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Stop Sabotaging Your Healthy Salad


Eating salad is a delicious way to add lots of low-calorie, high fiber, nutritious vegetables into your diet. But that healthy meal can be a dietary disaster when loaded with hidden sources of fat, sugar, and chemicals. It’s obvious that if you add a bag of packaged croutons, dump in a pound of cheese, or pour on a cup of bacon bits, you are sabotaging the health and weight loss benefits of your salad. What’s less obvious is all the bad stuff hiding in your store-bought salad dressing. Many commercial salad dressings are full of processed oils, added sugar, artificial flavors, preservatives, and high-fructose corn syrup. Even the ones labeled fat-free often contain extra salt, sugar, and additives to make up for the missing fat.


The best thing you can do for yourself and your salad is to make your own dressing. Homemade salad dressing might seem intimidating or time-consuming, but many can be so simple and quick to make. When I started making my own dressing, I got myself a nice salad dressing bottle and stocked my pantry with the few needed staples – different kinds of vinegar, mustard, salt and pepper, extra virgin olive oil, and avocado oil. And I always keep lemons and limes on hand. Now, I can always whip up a quick basic vinaigrette, or create a variation to mix up the flavors and keep things interesting.


The classic recipe for a vinaigrette is pretty simple: one part vinegar to two or three parts oil. That seems like a lot of oil to me and can be a problem if you are trying to lose weight because pure oil is really calorie-dense. Also, despite the claims of oil being “heart-healthy,” the reality is that there is no nutritional value in oil - it contains no fiber, no minerals, and it’s 100% fat calories. The point of oil in a vinaigrette dressing is to tame the tang of the vinegar, coat the salad ingredients, and suspend the flavorings in the dressings so they distribute better throughout the salad. But there are plenty of clever ways to reduce or replace the oil without sacrificing flavor, texture, or function (see recipes below!). And yes, it’s important to have a balance of fat in your meals, and the oil in salad dressing certainly provides plenty of fat, but I’d rather get my fat from a delicious, creamy avocado or some crunchy and salty sunflower seeds. So when I make salad dressing I either leave out the oil completely or just add a drizzle.


Basic oil-free vinaigrette

  • 1 teaspoon ground flaxseeds

  • 3 tablespoons warm water

  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

  • 2 tablespoons vinegar

  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Whisk together 3 tablespoons of warm water and the seeds in a small cup or bowl. Let mixture stand for 5 to 10 minutes to thicken. Whisk in the mustard; then whisk in the vinegar. Season with salt and pepper, if desired.


Notes:

  • Try experimenting with different kinds of vinegar. Balsamic, apple cider, white wine, or rice offer very different flavors. Apple cider vinegar is always a good choice, with its mellow tang and fruity quality. Balsamic vinegar has a more robust flavor and naturally rich sweetness. Rice vinegar has a mild taste with a hint of acid. And wine vinegars (red, white, sherry, champagne) are delicately flavored and have a subtle fruitiness that comes from the grapes they are made from.

  • Replace ½ or all of the vinegar with fresh lemon or lime juice.

  • Add some minced garlic, shallot, or ginger.

  • Add some fresh or dried herbs (oregano, thyme, basil, or even an Italian seasoning blend).

  • Add ½ teaspoon of ground spices (cumin, paprika, garlic/onion powder, turmeric, etc.).

  • If you prefer a little sweetness, try adding ½ - 1 teaspoon of maple syrup or honey.

  • If you like your dressings creamy, try blending the ingredients with some cooked white beans, tofu, avocado, or dairy-free plain yogurt.


Raspberry Dressing – 1 cup fresh or frozen raspberries, ¼ cup white wine vinegar, 2 tablespoons finely chopped shallot (optional), salt and pepper to taste.


Peanut Dressing – ¼ cup nut butter (peanut, almond, cashew, sunflower seed), 2 tablespoons rice vinegar, 1 tablespoon soy sauce or tamari, 2 tablespoons lime juice, add water to desired consistency (option to add garlic, maple syrup and/or red pepper flakes).


Sesame Lime Dressing – 1 ½ tablespoons miso paste, 2 tablespoons rice vinegar, 1 tablespoon honey, 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger, 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil, 2 teaspoons lime juice, 1 teaspoon sesame seeds.


Simple Hummus Dressing - ½ cup hummus, freshly squeezed juice from ½ a lemon, add water until you get the desired ‘dressing’ consistency. Add salt and pepper to taste.


Miso & Citrus Dressing - 2 teaspoons miso paste, 2-4 tablespoons juice from a lemon, lime or orange.


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