If you are into veggies, greens, and eating healthy the first thing that may come to your mind when preparing a healthy lunch is a salad.
However, despite a national rush for the lettuce an educated verdict points against the most popular salad variety: a junk salad.
Are you eating junk salads?
Salads mean different things to many people, and although salads can be healthy and good for you the majority of salads I saw on my patient’s diet diaries belong to a junk family.
How to build a junk salad?
So what’s in a junk salad? Regular lettuce, some low fat cheese, some red peppers, tomatoes, seasoned croutons, topped up with your favorite fat-free salad dressing and voila, your salad is junk ready. What’s wrong with this salad, you may ask. After all, it is low fat, full of nutrients and fibre.
By eating this salad you are adding more fruits, vegetables, staying away from fats, and adding low-fat protein to your menu. Isn’t that what everybody recommends? I may surprise you, but offered a choice I’d rather have my hamburger, because it is healthier (yes, it is not a typo here) and more satisfying, providing it is my own creation. So what’s wrong with the junk salad:
You are eating pesticides
Did you know that leaf lettuce and bell peppers are on the list of the most sprayed vegetables? Unless organic, expect a heavy pesticide/herbicide residue on the vegetables, which is not readily washable. Pesticides/herbicides have been implicated in many illnesses including cancers, so unless you want to risk a heavy chemical load stay away from those two non-organic vegetables.
You barely are getting any nutrients
Lettuce may look green and full of nutritious goodies but unfortunately it is only an illusion. Lettuce is predominantly made of water and is a relatively poor source of nutrients. Lettuce has some valuable amounts of vitamin A and K, but you will not see any significant amounts of minerals.
For example, cup of shredded leaves can give you approximately 15 mg of calcium. Given that RDA for calcium is 1,000 mg for an adult you will need to eat 67 cups of lettuce to get your daily allowance for this mineral… not possible.
If are hoping for some fiber to move your bowels you are out of luck as well. There is only 1 gram of fibre in a cup of lettuce. To compare a cup of broccoli has 62 mg of calcium and 3 grams of fibre.
You may argue that bell peppers and tomatoes are known for their high antioxidant content. That’s true, however be aware that these antioxidants may be destroyed by agri-chemical residue. These antioxidants may also be used by your body to help detoxify the same pesticides. That’s it as far as nutrients, because neither croutons nor the dressing have anything beneficial in them.
You are causing more inflammation
You may wish that your salad could prevent development of degenerative diseases and you may be right, but not with this junk salad. The combination of ingredients in it actually promotes inflammation, and thus promotes development of chronic degenerative diseases. The worst in this category is no-fat salad dressing.
Most no-fat salad dressings are made of cheap vegetable oils mainly soybean oil. Oils and fats can make your meal pro- or anti-inflammatory depending on the ratio of two fatty acids omega 6 and omega 3. If you want to get an anti-inflammatory effect the ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 should be somewhere around 2:1, never higher than 4:1. So how is soybean oil measuring up?
A non-hydrogenated, a better variety of soybean oil has a ratio around 7:1 and in case you stumble upon a hydrogenated version (very likely) your ratio will be somewhere in the vicinity of 16:1. You should know that the higher the ratio the more pro-inflammatory effect. That effect starts usually around 4:1.
Let’s take low-fat cheese now. You may know this is a great source of calcium and low fat protein, yet there is much more to consider. Dairy products that come from non-organic pasteurized sources (such as this cheese) can have a negative health impact due to its non-natural nutrient ratio and chemical residue.
Moreover, consider lactose or dairy intolerance and the spasmodic impact it may have on the bowels. Also consider that high protein meals are harder on the liver, and are more difficult to digest then low-protein meals. Proteins leave lots of toxic by-products behind which have to be detoxified by the body.
If you opt for low-fat cheese you are opting for a higher protein version because fat is removed leaving more protein inside. Higher fat cheeses are not only beneficial for the liver, but they also allow for a much higher absorption of nutrients and are more satisfying. Vitamins A, K, D, and E require presence of fat for their absorption.
You are asking for an afternoon slump and weight gain
If your meal is a junk salad you are likely to experience hunger or an energy drop somewhere around one or two hours after your lunch. Low-fat meals in comparison to normal-fat meals are metabolized much faster by the body and in individuals with poor sugar regulation.
Insufficient fat may cause sugar drop and as a consequence energy drop, which can especially be visible in a temporary decrease in mental performance. There is an easy way to check if you are a victim: do you reach for coffee or something sweet around 3pm?
If yes your lunch is providing you with insufficient nutrition and a wrong proportion of macronutrients:
- too much water (lettuce, no-fat dressing),
- too many carbohydrates (croutons, high-fructose corn syrup in salad dressing),
- not enough calories, and
- not enough fats.
Can salads be healthy?
Yes, they can and you do not need to go a mile to make a junk salad into a healthy salad. There are simple ways of upgrading your meal:
- buy certified organic lettuce,
- add avocado for good fat and nutrients,
- add organic goat cheese for calcium and necessary fatty acids,
- sprinkle with a small amount of organic raisins for sweetness and concentrated antioxidants.
You may also use unsweetened shredded coconut for benefits of medium chain fatty acids and top it up with a generous extra virgin organic olive oil and lemon juice.
This salad has no pesticide or herbicide residue, is very high in nutrients, and has anti-, rather than pro-inflammatory effect. It is also lower in non-nutritious carbohydrates and because of its higher fat content you will benefit from a full range of fat-soluble vitamins such as
- D (immune enhancer),
- K (artery cleaner),
- E (blood thinner), and
- A (beautiful skin factor).
There is more to it…. It is not only healthy, but also very satisfying. Here is a shortcut to great salad ideas