Leafy greens: How to eat them in a salad everyday.
>> The Power of a Salad <<
I recently read “Super-Immunity” by Joel Fuhrman M.D. And he recommends to eat one salad every day. I love that idea and try to include it my daily routine. At the moment, I make myself a salad for lunch every day. A few months ago I wouldn’t even think of this, but once I started doing it, I probably won’t go back.
Do you know why? It’s healthy, easy & doesn’t make me tired. So if you usually feel tired after your pasta, pizza or whatever it is you have for lunch, try to eat a (huge) salad instead.
In case you go to a restaurant to eat your lunch, check out the salads they have. If you don’t want to eat only a salad, choose it at least as a side dish.
Trust me, you’ll feel better if you eat a side salad instead of fries or rice.
I always thought of salads as something boring and hard to make, but after a week of eating a salad (almost) every day, I changed my mind about that.
Salads are extremely versatile, delicious and easy to prepare, once you know how to handle them. There are probably hundreds of different types of salads, i.e. pasta salads, fruit salads, potato salads, but in this post I’m just talking about the regular leafy greens salad.
One weakness I always had was making a proper dressing. I haven’t been able to go fancy on this (stay tuned for more!), but I’ve tried some delicious and easy-to-prepare dressings and included them here as well.
Here’s what you can expect.
1. Why having a salad is actually a great idea.
2. A great salad, what you need.
3. How you prepare the basis for your salad.
4. The science behind salad dressings and what almost every dressing needs.
5. Some simple dressings, that also work in emergencies.
6. A small guide on how to eat a salad every day.
1. Why having a salad is actually a great idea.
As I already mentioned a salad is pretty healthy. You have a great variety of vegetables that you consume with one meal. The leafy greens are especially healthy and can decrease your risk for almost anything, from cancer to diabetes.
Another great benefit of a salad is, that it has almost no calories. Maybe a few hundred, depending on the dressing, but if you combine the right foods and make your portion big enough, you’ll be satisfied and not hungry.
Salads also contain a lot of foods that are high in water, which contribute to your daily water intake. It is also a pretty light food, which makes it an ideal lunch to prevent tiredness in the afternoon, as I mentioned above.
Now that we’ve covered why a salad is great, let’s get to the ingredients you absolutely need.
2. A great salad: what you need.
Obviously, you need some leafy greens. If you are a beginner I’d suggest you stick to the basics like butterhead, romaine, leaf or iceberg salad. Usually, you can’t go wrong with either one of these.
There are literally hundreds of different types of salads or other leafy greens you can use, like spinach or arugula, but if you are a beginner I suggest you stick to the basics at first.
Besides that, you, actually don’t need anything. I’ve eaten great salads that consisted just of the leafy greens and a great dressing, but that will be a more advanced topic.
There are a few other ingredients you can use in almost any salad. Here are my favourite ones I use in almost any salad.
D. Nuts (walnuts, pecans)
E. Fruit (mango, oranges, blueberries, raspberries)
You’ll be surprised how many different types of vegetables and fruit you can put into a salad. With every new one you add, the salad will taste different and often more delicious.
What I’m personally trying to do is to mix different tastes and different textures.
Sweet – Sour (Orange & Blueberries)
Crispy – Soft (Cucumbers & Avocado)
You’ll have to experiment with these combinations to see what you personally like.
3. How you prepare the basis for your salad.
Most people think that making a salad is quite hard & time-consuming, but it isn’t. If you want to eat salads more often I’d recommend you wash the leafy greens for a couple of days in advance. Usually, there is no problem with storing them when you watch out for a few things.
Washing your greens – the easy way.
Here’s what I do. I’ll turn the leafy greens around and cut away the bottom part that holds all the leaves. The result of this is that basically all leaves are separate and I don’t have to tear them apart. (This won’t apply if you buy precut greens.)
While I do that I fill a sink with cold water. I’ll put the leafy greens in the there and push them in water, swirling them around. When there is enough water in the sink, I turn it off and let them sit in there for a couple of minutes.
A few months ago I was still drying them per hand, but then I found a salad spinner at my parent’s house that they weren’t using. Let me tell you: this thing is amazing. Before that, drying a salad was really painful and since it’s the most important part, making a salad was painful.
If you don’t have a salad spinner, I highly recommend you invest in one. It’s usually a couple of bucks, but it makes making a salad much more easy & fun.
After I had the salad spinner ready, I’ll swirl the salad once again and check of few of the leaves. If they are clean, I’ll throw them in the spinner, and give them a couple of spins. (So much fun :D).
I pour away the excess water and do it once again. Usually, one round of spins is enough, but I want to make sure there is as little excess water as possible.
Afterwards, I put the leaves on my cutting board and cut them into little pieces. Other people like to tear them apart by hand. You can do whatever version you prefer.
Then I separate the dry leaves into two piles: the ones I eat right now and the ones I want to store for later. I’ll store these in the fridge. (I’ve listed three methods on how to store the salad in the fridge, so it lasts up to a week, below.)
I wash all the other ingredients, peel the ones that need to be peeled and cut them into little pieces as well.
Depending on the amount of ingredients you’re putting in your salad you should have spent 10 to 15 minutes for that part.
Now let’s get to another important part. The dressing.
4. The science behind salad dressings and what almost every dressing needs.
If you’ve ever made a salad with oil and balsamic, you know that oil and vinegar won’t mix. As with everything, there is chemistry behind this.
This applies mainly to dressings that contain vinegar and oil because they are made of different molecules. While water & vinegar are polar molecules, meaning they are slightly negatively charged at one end and slightly positively charged at the other end, oils are non-polar.
