Pre-packaged salads can offer a great convenience to those looking for healthy meal options, without all the prep work; however, how well do they keep those nutrients in?
One of the best things about these bagged-up salads, found in the vegetable aisle of most grocery stores, is that they are washed beforehand, but while this does clean the greens inside, it can, at times, damage plant tissues, which in turn exposes the salad to oxygen that dissolves within the water they are being washed in. Thus, vitamins and minerals are often lost, including vitamins B and C, as well as folate.
While all those greens we see in the produce section are washed to some degree, whether that be fresh lettuce or the bagged salad that is triple-washed, this can essentially create some sort of surface damage, increase opportunities when it comes to leeching, or cause oxidation reactions. All of these factors impact the quality of the produce to some degree, including pre-packaged salads.
Still, most experts agree that the reasoning behind the washing is to produce maximum quality while minimizing losses, and more often than not, there is still a ton of nutrients left behind, even after greens are cleaned. Overall, calcium and iron remain quite stable within these products.
Then there is the cutting of the salads, which once against saves times for the consumer who wants a side salad with their grilled chicken, without all the fuss involved. While some vitamins are lost when chopping, not much is gone from cutting. Still, plant cells can be damaged when veggies are cut, which will essential release enzymes and other elements, and add more of a surface area for oxidation to pop up; therefore, accelerating losses that might not occur within fresh greens. Oddly enough, cutting can also enhance the number of polyphenols, antioxidants within plant chemicals, which can aid in protecting against osteoporosis, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, developmental cancers, and neurodegenerative diseases. When plant tissues have suffered ‘damage’ they thus have the ability to enhance their polyphenols release due to the stress caused.
Lastly,CNN reported that pre-packaging those salads involves ‘atmosphere packaging’, which means the oxygen in general that exists within the atmosphere is decreased within the package, where it is replaced with an inert gas, like nitrogen. Therefore, less oxygen reacts with vitamins, which enhances color retention and those nutrients sensitive to oxidation like beta carotene, vitamin C, and folate.
What does all this mean? Well, grocery goers replace some nutrient loss to ensure that the salad does not wilt or brown right away, keeping it consumable for a little longer than usual.
In this day and age, where we all live fast-paced lives and can’t always making it to the grocery store, if you are likelier to eat these pre-packaged salads, then simply do so. While nothing beats fresh veggies, consuming those greens in any form, pre-bagged and all, takes priority.