancers, including cancer of the breast and prostate. Beans are another great protein source which also adds to the power of other nutrients.
Leave out anything containing milk protein, such as cheese or dressings made with cheese or buttermilk. Studies are suggesting that the antioxidant polypenols in vegetables bind with milk protein, making them inaccessible to the body. Polyphenols are largely responsible for the disease fighting capabilities of vegetables, so maintaining their integrity is important.
Steer clear of the prepared salads on the salad bar. These have been dressed with mayonnaise or other energy deadening dressings made with polyunsaturated oils. Many of them contain also MSG and preservatives.