Happy Salad Season!
Whether you are looking to trim down, or just love to enjoy a light and refreshing salad in the warmer months, it is easy to assume that a bowl of leafy greens, with a lean protein and colorful toppings, would be a better decision.
In most scenarios you likely would be correct— A salad versus a platter of chicken tenders and fries is no competition. However, if you are choosing a salad as part of a healthier lifestyle choice, it is important to know what is in the dressing.
Many of my clients get so hung up on the calories, fat, and protein in and on their bowl of leaves, they skip over some of the most useful pieces of information— the ingredients in the dressing.
Sure, calories matter to an extent but all calories are not created equally. The body can much more easily digest, metabolize and absorb the nutrients in an actual avocado, than it can a blend of 42 obscure oils, flavors and gums in that nicely bottled low fat, lower calorie dressing.
Fat, specifically, does not make us fat, but specific types of fats can wreak havoc on the body, cause inflammation, be slow to digest and metabolize, cause free radical damage, pre-mature aging and yes, make losing weight much more difficult.
In other words, if you are looking to improve the quality of your life and well-being by choosing to eat more greens and vegetables, you will want to make sure you are not pouring something completely inflammatory over your “better decision.”
Here are a few tips for choosing more wisely:
Tip #1: I know it’s tempting, but outside of that initial glance, don’t blindly trust marketing bubbles that exclaim things like: “low fat” or “lower calories” or Keto, Vegan and Gluten-Free.
Be sure to look at the ingredients.
I will repeat that for the folks in the back….
Be sure to look at the ingredients.
The first ingredient in most salad dressings is oil (followed by an acid, usually a type of vinegar) and this is the easiest place to start. If you avoid soybean oil and canola oil at all costs, you will already be in a much better position. Sadly, soybean and canola oils are everywhere— even in the Whole Foods Market salad bar, so if you are looking to cut it out, it is important to make a point to read the ingredients in everything you eat.
The reason soybean and canola oil blends are used often and interchangeably, is because they are very mild in flavor, look pretty similar nutritionally, are very versatile and can be used in a variety of cooking methods (from fried food to marinades) and most importantly (to the food industry), soybean and canola are also incredibly cheap and easy to come by, keeping costs low and margins high.
You get what you pay, unfortunately these oils are also highly refined, stripping the plant of any potential nutrients and more notably, have an inflammatory response in the body.
Not exactly what you want slathered all over your nutrient dense greens, eh?
Instead, look for a dressing with olive oil as the base. Can’t find a bottled dressing with only olive oil? While I am not one to recommend “seed” oils, organic cold-pressed sunflower, safflower, or grapeseed seed oils are ultimately a better option than canola and soybean. There are also many health experts that would tout avocado oil as a preferred oil, which is great in theory, but not only do I prefer my clients eat actual avocados, not surprisingly, the avocado oil industry is taking a hit for deceiving customers with oil blends (aka: not pure avocado oil).
Note: Unless you are out to eat at a questionable joint and have no clue what is in the dressing, I don’t recommend just skipping the dressing entirely… Use olive oil when you can. A healthy fat will keep you satiated longer than enjoying a plain, undressed salad, and the right fats are good for you. Healthy fats help to balance hormones, may help with digestion, prevent constipation and keep you looking and feeling younger. Can’t trust the dressing? Ask for avocado on the side.
Once you have checked your favorite dressing’s “oil” you will want to look to avoid other inflammatory and processed ingredients. Steer clear of high fructose corn syrup, and other processed forms of sugar like: sucrose, barley malt, dextrose, maltose and rice syrup. If you are going to enjoy sugar in your dressing, look for organic sugar, or coconut sugar. Skip the yeast extract, which can feed bad bacteria in your gut (“yeast extract” is not to be confused with “nutritional yeast” which is OK) and be sure to skip toxic ingredients like titanium dioxide, MSG (monosodium glutamate), modified food starch, phosphoric acid, polysorbate 60, artificial color (often Red 40 and Yellow 5) and disodium EDTA.
Basically, if is unpronounceable, or you would not spot an ingredient in your pantry, do not trust it to be okay in your dressing.
There is one last place to check, outside of the ingredients and that is the Nutritional Facts label. But instead of getting too distracted by the fat and calories in a dressing, look at the sodium and added sugar. Many store-bought dressing have excessive sugar and salt in them (and not the good kind). Ideally, you want to stay under 400mg of sodium (ideally from sea salt) per 1oz, or 2 tbsp. Even still that is a hefty amount of sodium, but rather hard to avoid when buying store-bought dressings (the sweet spot is 190mg). When it comes to sugar, I recommend stay below 3mg of added sugar per 1oz, or 2 tbsp serving.
Your best bet? Make your own dressing! It is easy, healthier, cheaper and often, tastier! Try starting with 1/2 cup of olive oil mixed with 1/2 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice, or an apple cider vinegar and 1/8 tsp of sea salt. Add dried herbs like oregano, parsley and dill, or, do what I do and cheat the system with one tablespoon of a salt-free seasoning blend like Organic “Sprinkle 24 herbs and spices” Seasoning by Bragg, or “Pizza Seasoning” by Frontier Co-op.
A bowl of greens is supposed to leave your riding high and hitting your goals.
Don’t weigh it down with a subpar dressing.
Here are some nutritionist approved dressings and brands that you can find in the grocery store: Mother RAW: Japanese Dressing, Cleveland Kraut Garlic Italian Dressing & Marinade, California Olive Ranch Vinaigrette (made with olive oil), Noble Made Carrot Ginger Dressing and Chosen Foods has a great selection of clean dressings made with avocado oil (that actually checked out to be pure avocado oil in the latest research).
Looking for a carrot ginger dressing like they serve at Asian restaurants? Try mine!
- Carrot Ginger Dressing!
1.5 cups rinsed carrots, cut into slivers on a mandolin (or diced) – about 2 medium carrots (peeled if dirty)
- 1/2 cup diced yellow onion
- 3 small garlic cloves (about 1/2 tbsp chopped garlic)
- 3/4 cup olive oil (see note at bottom)
- 1.5 inches fresh organic ginger root, peeled (about the size of 2 thumbs)
- 1/4 cup water (see note at bottom)
- 1/2 fresh lemon juice, about 2 tbsp
- 3 tbsp coconut aminos
- Sea Salt to taste
- Pinch cayenne, optional
- 1 stalk celery, optional (see note at bottom)
- For a sweeter dressing: Stevia, monk fruit, coconut sugar, or raw honey, optional (to taste)
- Blend all ingredients in a high-speed blender. Store in a glass jar for 4 days.
Salad: Romaine, red bell pepper, fennel, Persian cucumber, fresh mint… lots and lots of dressing!
Note: If you want a thicker dressing, skip the water. If you are adding the celery, try first without the water. Start with 1/2 cup olive oil and see if you like the thick consistency, if not, add the additional olive oil…. if it is still too thick… add the water. This part is personal preference.