Is your salad actually healthy?
By: Chef Cristian Feher
|Baby kale salad © Cristian Feher 2012|
Whether you've decided to get back in shape and lose weight, or you just want to improve your dietary habits, most of us turn to salad. For most of us, "salad" translates to "healthy food". But is your salad really all that healthy?
The answer to that is: Depends on how you make your salad, and what the word "healthy" means to you. If "healthy" means low in calories and fat, and high in vitamins and nutrients, then we're on the same page.
A salad should provide your body with a food break. It should provide you with enzymes, vitamins and minerals to help your digestive system get over all the heavy foods you've been eating. Remember that if your reason for eating salads is to lose weight, you already have fat on your body, and you don't need to add more fat to your salad. A salad should not be a high calorie meal.
I'll have a couple of fast food burgers on my salad! If preceding sentence sounds ridiculous, think about all the extra stuff you can add to an innocent salad: croutons, cheese, eggs, cold cuts, and thick, fatty, sugary salad dressings like thousand island, ranch, Caesar or blue cheese. While not all of these are necessarily "unhealthy", it's very easy to add an extra 500-1000 calories to a simple salad by adding these items. And doesn’t that defeat the purpose? Realize that simple olive oil (any oil) is high in calories and should be used sparingly. For example; 1/4 cup of olive oil is about 450 calories! Yes, it's "healthy" but it's high in calories.
Different shades of green. Are all greens created equal? Definitely not. The darker green the better. Darker greens such as spinach, kale and dark-colored lettuces have lots of vitamins, minerals, enzymes and chlorophyll. Those are all good for you, and those are the main things you want to get out of eating a nice salad. Light colored lettuces like iceberg and romaine have virtually no vitamins or minerals - they're mostly water and cellulose and have very little nutritional value. So the main ingredient should always be a dark, leafy green.
The idea behind eating a salad for health is that you lower the fat, and calories. An ideal salad should include a simple vinaigrette made with a little bit of olive oil, an acid (like red wine vinegar or lemon juice), garlic, herbs, sea salt and pepper. The main focus should be on fresh vegetables and dark, leafy greens such as kale, spinach and dark lettuces. You can also add berries, nuts and dried fruit (very sparingly) for extra flavor. You can even skip the oils altogether to speed up your weight loss. I often enjoy seasoning my salads with red wine vinegar, fresh garlic, herbs, sea salt and freshly ground pepper. And did you know that apple cider vinegar is a known blood thinner? This can keep your body cooler in hot weather.
I hope this crash course on salads gets you heading in the right direction as far as nutrition and health is concerned. Do you have a great salad recipe? You can share it with me at firstname.lastname@example.org
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