How about making one simple change to your diet, like adding a salad almost every day? Experts say it can pay off with plenty of health benefits.
However, they warn against salad topped with creamy dressing or packed with fatty, high-calorie mix-ins (an additional ingredient mixed into food to add a different flavour or texture).
“Salad doesn’t necessarily need to be sweet or tasty, what is required most is for one to get the nutritional benefits,” says Joseph Uwiragiye,” the head of the nutrition department at University Teaching Hospital of Kigali (CHUK).
He says adding creamy dressings can lead to gaining of weight, which is not healthy.
Uwiragiye says a leafy green salad contains a powerful punch of nutrients, with each type of leafy green offering different health benefits.
The good thing about this particular salad, he says, is that it is low in calories and packed with fibre.
“This means that if one consumes a leafy salad, they will fill up easily and most importantly, with fewer calories,” he says.
Studies have shown that eating a low-calorie first course, like a green salad of 150 calories or less, enhances satiety (feelings of fullness) and reduces the amount of calories eaten during the meal.
Besides, he says, fibre also improves the health of the digestive system.
He says that dark leafy greens like lettuce, kale, and spinach are packed with vitamins A, C, E, and K, which are all helpful to the body.
The combination of vitamins found in these greens supports the immune system, protects bones and keeps the cardiovascular system healthy, according to Uwiragiye.
Erick Musengimana, a nutritionist at Rwanda Diabetes Association, Kigali, points out that salad is a healthy option of food, especially when incorporated with other foods, like those containing protein.
He says protein provides amino acids, the building blocks for the body’s bones, muscles and cartilage. It’s also vital for the synthesis of enzymes and hormones.
Meanwhile, Musengimana says eating enough fibre which is contained in a leafy salad lowers the risk of developing heart disease later in life.
“Vegetables in a salad are good sources of insoluble fibre, which keeps the digestive tract healthy. If you add nuts, seeds or beans to the salad, you’ll get a boost of soluble fibre that helps lower cholesterol and keeps blood sugar balanced,” he says.
Musengimana adds that apart from providing health benefits, a salad can be crunchy and fun to eat because of textures, colour, and flavour.
Eating a high-fibre meal, like a salad, Uwiragiye says, can prevent constipation as well.
Alternatively, he says, eating a little good fat like the monounsaturated fat found in olive oil, avocado, and nuts with a salad helps the body to absorb protective phytochemicals, like lycopene from tomatoes and lutein from dark green vegetables.
Private Kamanzi, a nutritionist at Amazon Nutrition Cabinet, a clinic in Kigali that deals with diet, physical wellness, and lifestyle, says green salads are nutrient rich.
This, he says, is because leaves contain the light-catching, energy-converting machinery of plants.
He adds that salad greens contain vitamin A, C, beta-carotene, calcium, folate, fibre, and phytonutrients.
At the same time; he maintains that they are a good choice for a healthy diet because they do not contain cholesterol and are naturally low in calories and sodium.
“Many of the health benefits that leafy greens provide come from phytonutrients, unique compounds that provide protection for plants,” he adds.
However, Kamanzi advises that fruits and vegetables should be washed thoroughly, if possible, with running tap water; this is especially important if they are to be eaten raw.