In short: yes, most definitely! Most salad leaves contain essential nutrients and micronutrients such as vitamins, minerals, water and fibre. Plus, they are low in calories and high in volume – they can fill your plate up without adding too many calories. Remember, 100g of spinach contains half the calories of 100g of apple.
Guidelines recommend eating five portions of fruit or vegetables a day, and salad leaves definitely count. But you need about a cereal bowl of leaves to rack up one portion. And be sure to watch out for salad dressings, which can increase the calorie count significantly (a tablespoon of French dressing alone can add 73 calories – about a third of a bar of chocolate – to your plate).
There are significant differences between leaves, however. At around 96 per cent water, iceberg lettuce is among the least nutritious greens to put in a salad. A helping of kale is a much better: per serving, it contains over double the vitamin C and vitamin K found in broccoli.
Top tip: if you can cook leaves rather than eating them raw, you’ll pack more into the same space. If you do opt to cook them, try steaming, sautéing or microwaving rather than boiling to preserve the water-soluble nutrients.
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Dr Nish Manek is a GP in London. She completed her medical degree at Imperial College and was runner-up in the University of London Gold Medal. Manek has also developed teaching courses for Oxford Medical School, and has penned articles for The Guardian and Pulse magazine.