Think you mix a mean salad? While we applaud everyone for getting their greens, not all salads are created equal!
Comparing iceberg and romaine is a little easier than comparing, say, apples and oranges. In general, leafy greens are rich in fiber, calcium, iron and vitamins A and C, among other essential nutrients.
"No matter what type it is, it's going to offer you some nutrition," says Rachel Berman, R.D., director of nutrition at caloriecount.com. It's also worth mentioning that leafy greens don't contain some of the biggest nutrition offenders, namely fat and sodium. "You get a lot of bang for caloric buck," says Berman. "By pairing any meal with a side salad, you're helping yourself become satiated on fewer calories."
Keep in mind that no salad is complete without at least a little fat. A study from earlier this year found that the nutrients in greens and other veggies are best absorbed when eaten with a bit of (healthy) fat, like that in avocados, nuts or olive oil.
But creating the best base is important, too. That's why we asked Berman to share her thoughts on the best and worst picks for salad greens in the slideshow below. Although a blend of a few different greens is probably the healthiest bet of all, she says; that way you get the various benefits of a few different options.
Of course, the size of your salad will affect the amount of nutrients those greens deliver. The typical side salad is likely around two cups or 100 grams, says Berman, but, especially with the popularity of chopped salads, yours could pack up to four cups of leafy greens.
Per 100 grams: 14 calories 1 gram of fiber 18 milligrams of calcium 2.8 milligrams of vitamin C 502 International Unitis of vitamin A "The darker the leaves is usually correlated with more nutrition,” says Berman, but iceberg is “not completely devoid” of health benefits. In fact, it still contains about 10 percent of your daily vitamin A and 5 percent of your C, plus a little calcium and iron.
Per 100 grams: 17 calories 2 grams of fiber 24 milligrams of vitamin C 8,711 IUs of vitamin A 33 milligrams of calcium This familiar leaf is a great source of vitamin A, says Berman, more than enough for a day. It's also a good source of vitamin C, with about 40 percent of your daily value.
Per 100 grams: 25 calories 2 grams of fiber 160 milligrams of calcium 15 milligrams of vitamin C 2,373 IUs of vitamin A Arugula is similar to romaine, says Berman, with solid amounts of vitamin A and C. But it's also higher in calcium, with about 16 percent of your daily needs.
Per 100 grams: 30 calories 4 grams of fiber 145 milligrams of calcium 169 milligrams of potassium 35.3 milligrams vitamin C 6,668 IUs of vitamin A Akin to spinach and kale, these dark leafy greens are a very good source of fiber and also a good source of potassium. But while collards are becoming ever-more-popular in salads, they may be more beneficial cooked, says Berman.
Per 100 grams: 23 calories 2 grams of fiber 99 milligrams of calcium 558 milligrams of potassium 28 milligrams of vitamin C 9,376 IUs of vitamin A "Spinach and kale take it to another level, nutritionally,” says Berman, who jokes that Popeye was really onto something. Spinach is rich in iron, which helps to transport blood around the body to keep muscles working efficiently, she says.
Per 100 grams: 50 calories 2 grams of fiber 135 milligrams of calcium 447 milligrams of potassium 120 milligrams of vitamin C 15,376 IUs of vitamin A "Kale has significantly more vitamin A and calcium,” says Berman, and is also really in right now, as much as it's possible for salad greens to be hip. A big kale salad has even more calcium than a glass of milk and can provide a change of flavor from other traditional salad greens, says Berman.
Dandelion greens, mache and mizuna are just a few of the other tasty and healthy options that are slowly but surely making their way into more salad bowls. Frisee, on the other hand, is more akin to an iceberg, says Berman.
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