Trying To Eat Healthy? You Might Want To Skip The Salad

Salad
Veggies are undoubtedly great for us, but the common ingredients found in many salads aren't pulling their weight, nutrition-wise. Photo Courtesy of Shutterstock

Your starter salad may be a complete scam — nutritionally at least.

That’s the argument compellingly made by food and science writer Tamar Haspel in a recent Washington Post article.

According to Haspel, while there’s nothing, per se, wrong with the concept of the salad as a meal, many of the common ingredients found in one, such as lettuce, cucumbers, and radishes, are surprisingly lacking in nutritional value.

“A head of iceberg lettuce has the same water content as a bottle of Evian (1-liter size: 96 percent water, four percent bottle) and is only marginally more nutritious,” Haspel wrote. To contrast, collard greens, at 90 percent water, carry twice the nutritional content as iceberg per every pound. And that extra heft for the same amount of vegetable especially matters when buying groceries or allocating financial and agricultural resources to grow our crops.  

Haspel also notes that salad sides are often used to mask the unseemly portions of dressing and other unhealthy ingredients added to many a popular fast food salad item. As one example, Haspel explains that the Oriental Chicken Salad found at Applebee’s contains a whopping 1,400 calories a serving. While that isn’t iceberg lettuce’s fault, its overall blandness can’t help but lend itself to being a easy but misleading decoy for “healthiness.”

Other salient points brought up by Haspel include the fact that more than a billion pounds of salad go uneaten every year, and that the leafy greens found in salad tend to be the most prolific carriers of food-borne illnesses, particularly because they can be cleaned improperly before being eaten raw.

Research published this year by the Department of Agriculture found that lettuce crops, when afflicted by a common fungal disease, downy mildew, prove to be a breeding ground for the bacteria Escherichia coli O157:H7, an E. coli variant responsible for major outbreaks of food poisoning — just another check in the minus column.

Haspel doesn’t want to abandon the salad entirely, of course; simply expand our mind to a variety of other veggies that can not only fulfill our daily greens quota but also satisfy our taste buds, like sweet potatoes.

“An iceberg wedge, with radishes and bacon and blue-cheese dressing, is something I certainly have no plans to give up,” Haspel wrote. “But as we look for ways to rejigger our food supply to grow crops responsibly and feed people nutritiously, maybe we should stop thinking about salad as a wholesome staple, and start thinking about it as a resource-hungry luxury.”

Food for thought.

Join the Discussion