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Going green for your health

For many years now, going green has been promoted as a way of conserving a healthy planet. On a personal note, going green is also a way of maintaining a healthy body. Complementing your meal with a bowl of salad can add many important...

For many years now, going green has been promoted as a way of conserving a healthy planet. On a personal note, going green is also a way of maintaining a healthy body. Complementing your meal with a bowl of salad can add many important nutrients to your diet. With the huge variety of salad options now available, you can satisfy your taste buds and your health needs at the same time.

Many health experts recommend that adults eat two to three cups of salad each day (more than a few lettuce leaves on a sandwich).

Studies have shown that when eaten regularly, salads help prevent osteoporosis, iron deficiency anemia and help protect from cancer, cardiovascular disease, and Alzheimer’s disease.

A traditional lettuce salad supplies the following beneficial nutrients: Vitamin A and beta-carotene which helps maintain mucous membranes, skin and vision; flavinoids which protect from lung and mouth cancers; Zeaxanthin, a carotenoid which protects eyes from age-related macular disease; Vitamin K which improves bone mass and limits Alzheimer’s disease; folates which helps synthesize DNA; Vitamin C which helps fight infection and inflammation; dietary fiber; and the B Complex Vitamins which maintain healthy metabolism, skin, hair, nerves and reduce the risk of pancreatic cancer.

There are five main types of lettuce: crisp-head, leaf, romaine, butterhead and celtuce. Each provides its own unique nutritional composition.

Iceberg is the most familiar type of crisp-head lettuce. Unfortunately, this crisp-head lettuce contains the least amount of nutrients as compared to all other types of lettuce. Iceberg lettuce is 96% water and has less than 10% of the Vitamin A of romaine lettuce and fewer than 7% of that found in leaf lettuce. Although it is fairly high in Vitamin C, red leaf, butterhead and romaine lettuce have much more.

Leaf lettuce comes in many colours, ranging from bright green to reddish-bronze. No matter the colour, its frilly, rumpled leaves are high in Vitamins A and K, as well as niacin, riboflavin and beta carotene. However, green leaf lettuce has the most Vitamin K and riboflavins than any lettuce type and red leaf lettuce has the highest levels of Vitamins A, B-6 and beta carotene.

Romaine lettuce leaves range from light green to cream colour. Romaine lettuce contains much more Vitamin C, folic acid, lutein and zeaxanthin than other lettuces. Next to leaf lettuce, romaine is second highest in Vitamin A and beta-carotene. For calcium, only butterhead is higher.

Butterhead lettuce leaves are dark green or light purple with a buttery texture. They grow in small, loosely folded heads around a cream-coloured centre. This lettuce is high in niacin and iron, and has a similar amount of Vitamin B-6, potassium and riboflavin as leaf lettuce. Butterhead lettuce is quite low in beta-carotene; the only lettuce with less is iceberg.

Celtuce lettuce varieties are also known as stem lettuce, asparagus lettuce and Chinese lettuce. With celtuce lettuce, the stem is also edible. Celtuce’s frilly leaves can be used in salads.

However, because of their strong flavour, they are often used in stir-fry and stews. Celtuce is second only to romaine lettuce in Vitamin C content, and it has the highest niacin content of all the lettuce types. Celtuce is also high in potassium, and is a good source of magnesium, phosphorous and calcium.

With their crispy freshness and health benefits, lettuce salads have served us well over the years. Yet recently, many more salad options have been available in most grocery stores and truck stops.

A wide variety of pre-packaged salads, pre-washed salad ingredients, and lettuce now allow us to inexpensively broaden our palates and increase our nutritional intake.

For example, spinach has become quite popular, either alone or when added to a lettuce base.

In addition to the nutrients it shares with lettuce, spinach is a good source of niacin and zinc, and a very good source of protein, Vitamin E, thiamin, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, copper and manganese.

Another typical option, a ‘mixed greens’ salad, contains baby romaine and oak leaf lettuces, Swiss chard, arugula, mizuna, frisee, and radicchio. Swiss chard is a very good source of dietary fiber, Vitamin E, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, copper and manganese and a good source of thiamin, and zinc.

Arugula is good source of protein, pantothenic acid, zinc and copper, and a very good source of and the same minerals as spinach. Mizuna, noted for its mild mustard flavour, contains beta-carotene. Frisee and radicchio, from the chicory family, are a good source of dietary fiber and potassium.

Since a two-cup bowl of undressed salad typically contains less than 10 calories, it is always a healthy meal complement for anyone.

In the fall, coloured leaves add beauty to the scenery outside. Leaves can also add health and vitality to your insides. Munch a salad and go green.

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