Super Salads

Eating a whole foods diet, whether it is paleo, vegan or anything in between, can be a laborious process in terms of the volumes of vegetables that you are eating.  I love vegetables, so that doesn’t bother me much.  I actually enjoy the challenge in the same way I enjoy distance running.  Since most people don’t enjoy either of those two things, you can see why many paleo people turn into the “bacon and steak with a side of broccoli” paleo-vores and vegans can fall into the processed food trap.  Not only do you want to get a lot of vegetables you want a diversity of vegetables.  If all you are eating is pound after pound of broccoli you aren’t doing as well as you may think, but still much better than most people.  Salads are a great way to get size and variety of vegetables in your diet.

I’ve been a huge salad person since I was a kid. One of my favorite parts of summer was when all the peppers, cucumbers and tomatoes would start coming in.  We’d have cucumber and tomato salads for dinner almost every night.  Not only did I eat it all up, except the onions, but I would drink up the juice at the end.  Better still was if we were having spaghetti that night I’d dip the crusty bread into it and soak up all the oil, vinegar and juices.  I’m eating breakfast writing this yet I’m still salivating just thinking about it.

Still, salads were always a side item to be eaten at the end of dinner.  Growing up though my mom was a fan of eating big salads for dinner.  Yes, she was doing this for weight loss.  Yes, it was probably not the most nutritious salads by my standards today.  I just recall us eating our meal of whatever and her with her huge red plastic mixing bowl full of lettuce (probably iceberg), tomatoes and maybe canned tuna too.  My mom was an amazing cook, it’s a shame she didn’t indulge in her own cooking more often, but I digress.  Based on those early examples and practices I naturally turned into a big salad eater as an adult.  I mean that expression in both ways–I love eating salads and I love eating big (actually huge) salads.

There is no wrong way to do this, as long as we are talking about vegetables.  Imagine yourself at the salad bar at a restaurant.  If you see two dozen different bins of vegetables, try to sample a little of each.  Skip the jello, the heavy dressing, the cheese and the fried noodles.  Just build up a good base of vegetables.  Then to the top of that add some meat and dress with a vinaigrette or oil and vinegar.  Dr. Joel Furman has a series of dressings made from nuts rather than using processed oils.  I haven’t tried that yet but I’m on the verge of it.

What does one of those big salads look like in the end?  Picture wise you will get something like this:

I left the fork and knife in for reference.  Amazingly the way I took the picture you still can’t tell that it’s a big mixing bowl.  Nevertheless, this is just an example of a salad I would eat, usually in one sitting.  There is so much going on in it that you can’t exactly make out what everything is.  That’s actually the point.  As I say in many things, variety is the spice of life.  It’s true for foods in general as well as salads in particular.

I have my common base of some sort of leafy greens usually.  Depending on what is available or what I have that could be anything from a red leaf lettuce to turnip or dandelion greens.  Tomatoes, if they are available in any form with quality, will be another relative constant, as will carrots.  The rest will change from day to day.  This particular salad has kale, celery, carrots, tomatoes, shredded purple cabbage, green peppers and raw portobello mushrooms.  This particular time I also added some chicken.  I used to always put chicken or fish, usually salmon, in my salads but in the past few months that is not what I have been craving.  I’ve been craving salads without the meat, so these often are vegan salads.  I get plenty of meat in other meals, so I can usually skip it for a meal with this much volume of fruits and vegetables.

In terms of dressing, for this particular salad there was a lot of material, almost two pounds worth, so rather than the usual 1-1.5 TB of olive oil I added three.  To that I added 3 TB of red wine vinegar, 2 TB of balsamic vinegar and 2TB of lemon juice.  Before dousing the salad with these liquids you want to season it with at least a little salt and pepper. I often also use garlic powder, oregano and basil.  If you have a lot of bitter greens you will want to skimp on the oregano and basil as you are adding more bitter to already bitter.  Skipping the garlic can also help to keep the salad feeling brighting, especially if you use some lemon juice in place of the vinegar.

So what does this salad look like nutritionally?  It packs quite a wallop.  The calorie load comes it an almost 900 calories, but a bit less than half of that is from the olive oil.  If you used one of those Fuhrman dressings, you’d probably come in more like 700 calories.  That sounds like a lot, but consider that you are eating almost two pounds of food with this salad.  It’s not all about the calories anyway.  This has a substantial amount of micronutrients:

As you can see, in many of the micro nutrients you come close to if not exceeding at least half of your recommended daily allowance.  Some, like Vitamin A, B-6 and Niacin you are meeting or exceeding these values.  This is all for one enormous meal.  Two of these in a day and you are meeting or exceeding your micronutrient requirements as well as the recommendations for vegetable consumption.

If you feel like converting over to a whole foods diet is too hard, try to add some salads to your meal plan.  Rather than just a pile of lettuce, try to add one or two more vegetables each time.  Not only will you be getting a chance to try new vegetables in a way that makes them more approachable but it will also allow you to really pack in more vegetables than you may think you can.