Are Salads Healthy? Here’s what you should add and avoid.


Q: How do I know if my salad is actually healthy? Which ingredients should I add to my salad and which should I avoid?

A: Salads are generally a healthy food, but only if you add the right combination of ingredients and stay away from store-bought bottled dressings.

To make a tasty salad, start with lettuce or leafy greens. You might be surprised to learn that the type of green you choose doesn’t matter all that much. Iceberg lettuce may have the fewest nutrients compared to other vegetables, but nearly all lettuces are low in vitamins and minerals. Spinach and other dark green leafy vegetables have more trace elements, but spinach has poor iron absorption and more oxalate, so those who are prone to kidney stones should eat it with caution.

The main health benefit of lettuce and other vegetables in salads is fiber. Salads are often high in fiber, which is a nutrient — just not for you!Fiber is indeed food for the microbiome, The trillions of bacteria that live in your gut. Fiber is also key to metabolic health. Bacteria in the gut convert fiber into short-chain fatty acids, which can regulate immune function and control inflammation.

To boost the fiber in leafy green salads, add a variety of vegetables, such as broccoli and bell peppers, and add beans and lentils.

But the healthiest salads contain many other good-for-you ingredients, such as antioxidants. Antioxidants are chemicals that are essential to the liver, which detoxifies almost all environmental toxins that enter the body. To perform this magic, your liver needs these antioxidants.

For antioxidants, try chopped colorful vegetables (the darker the better), chopped fresh fruit, herbs (fresh or dried), and spices. Then add protein such as free-range eggs, free-range beef, fish, chicken, tofu, beans or lentils.

Adding Fat and Fermented Foods to Salads

Now add some whole food fats — including avocados, olives, nuts and seeds. Nuts and seeds such as chia seeds and walnuts are rich in anti-inflammatory alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an omega-3 fatty acid that has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease.

For another source of omega-3s, try small fish such as anchovies (commonly found in Caesar salad). You can also include other wild fish (sardines, salmon, mackerel) or chicken (free-range, pasture-raised chicken is lower in antibiotics).

Cheeses are an excellent addition because they contain odd-chain fatty acids that protect against diabetes and heart disease. We’ve all been taught to avoid fats because they have more calories, but dairy fatty acids are unique in that they have a special phospholipid at the end that protects against inflammation. Just don’t use American cheese, it’s not actually cheese. Instead, try varieties such as feta, cotija, Parmesan, and mozzarella.

Bonus points go to kale, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts — cruciferous vegetables that boost the body’s own natural production of antioxidants and stimulate the production of detoxifying enzymes in the liver. Another bonus: Fresh tomatoes contain lycopene, an antioxidant that supports eye function and prevents cataracts.

Adding fermented foods like kimchi and sauerkraut can boost gut health, as can a homemade dressing made with natural, unsweetened yogurt. Short-chain fatty acids are already present in fermented foods.

Avoid store-bought salad dressings

OKnow let’s talk about salad dressing. For a delicious homemade dressing, focus on ingredients like extra virgin olive oil, avocado oil, tahini, vinegar, Dijon, herbs, spices, and low-sugar citrus juices (lemon, lime, grapefruit).

Oleic acid in olive oil activates the liver to produce a factor that speeds up metabolism. The acetic acid in vinegar inhibits the enzyme that breaks down starch in the mouth, thereby reducing the rate of glucose production in the blood. Some homemade dressings get extra antioxidants from spices and seasonings like ginger, garlic, turmeric, thyme, and oregano.

But that’s not the case with most store-bought dressings. Store-bought versions are often made with canola and soybean oils, which are rich in linoleic acid, an inflammatory omega-6 fatty acid.

They can also sneak in large amounts of fructose (sugar molecules) in the form of sucrose, high-fructose corn syrup, or honey—which can damage mitochondria, the energy-producing factories that power every cell. When your mitochondria are not working properly, your blood sugar and insulin spike, and your liver has no choice but to convert fructose into fat – leading to fatty liver and insulin resistance, and potentially increasing your risk of heart disease, cancer and diabetes risk.

You might be surprised how common it is for sugar to get mixed into bottled condiments. For example, high fructose corn syrup, the second ingredient in Kraft Creme crème fraiche, added 5 grams of sugar. And watch out for fat-free dressings — Ken’s sun-dried tomato vinaigrette, for example, has 12 grams of added sugar.

Store-bought dressings can also contain gut-damaging ingredients and the trillions of bacteria that reside in the gut. These bacteria send chemical signals to your brain asking to eat. If you don’t feed your bacteria, they can actually start feeding on you — stripping mucin, a protective coating, right off the cells of your gut. Over time, this can lead to irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, and changes in intestinal permeability, which some refer to as “leaky gut.” It can also cause inflammation throughout the body.

Store-bought dressings often contain emulsifiers, such as Carboxymethylcellulose, polysorbate 80, or carrageenan, which prevent fat and water from separating and dissolve the protective mucin layer in the gut. Those nasty added sugars also lead to the proliferation of undesirable microflora that can lead to gastrointestinal distress, gas, bloating, diarrhea and inflammation.

croutons and crispies

But that doesn’t mean you should skip dressing. Research shows that fats, like those in avocados, can actually help your body absorb nutrients from certain vegetables. The key is to choose the right ingredients, preferably by making your own dressing at home.

It’s also a good idea to stay away from “crispy” foods like fried onions and tortilla strips, which are often fried in seed oil at high temperatures and have the potential to form trans fats and acrylamide, a known carcinogen. risk. I also recommend being cautious with dried fruit; some varieties and brands coat them with sugar to make them sweeter and more flavorful.

Finally, beware of processed bread. A Caesar salad isn’t a Caesar salad without croutons — but commercial croutons are often loaded with preservatives, sodium, and vegetable oil. Toast your own croutons, or pair your salad with a slice of sourdough bread. But please skip the taco bowl.

Robert H. Lustig Professor Emeritus of Pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco, and author of “Metabolism: The Seduction and Lies of Processed Food, Nutrition, and Modern Medicine

Ask a Doctor: Have a Health Concern? We’ll find the right experts to answer that question.

Sign up for the Well+Being newsletter, your source for expert advice and simple tips to help you live well every day.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *