By Dr. Mercola
Salads are most people's first encounter with raw foods. Quick and easy to make, they are an easy and delicious way to get live, biodynamic foods into your diet. Mistakes abound however, that could turn an otherwise healthy meal into something less than ideal.
As noted by nutrition editor Cynthia Sass in a recent article for Time Magazine,1 "imbalances can either prevent a salad from being slimming, or lead to missing out on key nutrients."
She points out five common salad mistakes that many people make. These are certainly valuable pointers. Here, I will address a couple of them, and make some additional recommendations of my own.
- Too little or too much protein
- Insufficient variety in your choice of greens
- Too little or too much fat
- Skipping starch
- Insufficient seasoning
Whenever Possible, Opt for Organic Produce
Fresh organic vegetables are generally both healthier and tastier. In terms of nutrition, it's important to remember that it's not just about the nutrient levels themselves, which do tend to be higher in organically grown foods, it's also about what they don't contain, namely pesticides.
Most of us significantly underestimate the amount and variety of chemicals sprayed onto the produce we eat. Tests, however, suggest most people are exposed to hundreds of them, and they accumulate in your body over time.
They can also easily be transferred to your unborn child during pregnancy. In 2009, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) published a study that found 232 chemicals in the placental cord blood of American newborns!
Organophosphate pesticides, which are commonly used on conventionally-grown produce, are well known for their hazards to human health. Prenatal exposure has been linked to delayed brain development, reduced IQ, and attention deficits.
I've also pointed out the compelling links between agricultural chemicals and autism, and new research (known as the CHARGE study2, 3) shows that living within a mile of pesticide-treated crops increases your chances of bearing children with autism.
The recently published CHAMACOS Study, which followed hundreds of pregnant women living in the agricultural mecca of Salinas Valley, California, also found that exposure to organophosphates during pregnancy was associated with lower IQ and poorer cognitive functioning in children, among other health effects.
Glyphosate, another prevalent herbicide used both on conventional and genetically engineered crops at about one billion pounds a year, may be one of the most important factors in the development of multiple chronic diseases and conditions that have become prevalent in Westernized societies. The more of it you can avoid, the better.
Homegrown Sprouts Can Maximize the Nutrition of Your Salad
One of the simplest and most effective strategies to avoid harmful chemicals is to eat organic food. Another option is to grow your own. Among the easiest foods to grow at home are sprouts. As luck would have it, they're also among the most nutritious, and they're an excellent addition to a fresh salad.
Some of the most commonly sprouted beans, nuts, seeds, and grains are listed below. My personal favorites are pea and sunflower sprouts, which have the added benefit of providing some of the highest-quality protein you can eat.
Homegrown sprouts have radically improved the nutrition of my own primary meal, which is a salad at lunch. They're also a perfect complement to fermented vegetables. It is hard to imagine a healthier combination that provides the essentials of nutrition, and at a very low cost.
Broccoli: known to have anti-cancer properties, courtesy of the enzyme "sulforaphane" Alfalfa: a significant dietary source of phytoestrogens. Also a good source of vitamins A, B, C, D, E, F, and K Wheat grass: high in vitamins B, C, E, and many minerals Mung bean: good source of protein, fiber, and vitamins C and A Clover: significant source of isoflavones Lentil sprouts: contain 26 percent protein, and can be eaten without cooking Sunflower: contains minerals, healthy fats, essential fatty acids, fiber, and phytosterols. It's also one of the highest in protein Pea shoots: good source of vitamins A and C and folic acid and one of the highest in protein
Most Commercial Salad Dressings Will Do More Harm Than Good...
Perhaps the most common mistake people make with their salads is their choice of salad dressing. The vast majority of commercial salad dressings are far from healthy, as they're chockfull of high fructose corn syrup and highly processed omega-6 GMO oils full of toxic herbicides like glyphosate.
Low-fat dressings also need to be avoided. When fat is removed from a food product, it's usually replaced by sugar/fructose in order to taste good, and this is a recipe for poor health. Excess fructose in your diet drives insulin and leptin resistance, which are at the heart of not only diabetes but most other chronic diseases as well.
So what constitutes "healthy fat," and why do you need to add it to your salad? For starters, fats help your body absorb important minerals and vitamins, including vitamins A, D, and E. If you don't have enough fat with your meal, your body may not be able to properly absorb these, and other, fat-soluble nutrients.
Adding healthy fat to your salad will also make it more filling, as fats are among the most satiating. In fact, many do not realize this, but frequent hunger may be a major clue that you're not eating enough fat.
I personally do not use any salad dressings. Instead I use several ounces of fermented vegetables made with our Kinetic Starter Culture, so not only am I getting the lactic acid vinegar like flavor but trillions of beneficial microbes and a very significant dose of vitamin K2.
Healthy vs. Unhealthy Fats
The featured article notes that full-fat dressing increases absorption of valuable antioxidants compared to reduced-fat versions, but fails to make any distinction between healthy and unhealthy types of fat.
First, it's important to realize that the use of processed omega-6 fats have increased 1,000 times in the last century, which disturbs the vital omega 6-3 ratio. If you eat any processed foods you are getting too much omega-6 fats and need to avoid any processed omega-6 oils like corn and soy and any generically branded "vegetable" oils.
Also, as revealed by investigative journalist Nina Teicholz,4 author of The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat, and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet, while the food industry has reduced the use of harmful trans fats, they've reverted back to using regular vegetable oils, and this is far from an ideal replacement.
