Although “superfoods” come and go, salads never seems to fall out of favor with the health cognoscenti. A bowl of greens is the perfect canvas for a nutrient-packed meal.
In a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study that calculated nutrient density for almost 50 fruits and vegetables, 17 of the top 20 were leafy greens.
The produce section now has more types of greens than ever, so it’s easy to vary your intake. Here’s what you need to know before you toss your next salad.
Read our special report on pesticides in produce, "Eat the Peach, Not the Pesticide."
Blend your greens. Each type has unique nutrients, flavors, and textures. Romaine lettuce, for instance, adds crunch and is packed with vision-protecting vitamin A. Arugula imparts a spicy kick along with a dose of a major cancer-fighting isothiocyanate.
And mild-tasting spinach may help curb your hunger—it contains compounds called thylakoids that slow fat digestion and promote the release of hormones that make you feel full, according to a recent study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition.
Not organic? Don’t panic. Organic is best for lowering pesticide exposure and supporting a sustainable agriculture system. But your primary goal is to eat a lot of produce every day.
Greens including kale, lettuce, and spinach were generally low in pesticides when Consumer Reports’ scientists analyzed 12 years of Department of Agriculture data in 2015.
Know when to wash. Rinse unpackaged greens to get rid of any dirt or grit. “Wash just before serving, since wet produce will support the growth of bacteria,” says Luke LaBorde, Ph.D., an associate professor of food science at Penn State University.
The odds of “pre-washed” or “triple washed” greens being contaminated with bacteria are low, but Consumer Reports’ food-safety experts say that it’s a good idea to wash them anyway.
Get creative. Veggies and chicken aren’t your only topping options: Beans, eggs, fruit, canned tuna or salmon, nuts and seeds, and whole grains can turn simple salads into satisfying meals.
Add fresh herbs. They’re flavorful—so you may use less dressing—and healthy. Parsley and chives were in the top 20 of the CDC’s produce ranking, but any herb works.
Toss in some healthy fat. It helps us absorb the nutrients from greens and other veggies in salads, a study from Purdue University finds.
If you use a good source of monounsaturated fat, you don’t need much—just 3 grams. That’s ¾ teaspoon of olive oil, ⅛ of an avocado, or 5 almonds. You can add more for flavor or satiety, but watch portion sizes because along with fat comes calories.
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