Salads

Salads

By
Dale Pinnock
Contains
0 recipes
Published by
Quadrille Publishing
ISBN
9781849499538
Photographer
Issy Croker

Salads are without doubt one of the main staples of a healthy diet. They can be the epitome of a healthy meal, but so many people fear the worst when they hear the word “salad”. It conjures up images of droopy lettuce leaves and limp cucumber slices, like the salads of old, or the lifeless heap that used to be served as a garnish. But please don’t fear: that is not what I am talking about here. Salads are a way of bringing together as many minimally processed plant foods as possible, which is a vital part of building a healthy diet.

In this age, when so many of us are consuming large amounts of convenience foods, ready meals and processed food items, we struggle to get anywhere near the levels of micronutrients that we need on a daily basis. We certainly get the macronutrients (protein, fats, carbohydrates) from convenience foods (often way too much of them). But the micronutrients – the vitamins, minerals, trace elements and phytonutrients – are destroyed through heavy processing. If your diet is built around too many convenience foods, then chances are you won’t be getting enough at all. I view a good, dense salad as almost a nutritional supplement. It is a meal that is guaranteed to give you a great injection of so many key nutrients, especially those that are damaged during processing and cooking, plus a great cocktail of phytonutrients – compounds in plants that aren’t necessarily nutrients in the truest sense (in that you can’t develop a physical condition from a deficiency in them) but that can very powerfully influence our physiology. So, with this in mind, I always try to make at least one meal a day a salad meal.

Before we get on to the recipes, let’s take a look at the main nutrients that are damaged by processing: the B vitamins and vitamin C.

B vitamins

The B vitamins are some of the most commonly deficient nutrients in the western world. There are several reasons for this, but mostly it’s that they are damaged very easily by heat, and are water soluble, so different cooking methods can greatly affect the levels of the B vitamins in our food. B vitamins play very diverse roles in our body. Importantly, they are involved in converting food into energy at a cellular level. When glucose enters our cells, it needs to be converted into something called ATP, which is what the cells run on, and the B vitamins are vital for this process, and are also involved in making new cells in the body. Several of the B vitamins have a role to play in regulating the function of the nervous system and manufacturing neurotransmitters, and have been shown to protect the brain from premature shrinkage. Thankfully, these vitamins are found in quite a diverse range of foods, and it is just the way that we cook them that will determine whether they will stick around or not.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is probably the most famous of all the micronutrients, and the one that everyone thinks of when they start coming down with a cold or feeling under the weather. Vitamin C performs a considerable number of functions in the body. Firstly, as we all know, it is involved in immunity. Vitamin C is used by specialized types of blood cells to deliver what is called the “oxidative burst”. This is a cloud of highly reactive free radicals that are released by this line of white blood cells when they come face to face with pathogens. This cloud of free radicals can kill susceptible pathogens. Vitamin C also helps with the motility of white blood cells, assisting in their migration to the site of infection, and is an important nutrient for the health of the skin. This is because it is involved in the production of collagen – a protein matrix that gives skin its structural integrity. A lack of vitamin C in your diet certainly won’t help you to age well! It is important for the growth and repair of tissues, and is involved in making scar tissue.

My favourite salad ingredients

As I have said, a good salad isn’t about limp lettuce. It should be full of nutrient-dense vegetables. The list is endless but these are some of the ones I go back to again and again.

Spinach

Spinach is one of the best leaves to use as a salad base. Instead of being mostly water with few nutrients, like most lettuce is, spinach is very nutrient dense. It is a great source of beta carotene, which is the plant source of vitamin A. This is important for the health of the skin and eyes, as well as being an antioxidant. Spinach contains quite high levels of vitamin C for its weight, is a great source of magnesium, and contains reasonable amounts of non-haem iron.

Red (bell) peppers

All peppers are a great addition to salads, but red ones are my favourite. These are packed with a group of compounds called flavonoids, which are part of the chemistry that gives peppers their distinctive colour. These compounds have been widely studied and are known to benefit cardiovascular health by widening the blood vessels and helping to lower blood pressure (as part of a healthy diet – a couple of peppers are no good to a chain-smoking, pizza-eating couch potato). They are also rich in beta carotene and have loads of vitamin C.

Red onions

These are packed with those hearthealthy flavonoids that can keep blood vessels strong and help lower blood pressure. Red onions are also great for digestive health. This is because they contain something called inulin, a prebiotic – meaning that it acts as a food source for the bacterial colony that lives in our gut. The bacteria ferment inulin and break it down, and in doing so they grow and flourish. They also release byproducts during the fermentation that help to repair and maintain the gut wall.

Celery

Ok, so not the most glamorous of vegetables and definitely one of those love/hate type of ingredients, but celery is a little nutritional dynamo of sorts. It actually contains a massive array of antioxidant compounds, such as flavonoids, stilbenoids and phenolic acids. Celery also contains a class of compounds called phthalides, which have been shown to act as muscle relaxants, painkillers and also potent diuretics (as anyone who has drunk celery juice can attest to).

Radishes

Radishes are one of those old-school salad ingredients that seem to have dropped out of fashion a little bit these days, but I think they are great, as they have some quite complex chemistry for such a simple ingredient. Firstly, they are rich in a group of compounds called glucosinolates. These compounds can actually increase the production of one of our own inbuilt antioxidant enzymes – glutathione peroxidase. This enzyme, aside from being an antioxidant, is also responsible for cellular “house keeping”. Glucosinolates are known to be antimutagenic, too (meaning that help prevent the mutation of genetic material). Radishes also contain a great deal of flavonoids, which are beneficial for heart health and have antioxidant function.

Watercress

Watercress has an amazing, robust, peppery flavour, and I love adding sprigs of it to a salad to give an occasional heat hit. It is also rich in glucosinolates (see page 35). The most abundant nutrient in watercress, however, is vitamin K, vital for bone formation, protecting neurons and clotting. Additionally, watercress is very high in vitamin C – much higher than many fruits.

Rocket (arugula)

Rocket is another of my favourite salad greens, especially with a bit of goat cheese and some walnuts. A close relative to radishes, its chemistry is similar, with great levels of those potent glucosinolates (see page 35). Rocket is also rich in vitamin K, vitamin C and beta carotene.

Kale

This is certainly one of the trendiest ingredients around at the moment: if you believe what some people may tell you, kale should make you fly and walk on water. All of the hype aside, it is still a great ingredient, rich in vitamin K, beta carotene, vitamin C and non-haem iron. One thing that is particularly abundant in kale is the mineral magnesium. This commonly deficient mineral is vital for over 1,000 daily chemical reactions in the body. The magnesium in kale is found within the chlorophyll that gives it its deep green colour.

Recipes

Pear, rocket and Parmesan salad

Killer kale salad

Carrot “noodle” salad

Cheeky chopped salad

Honey mustard, watercress and radish salad

Grilled corn, avocado, coriander and red chilli salad

Roasted fennel, green pea and rocket salad with goat’s cheese

Carrot, apple and red cabbage sesame salad

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