Pop quiz: you’re in the supermarket, picking up something quick for lunch. Should you choose the BLT sarnie, broccoli and Stilton soup or a salad?
Of course, you’d assume that the best choice is the salad. After all, the BLT is likely to be a saturated-fat fest thanks to the streaky bacon and butter in the sandwich, and you only have to glance at the soup to see your arteries harden thanks to the Stilton and cream. But the salad – surely that’s the healthy option?
Well, yes and no. Salad has the obvious advantage of supplying quite a few of your five-a-day veggies. The fact that these are also raw, and packed with vitamins, minerals and enzymes, is another big plus. Vitamins and minerals play an important role in all the chemical reactions in our bodies. Certain trace elements in fruit and vegetables also have disease-fighting effects and the fibre they contain can help to improve your digestion. So that’s the good news. The bad news is that not all salads are actually healthy.
The main culprits for bringing down your leaves are creamy mayonnaise-based dressings, cheese and croutons. If you start loading up on bacon, pasta and couscous, too, you’ll be on the fast track to an elasticated waistband before you know it. A Caesar salad with a creamy dressing can easily top 600 calories. Add croutons, fried in oil, and you’re nudging 1,000. The fat content of a typical fast-food Caesar salad is around 50g – more than a hamburger!
It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t eat salad, but it does mean you need to choose carefully. And there’s another benefit to being picky: you can customise your salad to your exact needs. By being creative and adding some smart ingredients, you can make your lunch really work for you. Try these super salads to reap real health benefits.
Beetroot, spinach and pecan salad (Serves 2)
How it works: Beetroot is quite high-GI, which means it stimulates insulin, raising the hormone serotonin in the brain. Serotonin has a calming and tranquillising effect. Plus, dark green leafy vegetables are rich in magnesium, which is a natural muscle relaxant.
6 cooked beetroot; 3 chopped, 3 grated
3tbsp red wine vinegar
2 dessert apples, sliced
1 bag baby spinach leaves
100g fat-free Greek yoghurt
1tbsp chopped fresh dill
1 garlic clove, crushed
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1. Put the grated beetroot in a bowl with the vinegar, cover with clingfilm and place in the fridge for 4 hours.
2. Mix dressing ingredients.
3. Combine the grated beetroot with the dressing.
4. Divide the spinach leaves, apple and chopped beetroot between 2 plates. Scatter with pecans and add ½ of the beetroot mixture to each plate.
The energy lifter
Tuna and lentil salad (Serves 4)
How it works: Lentils are a great source of slow-release energy, and come with added hormone-balancing and digestive benefits. Serve with a wholegrain roll for a dose
of B vitamins to help unlock the energy from your meal.
200g Puy lentils
4 x 100g fresh tuna steaks (or 370g tinned tuna)
2tbsp extra virgin olive oil
4 little gem lettuces
20 cherry tomatoes
Salt and pepper
4 wholegrain rolls, to serve
5tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1tbsp balsamic vinegar
2tbsp red wine vinegar
1tbsp Dijon mustard
1tbsp agave nectar or honey
1. Put the lentils in a pan and cover with water. Bring to the boil, then simmer for 25 minutes until the water has been absorbed. Allow to cool.
2. Brush the tuna steaks with oil and place on a preheated ridged griddle pan. Cook for 2 minutes on each side. Remove and slice on a board.
3. Break the lettuces into leaves and combine with the tomatoes and watercress. Add the lentils and tuna.
4. Combine the dressing ingredients, then drizzle over the salad. Serve with rolls.
The immunity booster
Boiled egg salad (Serves 4)
How it works: Eggs are a really great source of vitamin D which
is essential for a healthy immune system. The antioxidants in
brightly coloured vegetables also help to boost your immune
system by neutralising free radicals in the body.
4 organic eggs
125g mixed salad leaves
1 red and 1 yellow pepper, deseeded and sliced thinly
20 black olives, pitted and halved
16 anchovy fillets
1tbsp chopped, fresh oregano
4tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1tbsp white wine vinegar
1tbsp lemon juice
1tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley
Salt and pepper
1. Hard boil the eggs. Put all the dressing ingredients in a jar and shake well.
2. Combine all the salad ingredients, drizzle over the dressing and toss it all together. Divide the salad between four bowls or plates and top each portion with a quartered hard boiled egg to serve.