Are salads healthy? Here’s what you should add and avoid.


Q: How do I know my salad is really healthy? Which ingredients should I include in my salad, and which should I avoid?

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

To make a great salad, start with lettuce or green leafy vegetables. It may surprise you to learn that the type of putting green you choose doesn’t really matter that much. Compared to other greens, iceberg lettuce probably has the fewest nutrients, but vitamins and minerals are deficient in almost all lettuce. Dark leafy greens like spinach contain more micronutrients, but the type of iron in spinach is poorly absorbed, and contains plenty of oxalate, so be careful if you’re prone to kidney stones.

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

To increase the fiber in your leafy green salad, add mixed vegetables like broccoli and green peppers, and add beans and lentils.

But healthy salads include plenty of other feel-good ingredients, such as antioxidants. Antioxidants are chemicals that are essential for your liver, which removes almost all environmental toxins that enter the body. Your liver needs these antioxidants to do this magic trick.

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, pastured beef, fish, chicken, tofu, beans or lentils.

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Add fat and fermented foods to your salad

Now layer on some whole-food fats, including avocados, olives, nuts and seeds. Nuts and seeds (like chia seeds and walnuts) are full of anti-inflammatory alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an omega-3 fatty acid shown to reduce the risk of heart disease.

For other sources of omega-3s, try smaller fish, such as anchovies (commonly found in Caesar salads). You can also include other wild-caught fish (sardines, salmon, mackerel) or chicken (free-range, pasture-raised chicken has fewer antibiotics).,

Cheese is a great addition because it contains odd-chain fatty acids, which are protective against diabetes and heart disease. We’ve all been taught to avoid fats because they contain more calories, but dairy fatty acids are unique in that they contain a specific phospholipid at the end that inhibits inflammation. Just don’t use American cheese, which isn’t really cheese. Instead, try varieties like feta, cotija, parmesan, and mozzarella.

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

Adding fermented foods like kimchi and sauerkraut can give you a gut-friendly boost, as can homemade dressings made from natural, unsweetened yogurt. And fermented foods already contain short-chain fatty acids.

Avoid store-bought salad dressings

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

The oleic acid in olive oil activates the liver to produce a factor that speeds up metabolism. The acetic acid in vinegar inhibits an enzyme that breaks down starch in the mouth, thus reducing the rate of glucose that appears in your bloodstream. Some home dressings get extra antioxidants from spices and seasonings such as ginger, garlic, turmeric, thyme and oregano.

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But the same can’t be said about most store-bought dressings. Store-bought versions are often made from canola and soybean oils, which are packed with linoleic acid, an anti-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acid.

They can also ingest large amounts of fructose (the sugar molecule)—in the form of cane sugar, high-fructose corn syrup or honey—which damage mitochondria, the energy-producing factories that power each of your cells. When your mitochondria don’t function right, 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 heart disease, Increases your risk of developing cancer and diabetes.

You might be surprised how common it is for sugar to sneak into bottled dressings. For example, high fructose corn syrup is the second ingredient in Kraft’s Creamy French Dressing, which contains five grams of added sugar. And watch for fat-free dressings — for example, Ken’s Sundried Tomato Vinaigrette has 12 grams of added sugar.

Store-bought dressings can also contain ingredients that are bad for your gut and the trillions of bacteria that live there. These bacteria send chemical signals to your brain and tell it to eat. If you don’t feed your bacteria, they actually start feeding on you — stripping away the mucin, a protective layer, from your intestinal cells. Over time, this can lead to irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease and altered intestinal permeability, which some people refer to as “leaky gut.” It can also cause systemic inflammation.

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Store-bought dressings often contain emulsifiers, such as Carboxymethylcellulose, polysorbate-80 or carrageenan, which prevent fat and water from separating — and can dissolve that protective mucin layer in your gut. Those pesky added sugars can also breed bad microbiome bacteria, potentially causing gastrointestinal distress, gas, bloating, diarrhea and bloating.

Croutons and Crisps

But that doesn’t mean you should give up dressing up. Studies have shown that fats — like those in avocados — actually help your body absorb nutrients from certain vegetables. The key is to choose the right ingredients and ideally, make your own dressing at home.

It’s also a good idea to stay away from “crispy” things (like fried onions and tortilla strips), which are often fried in seed oil at high temperatures, risking the formation of trans fats and acrylamide, a known carcinogen. . I would also suggest being cautious about dried fruits; Some varieties and brands cover them in sugar to make them sweeter and more palatable.

And finally, beware of processed breads. A Caesar salad isn’t a Caesar salad without croutons — but commercial croutons are usually loaded with preservatives, sodium, and vegetable oils. Bake your own croutons, or pair your salad with a slice of sourdough bread. But please don’t eat the fried tortilla bowl.

Robert H Lustig is an emeritus professor of pediatrics at the University of California at San Francisco and author of “Metabolic: The Lure and Lies of Processed Food, Nutrition, and Modern Medicine,

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