Salad, the go-to staple for everyone’s healthy food choice and the sure-fired way to get our raw-food intake for the day. But as refreshing and nutritious as a salad can be, sometimes they are merely a clever disguise for a bowl of belly-fat.
Most people looking to maintain a slim figure know to avoid creamy dressings such as ranch or caesar, but what many may not realize is that exactly how you are building your salad could also be directly sabotaging your fitness goals.
In her article, The Five Biggest Salad Mistakes You Are Making, nutrition editor Cynthia Sass reveals that even the simplest thing, such as an insufficient variety of greens, can be keeping your salad from being the nutrition powerhouse that it should be.
When I talk to my clients about how they build salads, I often find that they’re doubling up in some areas, and missing out in others; and those imbalances can either prevent a salad from being slimming, or lead to missing out on key nutrients.
The following is an overview of the common mistakes made when building our own salads.
Too Little Or Too Much Protein
Protein is an essential salad component for several reasons—it boosts satiety (fullness), revs metabolism and provides the raw materials for maintaining or building lean tissue, including both muscle as well as hormones, healthy hair, skin and immune cells. But excess protein, beyond what your body needs, can prevent weight loss or lead to weight gain.
Dr. Mercola elaborates on protein:
The rationale behind limiting your protein is this– when you consume protein in levels higher than recommended, you tend to activate the mTOR (mammalian target of rapamycin) pathway, which can help you get large muscles but may also increase your risk of cancer. There is research suggesting that the “mTOR gene” is a significant regulator of the aging process, and suppressing this gene may be linked to longer life. Generally speaking, as far as eating for optimal health goes, most people are simply consuming a combination of too much low-quality protein and carbohydrates, and not enough healthy fat.
For people who eat meat, Sass recommends using a half-cup of plant based protein (i.e., beans, lentils) and about 3 oz of lean, organic meat. For vegans and vegetarians, try combining a legume with a whole grain such as rice for a complete amino acid profile.
Insufficient Variety Of Greens
Keeping the variety of veggies in your salad limited may actually be holding you back from reaping the full benefits of a salad. A Colorado State University study found that people who ate a wider array of the same amount of veggies were subject to less oxidation, a leading factor to aging.
Another study which looked at over 450,000 people’s diets found that people who regularly consumed a higher variety of vegetables regardless of quantity showed a decreased risk in lung cancer. This could be due to the presence of varying nutrients and antioxidants in the wider spectrum of vegetables, which would otherwise be less in the diets of people who consume a smaller variety of vegetables.
So instead of just using romaine, try a mixture of mesclun greens, baby kale, spinach, or sprouts.
Not Using The Right Type Of Fat, Or Using Too Much Of It
Like protein, fat is an essential building block for our body. It’s a major structural component for our cell membranes, skin, brain and much more. Furthermore, healthy fats are also known to reduce inflammation, the leading cause of many serious conditions. But most importantly, healthy fats increase the absorption of fat soluble vitamins and antioxidants.
An Iowa State University study found that people who consumed fat-free or low-fat salad dressings showed significantly lower levels of nutrients in the blood stream compared with people who consumed full-fat dressings. Also important to note is that fat-free dressings usually are compensated by adding high-fructose corn syrup or other sweeteners to keep the flavour.
Making your own dressing from organic ingredients is a great way to ensure you are eating healthy fats. Also, try cutting down your olive oil and increase fats from nuts, seeds, or avocado.
No Starches Or Grains In The Mix
Grains or starches in your salad help to increase satiety (fullness), which will keep you from having more carb-cravings later in the day. Furthermore, without starches or grains, the body will immediately burn the protein in the salad without keeping it for proper maintenance and repair of tissues.
Try adding brown rice, quinoa, baked yam, or organic corn to keep you satisfied and fuller longer.
Not Enough Seasoning
A common complaint with healthy salads is that they are boring and flavourless. However, this may be due to the absence of proper seasoning. To increase the flavour of your salad, try seasoning the vegetables with a delicious pesto sauce, roasted garlic, thyme, or other herbs. Try throwing some spices into the dressing such as turmeric, cayenne pepper, garlic powder, himalayan salt or fresh cracked pepper. Lemon and lime can also add the perfect ‘zing.’
Another secret ingredient that I’ve come to love is nutritional yeast, often used as a cheese substitute in plant-based diets. It adds a richness and zestyness similar to cheese, but without the consequences. It’s also a great source of B vitamins and protein. Try adding it to your dressing or simply sprinkling it on your salad as a topper.
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