Leafy green vegetables, especially dark green ones, are the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet. That makes the act of eating a salad one of the most important things you can do to improve your overall well being and maintain a healthy amount of body fat. As long as your salads are done right (see below), eating more of them will both decrease the calories you take in and increase the nutrients you get. This means salad consumption is very helpful for both weight loss and health gain.
Healthy foods are nutrient dense, meaning they have a lot of nutrients per calorie. Micronutrients are a class of nutrients that are crucial for having a long, healthy life. They keep your body in running order, including your bones, soft tissues, eyes, and immune system. Getting lots of them also significantly reduces your risk of many diseases, including certain types of cancer. Calories are what give you energy. Since you only need so much energy per day, you’re better off getting as much nutrition as you can along with those calories. Most people eating Western diets get too many calories and not enough micronutrients. This almost always leads to too much body fat and ill health. That means most Westerners need to eat more foods that are more nutrient dense, like greens.
Salad is high in many nutrients, including fiber. Eating fibrous foods such as vegetables, beans, and fruit fills the volume of your stomach and makes you feel full and satisfied. That leaves less room for food that is less healthy. And so, one easy step you can take to reduce the amount of calories you eat while increasing the amount of nutrients you get is to eat a salad every day, preferably before a big meal like lunch or dinner. Some people even base an entire meal on salad by adding other yummy ingredients, like the ones below.
WHAT MAKES A SALAD AWESOME?
Aside from green leaves, there are many more tasty and health-promoting foods you can add to your salad. Here are some:
-greens: romaine lettuce, spinach, mixed greens, arugula
-other vegetables: bell peppers, onions, tomatoes, carrots, sprouts, artichoke hearts
-fruits: diced grapefruit, apples, figs, berries, and any dried fruits
-nuts and seeds: pumpkin seeds, hemp seeds, sunflower seeds, walnuts, almonds, flaxseed
-herbs, fresh or dried: cilantro, oregano, mint
-legumes: black beans, red lentils, garbanzo beans, kidney beans, sweet peas
-whole grains: brown rice, quinoa, barley, millet, wild rice, corn
The more ingredients you add from the vegetables, legumes, and fruits categories, the more nutrients your salad has per calorie. And when you include fruits, herbs, and other delicious foods, the tastier your salad becomes and the less dressing you might want to add.
WHAT MAKES A SALAD BACKFIRE?
Adding foods that are low in nutrients but high in calories can destroy the health status of a salad in no time. Meat, cheese, and oil are common examples. If you add these foods, they should be in small amounts (the smallest amount you can muster). Croutons made from white bread are another example of a low-nutrient food often added to salads.
Many salad dressings are based on oil, which is one of the least nutrient dense foods around. Even olive oil, which has been heavily advertised as a health food, is actually very low in nutrients aside from fat, from which it gets 100% of its calories. That means that the more oil and oil-based dressings you add to your greens, the less health-promoting the salad becomes. And the harder it will be to maintain a healthy weight or to lose weight.
HOW DO I MAKE A HEALTHY SALAD DRESSING?
If you are buying a salad dressing, one of the first ingredients in the ingredient list should be some kind of vinegar or water, not oil. One trick is to just buy vinegar on its own, such as balsamic, apple cider, etc. You can also use hummus, tahini, salsa, and hot sauce as great salad toppings that can be mixed in to add a lot of flavor.
There are lots of recipes for healthy salad dressings, but here’s a simple formula you can use to create your own: Pick a vinegar, a nut butter or seed butter, an herb or spice, and a citrus fruit. Put these ingredients into a blender and add enough water to blend. Keep adding water until you have the desired consistency and flavor power. Lots of vinegar will take lots of water and other ingredients to mellow out. The more nut or seed butter you add, the more calories the salad dressing will have. Athletes needing more calories can be generous with the amount of nuts and seeds their salads--and any meal--include.