The Downside to Bagged Salad Greens

Is this bag of salad mix as nutritious as you think it is?. (Photo: stanga/Shutterstock)

I'm not a salad lover, but I do love my health, so I make sure to fit those leafy greens into meals. I'll admit, I'd eat fewer salads if it wasn't for bagged salad mix. My choice is usually the 50/50 mix — half spring mix, half spinach. If I have that in my refrigerator, I'll eat it up.

While the salad mix is incredibly convenient, it's not without issues. For starters, mixes don't have the longest shelf life. Grocery stores throw away mixed greens that wilt in the bag. People buy it with the best intentions. If they don't eat it quickly, it can go bad, ending up in the trashcan or compost pile. In the U.K., Tesco found that 68 percent of the bagged salad they brought into the store ended up in either the store's trash or the customer's home trash. It's probably not too far fetched to believe the U.S. numbers are similar.

Another issue with bagged salads, or any bagged vegetables that have been pre-cut and washed, is the loss of nutrition that happens as the vegetables go through the various steps of being processed. When vegetables are cut or torn, they can lose some of their vitamin C.

The longer it takes fresh vegetables to travel from farm to plate, the more nutrition they lose. In fact, one study found that frozen vegetables are often more nutritious than fresh vegetables from the grocery store.

Of course, there's no such thing as frozen bagged salad mix — most types of lettuce don't freeze well. Still, it can take a couple of weeks for greens to get from the farm to your plate when they come in the form of bagged lettuce, and nutrition is lost during that time.

washing vegetables
Vegetables need to be washed, but the timing of that step matters because they'll lose some nutrition. (Photo: nada54/Shutterstock)

Another thing that adds to the degradation of vitamins and minerals in bagged salads is the washing they go through before being bagged. CNN interviewed Professor Mario G. Peruzzi of the Department of Food, Bioprocessing and Nutrition Sciences at North Carolina State University. Peruzzi noted that washing produce in water can "damage plant tissues and expose them to oxygen," causing the loss of water-soluble vitamins like vitamin C and folate.

I've seen a trend of bagged greens being labeled triple-washed, a label that's meant to make consumers worry less about there being a contaminant in the fresh salad greens. According to Slate, the washing isn't always with water. Rather, "they're generally washed with sanitizers and other compounds that are intended to reduce pathogens." But, all of these steps also can lead to a loss of nutrition.

So what's a healthy eater to do?

salad mix
The convenience of having all the greens you want put together in one bag is one reason bagged salads are popular. (Photo: Alaina Haurylik/Shutterstock)

Does this mean you should pass by the bagged salads and go for individual ingredients to chop yourself for a salad? If those ingredients are coming from a farmers market or farm stand and you know they were recently picked, that may be a really good idea. But, when it comes to the ingredients in the grocery store, they may have some of the same issues as the bagged salad; they may be days or weeks old and have been washed in various ways.

For me, the tradeoff of buying bagged salad mix is worth it.

First of all, purchasing all the various greens that make up a spring mix along with purchasing baby spinach could get very expensive, and I'd have so much of it that I'm sure some of it would go to waste. When they're all put together in a bagged salad, the cost is manageable and so is the amount.

Also, the convenience of a bagged salad ensures I'll end up eating all those leafy greens. There may be fewer nutrients than if I had chopped all the vegetables myself, but those unchopped greens would likely languish in my crisper. Eating the bagged salad may provide me with a little less nutrition, but the alternative is no salad — and that's no nutrition.