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Salad vegetables at any time of year are a good source of insoluble fibre, which helps you to maintain a healthy digestive tract and reduce LDL, or bad, cholesterol. By adding nuts, seeds or beans (maybe even some pea shoots or alfafa sprouts) to your salads you will also get a boost of soluble fibre which helps to lower cholesterol and keep blood sugar well-balanced, which is particularly important for diabetics and more generally to control mood swings, irritability, depression and cravings for sugary things. Other symptoms of blood sugar imbalance include fatigue, difficulty concentrating, feeling hungry after only a few hours of eating, blurred vision and fat storage around the midriff. These are also symptoms of clinical hypoglycaemia which is when blood sugar falls below below 55 mg/dL. Salad vegetables contain high levels of water providing our bodies with hydration necessary for youthful skin tone and various basic bodily functions such as urination and bowel movement.

Salads are so easy to prepare at home and a salad a day provides multiple health benefits at any time of the year. The main difference of course is that the various salad vegetables have their seasons, which is when they will be at their most nutritious especially if they are organic or homegrown and free from chemicals and pesticides rather than flown in from hundreds or even thousands of miles away, although even these will have some nutritional value and not everyone is able to afford to buy organic or grow their own produce, Please remember to rinse all your vegetables thoroughly in clean, cold running water before preparing in order to get rid of any grit, soil and pests or residue of chemicals and pesticides.

One of the best things to include in your salad is leafy greens rich in Vitamin K such as baby spinach, Romaine lettuce or watercress in the summer and shredded kale in the winter. Low levels of Vitamin K have been linked to low bone density in women and just one cup of leafy greens per day will promote bone growth and improve the performance of the mitochondria which are the tiny cell structures that help us produce energy and effective muscle maintenance and growth. Romaine lettuce in particular contains significant levels of folate which helps to prevent stroke and cardiovascular disease. Grated or fine julienne strips of carrot, beetroot and celeriac and some finely shredded red cabbage also pep up your winter salad and help to make it super nutritious. Aim to make your salads as colourful as possible to maximise your intake of vitamins and minerals and to increase the level of powerful antioxidants in your blood. “Red” fruits and vegetables such as tomatoes, red and orange peppers, carrots, stone fruits like peaches and apricots and berries such as blueberries, pomegranates and cranberries are of particular nutritional benefit as they contain carotenoids such as Vitamin A, beta-carotene, lycopene, lutein and zeaxanthin as well as providing the body with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory attributes. Carotenoids – which are also found in the green leafy salad vegetables – also help the eyes to adjust between light and dark and to filter out high intensity light levels and thus protecting the eyes from the formation of damaging free radicals.

A fibre-rich salad will help you feel full faster so you will consume less calories than you might otherwise and including as many raw vegetables as possible will maximise their positive effects. If you can, try incorporating a handful of chopped nuts or seeds in your salad and a homemade salad dressing provide a good source of healthy oils, as does adding some sliced avocado which enables the body to absorb all the protective compounds, lutein and phytochemicals it needs for optimal health and wellbeing and a strong immune system. Nuts and seeds are also a good source of zinc and selenium, which help to prevent heart disease and develop antibodies in the immunocompromised, improve metabolism and thyroid function. Selenium also contains antioxidants that help to boost male fertility by increasing the sperm’s mobility to help it to swim and fertilise the ova. Zinc helps to keep white blood cells healthy to fight disease and infection, enable wound healing and encourage cell production in the body. A paper published in 2003 in the Folia Microbiologica noted that zinc and selenium are both important in modulating immune function and selenium in particular is necessary for the functioning of three different types of immune cells – neutrophils (they comprise 40% of white blood cells and 60% of the immune cells in the blood), macrophages (they help to eliminate foreign substances and microorganisms and other harmful organisms by overwhelming them and triggering an immune response) and ‘natural killer’ (NK) cells (lymphocites, which belong to the ‘B’ and ‘T’ cell family but respond quickly to a whole host of pathological challenges such as killing virally infected cells and detecting and controlling early signs of cancer).

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TIP: Try making your own salad dressing. To a small jar add 6 tsp extra virgin olive oil, 3 teaspoons of raw apple cider vinegar, 3 tsp honey, 3 tsp Dijon or wholegrain mustard, season with salt or pepper, screw the lid on and shake thoroughly to combine. Depending on what salad you are making you might also like to add a squeeze of fresh lemon, lime or orange juice and this kind of salad dressing also stops fruits such as chopped avocado and apple from browning. Also try adding antioxidant-rich chopped herbs to your dressings and salads such as coriander, thyme, dill, garlic, chives, rosemary and mint (which pairs particularly well with apple) to bring a further dimension to your plate.

Below is a basic winter salad using some of the fresh raw seasonal fruit and vegetables that Dan and I had bought from our local farm shop at the weekend or had delivered from Riverford Organic. I dressed the salad with my basic homemade salad dressing (as detailed in the above paragraph), adding a dollop or two of home-fermented cabbage with its health-giving probiotics and a handful each of walnuts and mixed seeds for a bit of crunch. Quantities are random – it is entirely up to you how large you want your salad to be or for how many people you are catering – but this one will feed two.

Ingredients

  • A wedge of red cabbage, thinly shredded
  • A good handful of organic curly kale, thinly shredded
  • Organic carrot, sliced into thin julienne strips
  • Large stick of celery, chopped
  • 2 small local apples, cored and chopped
  • handful of organic black grapes, halved
  • Handful of walnuts, roughly chopped
  • Handful of mixed seeds
  • Two tablespoons of fermented cabbage (optional) – my homemade one is fermented with grated carrot and cumin seeds.
  • Salad dressing

1. Wash and prepare the fruits and salad vegetables and place in a large bowl.

2. Add the roughly chopped walnuts, drizzle in the salad dressing and mix into the salad to combine thoroughly.

3. Pile the salad into the middle of one platter or two large plates.

4. Spoon the fermented cabbage (if using) on to the bed of salad and sprinkle with mixed seeds.

COOK’S TIPS:-

This salad is vegan if served on its own or with sliced avocado or some falafels.

This main course salad can also be served with shaved parmesan or vegetarian substitute, some hot smoked mackerel or salmon or even charcuterie. However you choose to present your salad, it is very versatile!

Dan had Italian charcuterie with his salad!

Buon appetito!

Catherine