Monday, October 2, 2017

Which lettuces are best for your health?

What do you think about when choosing lettuce?  Most people don't think about much.  They just go for the iceberg (which isn't a bad idea), because it's the cheapest and everyone's used to eating it.  I was that way for decades.

But you know what?  You should give it some more thought.  By the way, some people seem to that there's a 'salad season'.  I think it's salad season all the time!

A good salad - one full of veggies, a healthy protein source (and even fruit) - can be one of the best meals in the world.  But are all salads created equal?  Of course not.  Today, we’re going to take a closer look at the different types of leafy greens that make up the bed of most salads.  And we’re going to discuss how you can quickly tell which greens are the best for you... and which ones you should limit.

The darker the lettuce, the better it is.

The easiest, quickest way to identify nutrition in your leafy vegetables is color.  Specifically, the darker the color, the more nutrients are packed in there.  So a dark green leaf lettuce has many more nutrients packed in than, say, iceberg. You can easily see that at a glance.  In fact, you can even tell which strain of romaine is best, by judging which has the darker green color.  That makes shopping at the grocery store a snap.

And this rule of thumb doesn’t just apply to leafy greens either.  The same can be said of red lettuce.  If you only remember one thing from today’s article, let that be it.  The darker your leafy veggie, the more nutrients are stuffed in there.

However, there are plenty of other facts to know which go beyond leaf color.

For instance, of the four most common salad greens, romaine has 2 grams of fiber, while iceberg, green leaf, and butterhead all have about 1 gram in a serving.  You’ll also get about a gram of iron from green leaf, butterhead, or romaine, while iceberg delivers around half that.  You get around 3-5% of your recommended daily allowance of calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, and potassium from the first three, while iceberg gives you 1-2% of each.

Each lettuce type has about the same amount of calories -13 to 17 calories per 100 grams, a very low total.  Butterhead has about 110% of your recommended daily amount of Vitamin A, while green leaf has 247% and romaine has nearly 300%.  Butterhead and romaine have about 85% of your Vitamin K, while green leaf has about 105%.  And those are just the most popular leaf veggies. 

Kale, for instance, has many of the same vitamins and minerals as the above, but also has over 100% of the recommended amount of Vitamin C.  Spinach leaf is a little lower in most of the vitamins and minerals found in other leafy veggies, but adds a solid amount of niacin and zinc.

The truth is, each leafy veggie brings something different to the table.  You won’t go wrong eating any of them - but a mix of all of them will bring you the maximum balance of scores of nutrients and minerals (and do it with a bare minimum of calories).  It’s hard to beat leafy veggies when it comes to bang for your buck.

However, there is one more reason to eat these healthy foods up.

Did you know that you can eat your water?

Everyone knows (or should know) that you need a lot of water for your body to function efficiently.  In fact, dehydration is a huge factor in aging.  In other words, for health and longevity, you need a water-rich diet.  If you remember and do nothing else, remember and do that.

But you know what?  Not all water is created equally.

Municipal water is clean, but the chlorine used in the cleaning could have worrying long-term effects.  Filtered water gets rid of impurities and chemicals, but you lose minerals as well.  Reverse osmosis water also loses minerals - plus it comes out acidic.  And ionized water leaves minerals in place - but also leaves bacteria and viruses in place as well.

The truth is (unless you have a healthy source of well water) the water you’re drinking is most likely missing a number of minerals that your body craves.  That’s why getting much of your hydration from food is actually one of the best moves you can make.

Each of these green leafy veggies is over 90% water. But iceberg - long poo-pooed as an empty food - really shines here.  Iceberg is over 95% water.  In fact, if you measure by calories, iceberg is nutritionally very similar to romaine.  It comes in much lower by weight, because so much of iceberg’s mass is water.  So don’t assume iceberg is useless. Clearly, when it comes to hydration - one of the most important benefits of leafy veggies - iceberg comes out on top.

Each of these leafy greens is among the most nutritious foods available.  Mix them all into your salads, and you’ll have a head start on your vitamins, your minerals and your hydration (while barely moving the calorie needle).

Warning:  Avoid high-calorie dressings - which are the downfall of most salads.  A ranch dressing can potentially transform a salad from a healthy choice into a fat delivery system like a cheeseburger.  Don't use much of it.  Instead, add great choices like avocado for taste and healthy fat - or a few fresh fruits like strawberries.

Even without those flourishes, there’s a reason why salads are so good for you. The base leafy veggies are the start of it all.  By the way, people like to run down McDonalds a lot (for various reasons), but their newest salads are right in line with everything I just said.  Try one.

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