Especially when heated, vegetable oils like peanut, corn, and soy oil degrade into highly toxic oxidation products that appear to be even worse than trans fats! One category of these byproducts, called aldehydes, are of particular concern. In animals, even low levels of aldehydes oxidize LDL cholesterol and cause high levels of inflammation, which is associated with heart disease.
Cyclic aldehydes have also been shown to cause toxic shock in animals through gastric damage, and this seems consistent with the rise in immune problems and gastrointestinal-related diseases in the human population. Even when used cold, such as in salad dressing, processed vegetable oils are best avoided. If you order salad with a house vinaigrette in a restaurant, be sure to ask what kind of oil it contains. Olive oil is ideal. If they use any other kind of vegetable oil, you may be better off skipping it. Other sources of healthy fats to include liberally in your salad include:
Olives Shredded coconut Raw nuts, such as macadamia or pecans Organic pastured egg yolks Avocados Grass-fed meat, but limited to protein level below
Adding Too Much Protein to Your Salad May Be Counterproductive
Your body needs protein. It's a main component of your body, including muscles, bones, and many hormones. However, most Americans tend to eat far too much low-quality protein for optimal health. I believe few people really need more than one-half gram of protein per pound of lean body mass. When it comes to protein from animal sources, you also want to make sure it's been raised on pasture, to avoid exposure to pesticides, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), hormones, antibiotics, and other potentially harmful drugs and chemicals.
To determine your lean body mass, find out your percent body fat and subtract from 100. This means that if you have 20 percent body fat, you have 80 percent lean body mass. Just multiply that by your current weight to get your lean body mass in pounds or kilos. Those that are aggressively exercising or competing and pregnant women typically need about 25 percent more, but most people rarely need more than 40-70 grams of protein a day.
The rationale behind limiting your protein this: when you consume protein in levels higher than recommended above, you tend to activate the mTOR (mammalian target of rapamycin) pathway, which can help you get large muscles but may also increase your risk of cancer. There is research suggesting that the "mTOR gene" is a significant regulator of the aging process, and suppressing this gene may be linked to longer life. Generally speaking, as far as eating for optimal health goes, most people are simply consuming a combination of too much low-quality protein and carbohydrates, and not enough healthy fat.
Translating Ideal Protein Requirements Into Foods
Substantial amounts of protein can be found in: meat, fish, eggs, dairy products, legumes, and nuts. As noted earlier, pea and sunflower sprouts also provide some of the highest quality protein available. To determine whether you're getting an appropriate amount of protein, calculate your lean body mass as described above, then calculate the amount of protein you're getting from all sources.
Again, your daily requirement is likely to be around one-half gram of protein per pound of lean body mass. This places most average people in the range of 40 to 70 grams of protein per day. To determine the grams of protein in each food, you can refer to the chart below or simply Google the food in question.
Red meat, pork, poultry, and seafood average 6-9 grams of protein per ounce.
An ideal amount for most people would be a 3-ounce serving of meat or seafood (not 9- or 12-ounce steaks!), which will provide about 18-27 grams of protein
Eggs contain about 6-8 grams of protein per egg. So an omelet made from two eggs would give you about 12-16 grams of protein.
If you add cheese, you need to calculate that protein in as well (check the label of your cheese)
Seeds and nuts contain on average 4-8 grams of protein per quarter cup Cooked beans average about 7-8 grams per half cup Cooked grains average 5-7 grams per cup Most vegetables contain about 1-2 grams of protein per ounce
Ramp Up Your Nutrition with Herbs
Adding fresh herbs to your salad can also go a long way toward improving your nutrition, as many are densely packed with vitamins and various phytonutrients. Because of their nutrient density, they're also thermogenic, meaning they naturally increase your metabolism. Herbs are also easy to grow at home, and many have medicinal properties to boot. A recent article in Prevent Disease5 lists seven staple herbs that belong in every kitchen, and make a great addition to any salad—either mixed in fresh, or added to homemade oil and vinegar dressing. These include:
Parsley Cilantro Oregano Thyme Sweet Italian basil Rosemary Dill
Your Food Choices Play a Key Role in Disease Prevention and Health
I believe that food can be "medicine." It's certainly the best preventive strategy I can think of, and getting more raw organic food in your diet is a key point. Besides eating more salads, juicing is another great way to get more vegetables into your diet. However, as noted in a recent article in The Atlantic,6 which details the trials and triumphs of Luke Saunders, a 28-year old entrepreneur and owner of Farmer's Fridge, even when fresh salad is available as an option, many simply won't make that choice...
If you fall into this category, I urge you to reconsider. Remember, if you're avoiding salad because it doesn't "fill you up," it's probably because you're not adding enough healthy fat to it. That said, making fresh produce more readily available, especially in low-income areas, is part of the solution to many Americans chronic health problems, and Farmer's Fridge is leading the charge:
"Saunders is confronting any number of challenges. Among them is a question that has stumped many of America's top food-policy experts for decades: If healthy food were more convenient, would more people eat it?...
This month, Farmer's Fridge is rolling out two more machines. If its efforts pay off, it will eventually expand to dozens of locations all over Chicago, and possibly in other cities after that. One of Saunders' dreams... is to install machines in more low-income neighborhoods, at prices locals can afford.
He hopes that, eventually, the dual threats of poor nutrition and obesity can be treated with fresh produce, rather than with pharmaceuticals. Efforts like Saunders' won't improve public health single-handedly, and he knows it. But his business does seem like one potential answer to a long-standing concern in the food-policy world: That there's not enough cheap, healthy food in low-income areas..."