How to Choose a Salad
Salads can be delicious.
They can also be disgusting, bland, or so repetitive that they become boring.
A lot of people eat salads out of obligation, because they’re “trying to be good,” “watching what they eat,” or “trying to eat heart healthy.”
Well that’s nice. *yawn* How about we eat salads because they’re so delicious that we want to?
Behold: I give you the template for an awesome salad you won’t want to miss.
1. Start with a base of leafy greens.
Actually, you can start with a base of whatever vegetables you love.
Sliced beets or radishes, halved grape tomatoes, and chopped broccoli or Brussels sprouts all work well as a salad base. I like greens though (and that’s what you’ll find at most restaurants), so we’ll start there.
Greens are more awesome if they’re vibrant and dark (indicating higher nutrient content), carefully washed and dried, and paired with opposing flavors.
Romaine and spinach are classics, but think outside the box: arugula, watercress, radicchio, kale, endive, cilantro, parsley, purslane, and dandelion greens can be used individually or in combination to make a delicious, nutrient-dense salad base. Use 1-2 cups per person.
2. Add 2-3 veggies of different colors and textures.
This will give the salad visual and textural interest, as well as ensure you have nutrients from all over the phytonutrient spectrum. Try paring something crunchy (sliced cucumber or bell pepper) with something soft (tomato or avocado). For example, shredded carrot with chopped purple cabbage, fermented beet slices with silky avocado cubes or sliced Brussels sprouts with cubed cooked butternut squash. Use 1/4 cup or more of each veggie.
3. Add some protein and fiber.
If this salad is your main meal, it needs a little umph.
Protein and fiber bring density and satiety to the meal that most raw veggies can’t provide. Your protein choice doesn’t have to be meat: fish, eggs, beans, nuts, and seeds are also options.
Experiment with different combinations (chicken and edamame, chickpeas and sunflower seeds, black beans and pumpkin seeds, eggs and red beans, salmon and sesame seeds). Use a palm-sized portion of protein-rich foods.
If you’ve started your salad the way I recommended, you already have some fiber present. More is better. Try adding flax or chia seeds, lentils, avocado, or black beans. Not only are you adding fiber, but these goodies have healthy fat and protein, as well as extra vitamins and minerals. Use at least a handful of fiber-rich foods.
4. Get more out of your meal with fat.
Seriously, don’t go for the fat-free dressing. All those tasty veggies come with fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K. If you don’t eat enough fat with your salad, you’re missing out on all the (necessary) benefits of those vitamins.
If you chose salmon as your protein, congrats! Salmon is rich in omega 3 fatty acids, so you’ve got one of the healthiest fat choices already. Avocado does double-duty as a food that is high in both fiber and monounsaturated fat. Same for seeds: flax, chia, pumpkin, sesame, and sunflower seeds are all excellent choices for fat that also have fiber! Sliced almonds, cashews, or pecan and walnut halves are tasty and add some crunch. Use at least 1/4 cup of fat-rich foods.
5. Make the most of your dressing.
Salad dressing can make or break a salad. It adds so much flavor (or not) and tends to be overbearing.
Most salad dressings are made with inflammatory oils, sugar, and other unnecessary ingredients. They won’t kill you, but they may cause symptoms if you’re prone to inflammation.
Make your own (there are some amazing ranch dressing recipes out there!) or choose store brands carefully.
When eating out, enjoy a light drizzle of whatever dressing your prefer, or easily make your own with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
Alternatively, try a squeeze of lime juice and smash your sliced avocado.