To make the healthiest salad, swap out your greens
“Aiming for 30 different plants in your diet per week has been shown to be the optimal amount for a healthy gut microbiome,” says Kirsten Jackson, RD, gut health nutritionist and founder of The Food Treatment Clinic. Working on the American Gut Project, she explains, the researchers looked at over 11,000 people from around the world, examining the interface between diet and lifestyle and the health of a person’s gut microbiome. What they discovered through their analysis of all the data was that there was one clear indicator of a healthy gut microbiome, and that was the diversity of plants in their diet. “Using different leaves in your salads is an easy way to do this.”
In short, every single plant and every single type of greens contains a unique blend of fiber, antioxidants and prebiotics that feed the microbes that live in your digestive tract. “These microbes are as alive as you and I,” Dr. Will Bulsiewicz, gastroenterologist and New York Times Best-selling author by fiber fired And The Fiber Fueled Cookbook, previously said Well+Good. “It’s easy to dismiss her because you and I can’t see her. But they need to eat, and they have their own unique food preferences,” he says. The wider the range of plants you include in your diet, the more and different types of fiber and polyphenols you will get. That means you make more food available to the different types of microbes, which helps them work hard and better support your digestive system.
The wider the range of plants you include in your diet, the more and different types of fiber and polyphenols you will get. That means you make more food available to the different types of microbes, which helps them work hard and better support your digestive system.
The good news is that according to Jackson, no one type of green is better than the other — the key to making the healthiest salad recipe is to focus on the variety of ingredients, rather than focusing on the leafy greens that are currently in the menu trend lies. For example, while spinach and kale tend to top the list as leading “superfoods,” romaine lettuce actually provides 40 percent of your daily vitamin K needs, 25 percent of your daily vitamin A needs, and 15 percent of your daily folate needs. Even better, you can mix up several different salads in your salad bowl to create a truly nutritious lunch or side dish (we love an arugula and sauerkraut combo, which is great for the gut).
One exciting way to discover new vegetables for you is to see what’s fresh at your local farmer’s market, food stand, or food co-op. With foods that are in season and have traveled the shortest distance to get to your plate, you often get the most bang for your buck in terms of nutrients. We also encourage thinking outside the box by using beet and radish greens in a salad to reduce food waste while increasing the nutritional value of your salad. Additionally, sprouts bring some serious health benefits to your Cobb, Nicoise, or Waldorf salad and are likely to be found at your neighborhood farmers market or grocery store.
Now there’s no need to choke down a lettuce to try another new type of lettuce. But just as the CDC advises, it can take up to 10 tries for a toddler to like a food, this can be the same when trying vegetables in adulthood — especially bitter picks like radicchio or Swiss chard. If you’re happy with your current lettuce assortment, there’s always the option to add a new vegetable, fruit, nut, seed or grain to your bowl as well, to help you hit the gut-friendly goal of 30 plants a week. Healthiest salad, achieved. Happy Crunching!