Salads are completely healthy

Fact - Eat your veggies! Eat ‘em raw! If raw food enthusiasts are to be believed, eating foods in their most pure state, unadulterated by cooking, undamaged by heat, is the way to go. And it makes good sense, right? Pull a carrot straight from the dirt and it’s bound to be more nutritious than a cooked carrot. Well, the moment that carrot is pulled from the earth it slowly starts to break down. Any heating of that carrot–steaming, boiling, roasting, frying–will speed up the breakdown of nutrients. When food is raw, the natural enzymes, vitamins, and minerals are undamaged. It may surprise you to know, however, that in many cases cooking is the key to unlocking the nutrition potential of certain foods. For example, tomatoes contain a powerful antioxidant called lycopene, which is significantly increased and more available in cooked tomatoes than in raw. Cabbage, mushrooms, peppers, asparagus, spinach, and carrots all yield more bioavailable antioxidants when steamed or boiled than when raw. Cruciferous vegetables such as kale and broccoli contain naturally occurring compounds called goitrogens, which can reduce thyroid function in some people. Cooking these vegetables significantly reduces the number of goitrogens. Also, since cooking softens food and makes it easier to digest–particularly when it comes to tough greens like kale–cooking allows us to eat many nutritious foods and have them pass through our systems optimally.

Colorful, all-vegetable salads offer “good-for-you” phytonutrients that aren't available in greens. For instance, powerful antioxidants (anthocyanin) in purplish vegetables such as eggplant help reduce heart-disease risk and improve brain function. Radishes offer cancer-fighting indoles, red tomatoes are the ultimate in lycopene, linked to lower risk of heart disease and cancer. "Lettuce, sprouts, and tomatoes are some of the most common carriers of salmonella, toxic strains of E. coli, and other harmful microbes," says Christopher Braden, M.D., at the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta. How do they get into your salad? From the manure and contaminated water, they're grown in (suspected in last year's E. coli/spinach fatalities), from a dirty cutting board or knife, or from people touching the vegetables without washing their hands. Not much you can do about it when you're out, but at home, wash veggies under running water. When it comes to nutrients, freshness matters more than an "organic" designation. Every day after they're picked, vegetables lose vitamin B, vitamin C, and other nutrients, heat and light speed the decline. A conventional head of lettuce that was picked yesterday will have retained lots more nutrients than an organic head of lettuce that's a week out of the fields. Of course, there are reasons to choose organic, but a nutrient bonus isn't one of them.

Follow these tips to create or order a delicious salad that is satisfying, low in calories, high in fiber, and full of nutrients:

  • For a healthy salad, start with a variety of colorful veggies, fruits, beans, and mixed greens. When possible, opt for dark, leafy greens like arugula, spinach, and fresh herbs. (The darker the leaf, the more nutritional goodness it has.) Then, pile on grape tomatoes, shredded carrots, cabbage, broccoli, jicama, scallions, mushrooms, red bell peppers, roasted vegetables, or your other favorite vegetables.
  • For a filling entree salad, add small amounts of low-fat cheese or lean protein like grilled chicken, shrimp, or hard-cooked egg. Top off your salad with a small amount of avocado or chopped nuts to add some healthy fat. (Keep in mind that you need to control portions of healthful but high-calorie items like dried fruits, nuts, cheese, olives, and avocado).
  • Salad dressing can spell disaster if you use too much of the wrong kind. For a lower-calorie salad, dress with a tablespoon or two of light vinaigrette or salsa, or a flavorful vinegar (like balsamic) along with a little heart-healthy olive oil. If you love creamy dressing, try diluting it with a little water or vinegar -- or simply use less of it. A tried-and-true dieter’s trick is to order salad dressing on the side, then just dip the tines of your fork into the dressing before you grab each forkful of salad.

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