The Importance of Salad in your Diet
E-Zine Article by Chef Craig Noche
Up to a few years ago, I thought the only reason God gave us teeth was to eat meat. When I learned I had diabetes, I also learned I had to make some pretty serious life changing decisions about my attitudes towards food, exercise, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Adding fresh salads to my diet was something I had to learn to do, and like most skills, it didn't come easy for me. Here's how I made the transition:
First, I had to research the benefits of adding salad to my diet. What is probably common sense to you was a learning experience for me. Fresh, raw, vegetables contain vitamins, minerals, and fiber. They are full of volume, which works for me because I like to eat larger portion sizes, with minimal calories, and salad is nearly fat free. Consider that one cup of shredded lettuce contains roughly 10 calories whereas 1 cup of Macaroni and Cheese contain nearly 400 calories.
Salads as a Meal
As I said earlier, salads are naturally low in calories and often too low to be a meal. People don't realize too low of anything (calories, carbs, fat, protein) is not good. The right amount of nutrients per meal is the goal.
I like to use the DineWise prepared entrees in our Salad Toppers section to round off a complete meal when I have salad for lunch. There is plenty of variety in this section and all these proteins are lean meats that are very low in saturated fat. Since they are all pre-cooked, they fit into my busy lifestyle in that I'm not likely to spend any significant amount of time making salads.
While they are good for you, they are all delicious! The Grilled Chicken Breast, for example, has a flavorful marinade that exceeds my own cooking skills. Dieters, diabetics, and healthy lifestylers all eat chicken as a regular part of their diet. The Grilled Chicken Breast, as well as the Seared Turkey Breast and the Lemon-Pepper Chicken are well worth having around for convenience and superior taste.
For Side Salads, Choose Your Favorite Light and Lean Ingredients
If I was going to add salad to my healthy lifestyle, then I'm going to add the vegetables I enjoy eating. I build my salads with low calorie greens, and then add other low calorie favorites such as multi-colored peppers, mushrooms, red onion, carrots, and cucumbers. I added flavor by topping salads with healthy raisins, bits of chopped apples, pickles, or sliced beets. I forced myself to pass on the higher calorie and fat ingredients such as cheese, fried noodles, nuts, olives, and bacon bits.
Greens—Go Deeper and Darker
If I'm going to eat salad, I might as well go for maximum nutrition by using the darker and deeper color greens such as romaine, green leaf, spinach, arugula, and watercress. I substituted these greens for the light colored iceberg or bibb lettuce.
Mix in Multicolor Ingredients
Color and plate appearance is important to me when I make a meal, so I used the same thinking with my salads. Different colored vegetables offer the variety of vitamins and minerals you need. I select tomatoes for Vitamin C, carrots for Vitamin A and spinach for folic acid. The combinations of color are really endless. I try to add the colors of the rainbow to my salads to ensure I eat a wide array of nutrients. Try red cabbage, radicchio, multi-colored peppers, snow peas, corn, carrots, beets and anything else you fancy.
Take the Routine Out of the Equation
I learned from having to exercise every day that routine kills consistency. The same concept holds true for me with eating healthy. Sometimes I eat my salad at the start of a meal and sometimes at the end a meal. Either way can help you lighten up on calories.
I've found if I begin a meal with salad, the volume it takes up in my belly leaves less room for higher calorie foods. Eating a salad at the end of my meal prevents me from digging into a second portion.
Make Salads a Gradual Lifestyle Change
I learned very quickly not to set healthy lifestyle goals I can't achieve. Okay, I'm diabetic, I'm going to lose 60 lbs., I'm going to exercise an hour a day, I'm going to take a one week class at my local hospital and learn all about nutrition, I'm going to eat salad three times a day, etc.
While I did accomplish all those personal goals over time, I failed when I tried to do them overnight. I failed again when I gave myself a week, and again when I gave myself a month. I finally succeeded when I gave myself a year and took daily baby steps to achieve my long term goals.
When it came to adding salad to my new healthy lifestyle, here are road blocks I had to overcome:
#1. I didn't want to take the time to make salad.
Actually, this was my only real excuse and here's how I overcame it: I kept an amply supply of low maintenance salad fixing in my fridge. I simply bought the pre-washed bags of lettuce mixes. Then I bought vegetables that didn't need to be chopped such as baby carrots, cherry tomatoes, and mushrooms. These days, many supermarkets sell pre-chopped fresh vegetables.
When I make salad, I just have to throw it all together in a giant bowl. I make enough to carry me through a few meals. I store individual servings in tightly sealed plastic containers so I could bring them to work. After a while, when I'd open my fridge looking for a snack, I'd often just grab a salad.
Be Dressin' for Lessin'
When I used to be a 100% meat eater, I'd eat salads for fun, and usually only when I went to a restaurant. I didn't care what the salad was made of, just pile on the creamy blue cheese dressing so high I can't see anything green. Obviously, the calories and fat in a salad quickly rise if you load on creamy rich salad dressings.
Today I keep my salads low in calories and fat by purchasing only fat free, diet salad dressings. I can make my own, but I never do because the temptation to cheat is too much for me. I also like to have many different dressings to avoid the routine of the same salad every day.
If you like to make your own salad dressings, make a large batch and keep it in a jar in the refrigerator. Use a healthy liquid vegetable or olive oil and mix this with a flavorful vinegar or fresh lemons, limes, or oranges.
I hope you've found some of the content here useful and wish you the best of luck with your healthy lifestyle!