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salad and nutrients

From a dietary standpoint, salads come in many forms. Just because it is called a salad does not mean that it is healthy and nutritious. It is possible to create a healthy meal from a salad bar. But it is also easy to make unhealthy choices and select many items high in kilojoules and fat.

What food source is the nutrient found in? 
The most basic offerings at salad bars are healthy choices. These are lettuces, spinach, tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers, cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower. These are loaded with vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, or literally, "plant chemicals," and fibre. Most salad bars also have nutritional traps. The creamy desserts, some salad dressings and side salads, such as macaroni salads and potato salads, are drenched with saturated fat and kilojoules.

How does the nutrient affect the body? 
Major health authorities recommend eating 7 servings of fruits and vegetables each day. Fruits and vegetables help protect against heart disease and some cancers. Home made salads and salad bars are a great way to get 7 servings if individuals are careful about creating the salad.

Vegetables are a good source of fibre. So are beans, such as kidney beans, three bean salad mix, and chickpeas. Fibre helps reduce blood cholesterol levels. This helps to cut heart disease risk. Fibre may also be important in cancer prevention. This may be due to its role in the intestinal tract. This is where it keeps foods, including potential carcinogens, moving through, and ultimately out of the system.

Dark green, yellow and red vegetables such as spinach, red and yellow capsicum, and tomatoes are rich in vitamin A . These are called carotenoids. These important nutrients are studied for their potentially protective role in heart disease and cancer. For the antioxidant effects from their vitamin C; tomatoes, capsicum, broccoli, avocado and cabbage should be chosen.

Broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage all belong to a family of plants known as cruciferous vegetables. In addition to fibre and vitamins, these have phytochemicals. Some scientists believe that eating cruciferous vegetables is an important part of a cancer-protective diet.

Eggs, nuts, seeds, tuna and lean meats can add great protein sources to salads. Be careful of tuna made with mayonnaise or higher fat meats such as salami that can add too much fat and kilojoules. Cheese can contribute calcium and protein but watch portion sizes because cheese also tends to be high in fat.

Salad dressings are usually high in fat. The types of fat these salad dressings are made of is important. Most salad dressings are made from vegetable oils. Vegetable oils are mostly unsaturated fats or "good fats". Salad dressings, even regular, are not bad to use. The only problem is the kilojoules. Fats of any kind contain 37 kilojoules per gram. This is more than twice as many kilojoules as are in carbohydrates and proteins. When choosing regular salad dressings, watch portion sizes. Also, look on the label for dressings that do not contain much saturated fats. If weight loss is a goal, reduced fat, fat-free or vinegar dressings are the best choices. Dressings made with olive or nut oil have monounsaturated fats. Monounsaturated fats may actually help lower cholesterol levels. Saturated fats are found in dairy products, meats, and some creamy salad dressings. Saturated fats raise cholesterol levels.

An innocent trip through the salad bar can easily total up to 4000 kilojoules. It can be loaded with fat. Making wise choices can be a great way to get the disease-fighting properties of fibre, minerals, vitamins, phytochemicals and healthy fats. It can also help with weight loss and weight maintenance. Ask for your salad dressing "on the side" so you can control how much you use. Choose undressed salads more often.

Author: Clare Armstrong, MS, RD
Reviewer: eknohow Medical Review Panel
Editor: Dr John Hearne
Last Updated: 28/11/2004
Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request

This website and article is not a substitute for independent professional advice. Nothing contained in this website is intended to be used as medical advice and it is not intended to be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes or as a substitute for your own health professional's advice.  All Health and any associated parties do not accept any liability for any injury, loss or damage incurred by use of or reliance on the information.


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