This time of year we’re all looking forward to milder weather. Many of us have a tendency to eat heartier in the winter and for that we’ve found a few extra pounds. Oh, I know we can find fresh produce year-round, but it’s not local and old habits are hard to break anyway.
I love a good salad. Whether it’s from greens purchased at a grocery store or some wild ones I’ve foraged myself, fresh raw veggies with a little tangy dressing are top notch. I feel better about myself even if I have a second helping.
Salads let us express our artistic side. Practically nothing is out of bounds. I like hard boiled eggs, a little cheese, and a plethora of colors. Red onions and tomatoes, multi-colored peppers, black olives, orange shredded carrots, dark spinach and light colored lettuce all contribute to a meal that is as enticing to the eyes as it is to the palate. Fruits add sweetness, crunch and even more color.
Many of my favorite wild greens have begun to show themselves. Common chickweed, sheep sorrel, hairy bittercress, sowthistle, and field garlic are now in abundance. Florida betony tubers provide a great crunch and are nearing maturity. I can top it all off with some pecans or hickory nuts saved from last fall.
Salad greens are high in fiber. Eating a high-fiber diet can help lower bad cholesterol levels. If you frequently eat raw vegetables, you’ll likely have higher blood levels of powerful antioxidants like vitamin C and E, folic acid, lycopene, and beta-carotene. Antioxidants help protect the body from damage caused by harmful molecules called free radicals.
There are numerous diets out there and many promote the benefits of incorporating more raw food. I love to cook and don’t recommend we eat only celery, coleslaw and carrot sticks. Balance is what I’m after.
Many vitamins and a few minerals are water soluble and often the majority of them can be poured down the sink, especially if we overcook our vegetables and fruits. Even fat soluble vitamins like vitamin A can be lost by boiling and draining off the liquid.
The way that food is cooked is absolutely essential for avoiding unnecessary nutrient loss. We have to be careful not to overcook our vegetables. Five minutes can make an enormous difference in the nutritional quality of a meal.
I grew up with home canned vegetables, and the canning process destroys nearly all vitamin C and folic acid. That doesn’t mean I’ll stop eating home canned peaches or vegetable soup. I’ll make sacrifices elsewhere.
On the downside, we must understand that if we eat raw food we reduce a valuable safeguard. Cooking can destroy essential nutrients, but it also kills pathogens that can make us sick. Proper sanitation is especially important if we eat our foods raw. The bacteria E. coli, Listeria and Salmonella quickly come to mind, so it’s important that we keep our food prep area clean and wash our hands thoroughly. Protect your salad and protect yourself.
Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School.