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Choose The Healthiest Salad Greens

Build your bounty on top of a deserving bed of lettuce with these tips on choosing the healthiest greens.

Go Green: A Guide To Choosing The Healthiest Salad Greens

Build your bounty on top of a deserving bed of lettuce with these tips on choosing the healthiest greens

Headed to a hoppin' salad bar for lunch? Chances are there will be handfuls of fresh greens up for grabs, from romaine and iceberg to spinach and red leaf lettuce.

But when it comes to choosing the healthiest salad base, which types of lettuce pack the biggest nutritional punch?

SEEING GREEN: THE NEED-TO-KNOW

Sorry sandwich lovers, but a few shreds of lettuce on a bun won't add up to the USDA's daily recommended intake (2-3 cups for most adults). Instead, a big, healthy salad is one of the smartest ways to go green.

Coming in at under 10 calories per cup, a big bowl of leaves can be a stellar source of vitamins A, C, K, and folate, among other essential nutrients.

But not all leafy greens will build a super-nutritious salad. America's favorite lettuce, iceberg, ranks the lowest in nutritional value across the board (96 percent water content will do that!). Turbo-charged spinach, on the other hand, boasts nearly twice the recommended daily value of vitamin K, half the recommended value of vitamin A, and ample amounts of calcium and iron. Clearly, Popeye was on to something.

Prefer a crunchier base? A cup of romaine is a tasty alternative, with a huge dose of vitamin A and a variety of other nutrients. Or, for a mild but textured bed, red leaf lettuce clocks in at just 4 calories per cup, with nearly half of the daily recommended dose of vitamins A and K.

Arugula (technically a cruciferous vegetable like broccoli, kale, and cabbage) also packs a healthy dose of nutrients and phytochemicals, which may inhibit the development of certain cancers. And for the non-committal types, mixed greens (typically a mix of romaine, oak leaf lettuce, arugula, frisée, and radicchio) offer, well, a mixed bag of nutritional benefits, depending on the batch.

SALAD FOR SALAD: YOUR GUIDE TO GREENS

Which greens are the best bet? Check out the infographic below for the nutritional low-down.

WINNING THE TOSS: YOUR ACTION PLAN

Consider visiting the salad bar a free pass to join the dark side. Research shows that darker "loose" or "open leaf" lettuces (such as romaine, red leaf, and butterhead) contain more antioxidants and nutrients than the typically lighter-colored, more tightly packed heads (such as iceberg). The reason? The darker leaves are able to absorb more light and, in turn, synthesize more vitamins. And while there's no good way to pick and choose a store-bought salad leaf for leaf, at home, opting for the tops and outer leaves can guarantee a more nutritious base.

Are you ready to go darker (and healthier) still? While they're not stocked at most salad bars, check the produce aisle for tougher roughage like Swiss chard and kale, which beat out even spinach in the antioxidant game. Be sure to give the leaves a good cold rinse before serving raw, boiled, or steamed; the folds in these greens tend to accumulate dirt more easily than other veggies.

Research shows that darker "loose" or "open leaf" lettuces (such as romaine, red leaf, and butterhead) contain more antioxidants and nutrients than the typically lighter-colored, more tightly packed heads (such as iceberg).

Also keep in mind that high heat can strip veggies of their natural vitamin content. What's the final key to becoming a lean, green fighting machine? Dress for success. Hold off on the creamy dressings, croutons, bacon bits, and layers of shredded cheese. Instead, opt for a light vinaigrette and a sprinkling of chopped walnuts or sunflower seeds for added crunch and protein.


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About The Author

Greatist, headquartered in NYC, is a health and fitness media startup on a mission to make better choices easier for everyone.

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chadwell18

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chadwell18

Good information to know. Thanks body building.com

Sep 13, 2013 6:20pm | report
 
michaelr575

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michaelr575

I didnt realize romaine was so close to spinach... Good to know, spinach gives me acid reflux sometimes.

Sep 13, 2013 8:03pm | report
 
XxmetallicaxX

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XxmetallicaxX

weird, you sure it isn't the oils you use with it

Sep 14, 2013 5:04pm | report
rennbj4

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rennbj4

It isn't... there are more than 5 nutrients in spinach.

Sep 16, 2013 7:38am | report
dslxic

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dslxic

At least twice a week I fire up the grill and cook two chicken breasts and add them to a healthy dose of romaine. A little cheese for fat and some black pepper with fat free Asian ginger dressing!

Sep 13, 2013 8:51pm | report
 
XxmetallicaxX

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XxmetallicaxX

sounds good, why not everyday

Sep 14, 2013 5:04pm | report
chemo29

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chemo29

recipe for dressing?

Sep 15, 2013 4:49am | report
xcheapcityhalox

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xcheapcityhalox

So basically, organic spring mix that I've been eating is the way to go.

Sep 13, 2013 10:06pm | report
 
jtpowell64

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jtpowell64

That is my favorite.

Sep 15, 2013 6:16pm | report
chiefgreybeard

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chiefgreybeard

What is in a plant also depends heavily on what is in the soil. veggies can look huge, beautiful and healthy and still have low food value. Unless you test everything you eat it's a crap shoot.

Sep 14, 2013 8:23am | report
 
delfartel

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delfartel

Agreed. That's why a good multi will make sure you are getting that extra bit of nutrients.

Sep 18, 2013 4:46am | report
AutumnHB

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AutumnHB

I knew there was a reason I love spinach so much.

Sep 14, 2013 12:16pm | report
 
jngibson24

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jngibson24

Where da kale at?

Sep 14, 2013 5:38pm | report
 
delfartel

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delfartel

Ya no doubt.

Sep 18, 2013 4:46am | report
CindyVanessa

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CindyVanessa

Romaine and red leaf are my go to for delicious salads!! I like to make my own dressing with Dijon mustard, garlic powder, salt, pepper and lime juice... YUM :)

Sep 14, 2013 8:05pm | report
 
ChefBoyOurG

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ChefBoyOurG

where the hell is kale? kale's calcium is easier obsorbed then spinach.AND bagged spinach is way better then the canned stuff, for those who've only seen spinach in popeye cartoons.

Sep 14, 2013 10:14pm | report
 
lynnaspen

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lynnaspen

Great information. I would have thought arugula was more nutritious than what it is.

Sep 15, 2013 12:04am | report
 
Mechta

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Mechta

cool

Sep 15, 2013 3:58am | report
 
  • Body Stats
  • ht: 5'10"
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KettleBellFreak

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KettleBellFreak

Kale and Spinach lightly steamed in a salad... now that's freaking nutritious.

Sep 15, 2013 10:17am | report
 
tontoterra

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tontoterra

At our house, Romaine and Spinach are the most common salad bases, but Collards are my favorite. Thanks for the article.

Sep 15, 2013 11:28am | report
 
Octalena

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Octalena

Love it! Glad to know I've been doing something right. Love fresh spinach, red romaine leaves, asparagus, & broccoli as my main veggie source.

Sep 15, 2013 5:13pm | report
 
MikeyD24

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MikeyD24

Great article

Sep 15, 2013 6:14pm | report
 
rennbj4

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rennbj4

How do kale, chard, collards compare?

Sep 16, 2013 7:38am | report
 
delfartel

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delfartel

In my opinion they are even better.

Sep 18, 2013 4:47am | report
AKPisMe

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AKPisMe

I'm pretty sure kale blows all of these away nutritionally and is frequently used in salads.

EVERYONE: See Kale.

Sep 16, 2013 9:11am | report
 
Showing 1 - 25 of 39 Comments

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