Can you beat a good salad?


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.

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About tedmanzer

I grew up in Old Town Maine and got a B.S. at the University of Maine in Plant Sciences/ minor in Botany. From there I moved to West Virginia and earned a M.S. in Agronomy at WVU. I also met my wife there. She grew up in rural WV as the daughter of tenant farmers who raised cattle and hogs. Their lifestyle at times was one of subsistence and I learned a lot from them. I've always been a foraging buff, but combining my formal botanical knowledge with their practical 'Foxfire-type' background opened up my eyes a little more. I now teach agriculture to high school students at Northeastern High School in Elizabeth City, NC. My wife teaches with me and we make a great team. I also write a weekly nature/foraging column for the local paper (dailyadvance.com) and frequently publish articles in several other newspapers in northeastern North Carolina. I also have written several Christian nature/adventure novels that I plan to publish eventually. One is a five book family saga I call the 'Forgotten Virtues' series. In the first book, Never Alone, a young boy comes of age after his father dies in a plane crash, and he has to make it alone. Never Alone is now available in paperback, Kindle and Nook. The second book, Strange Courage, takes Carl from his High School graduation to his recovery from a nasty divorce. The third book, Second Chances, takes Carl from his ex-wife's death and the custody of his son to his heroic death at age 59. The fourth book, Promises Kept, depicts how his grandchildren react and adjust to his death. In the final book, Grandfather's Way, his youngest and most timid granddaughter emerges from the shadow of her overachieving family and accomplishes more in four months than most do in a lifetime. I use many foraging references with a lot of the plants I profile in these articles in those books.
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