Since polar molecules attract polar molecules and non-polar attract non-polar when mixed together they’ll stick to similar molecules. That’s why water and oil or vinegar and oil won’t mix.
Polar molecules are attracted to water, which makes them hydrophilic – “water loving”.
Non-polar, on the other hand, are not attracted to water, which makes them hydrophobic – “water fearing”.
In order to mix these molecules properly, we need an emulsifier. An emulsifier is a substance that contains both hydrophilic and -phobic regions pulling together polar and non-polar molecules.
Good emulsifiers are:
- Yogurt, buttermilk, etc.
- Egg yolks
- Fresh goat or blue cheese.
Using these emulsifiers to combine oil and vinegar will make your salad dressing fail proof. If you use the dressing right after mixing it up you won’t necessarily need an emulsifier.
As you probably guessed, the basic formula for a great salad dressing contains three ingredients:
oil, vinegar & an emulsifier.
Whatever you add afterwards will direct the taste of the dressing in a certain direction, but don’t think this basic formula will taste similar all the time.
Depending on what oil you use (my favourite is olive oil), what vinegar you use (is it older, sweeter and thicker or younger, thinner & more acidic), will change not only the taste of the dressing, but also it’s texture.
The emulsifier, of course, is also important. While honey will make the dressing sweeter, mayonnaise or yogurt will make it creamier.
It all depends on your personal taste and the type of salad you’re in the mood for.
One thing I want to mention here. I don’t want to get into the discussion which vegetable oils are healthier than others, as I personally only use extra virgin olive oil, but instead I want to lead the focus on the nature of oil itself.
Every oil is a processed food and should be consumed sparingly, especially if you are trying to lose weight. Olive oil, for example, contains around 120 calories per tablespoon. While olive oil still has many antioxidants and other quite healthy compounds it still can’t compete with the nutrient content of the foods in your salad.
My recommendation is to use only extra virgin olive oil and no other oils at all. If you use extra virgin olive oil, buy a high-quality one and use it sparingly.
5. Some simple dressings that also work in emergencies.
Life happens. Everybody knows this. Sometimes you just don’t have the time to prepare a fancy salad dressing or don’t even have the right ingredients at home. Unless your kitchen is completely empty and there is nothing to work with, there is always a solution.
Besides just using single ingredients as dressings, i.e. olive oil or vinegar without anything else, mixing a few things together might already upgrade the salad experience.
I won’t mentioned salt & pepper specifically in these variations, but feel free to add them, or other spices, condiments & herbs as you like. In case the dressings turn out to be too thick, simply add some water to make them more liquid.
The standard: olive oil (or something similar) & balsamic vinegar. Just drizzle them over the salad and you’ll be good to go.
The creamy: Sour cream & mustard/ sour cream & salsa / sour cream & garlic, onions & herbs. Depending on your taste and the things you have at home you can make an incredibly easy creamy dressing with just 2 – 3 ingredients.
Avocado-Mayo: Mash up an avocado, add some mayo and season it with garlic, paprika & salt.
Asian-touch: Sesame oil. Yes, sesame oil in itself will make a great addition to your salad, but you can mix it up with olive oil or vinegar.
Citrus dressing: Use lemon juice and add oil or vinegar. I prefer olive oil or balsamic vinegar. You can only use lemon juice. (It makes a great addition to a tomato-cucumber salad).
Creamy #2: Mix equal parts mustard and mayonnaise. Season with pepper, salt and vinegar.
Remember: These are really simple dressings for beginners, but you could use them every day. I do not recommend to use the dressings that contain processed foods like mayonnaise or mustard every day. In case, you have a batch of homemade mayonnaise go ahead and use that.
(Stay tuned for more healthy & homemade dressings).
6. A small guide on how to eat leafy greens every day.
After you have all this knowledge about leafy greens & salads and how to prepare them, including some basic dressings, it’s time to get this knowledge into action. Action means: eating a salad every day.
It’s something I’ve been willing to try for quite some time now, but actually never managed to do until recently. I came up with tons of excuses like this will take too much time, it won’t stop my hunger and it will get boring. None of these things happened after I followed the ideas I told you above.
Eating leafy greens in a salad every day might be something you don’t want to do or you don’t think you can do, but most of these thoughts are just limiting beliefs.
Eating a salad every day also has nothing to do with eating vegan or anything. It’s not about putting a label on your diet, it’s about how healthy your diet is in general and a salad, consisting of leafy greens, is really healthy. I partly agree when people say that putting chicken breast or other meat on a salad won’t be as healthy as without the meat.
If you put a high-quality chicken breast on the salad it might be even healthier. Since you are reading this article, you probably don’t eat leafy greens every day. Maybe you eat some other high-quality food, then you might disagree with my point of view, but if you eat an “average lunch”, which is usually not very nutritious, eating any kind of salad will be an improvement.
Remember, it’s about the small things you change. Keep your chicken breast, but put it on top of a salad instead of pasta or rice.
In order to convince you even more, I want to briefly mention the benefits of eating a salad every day, once again.
(Just read the bold parts if you think you heard enough of the benefits.)
First of all it’s highly nutritious. You’ve got leafy greens and tons of vegetables, with homemade dressings and small amounts of meat or seafood on top of it. Besides that the variety of foods you consume is likely to increase, as you can literally put anything into a salad, as you’ve read above.
The second reason I’d like to mention is simplicity. Our lives & diets get more complicated each year and most people don’t want to do this anymore. That’s why convenience food became so popular. If you pre-decide on your lunch in advance you won’t have to waste any willpower on that. This will leave more willpower for more important decisions later in the day.
Another major benefit that goes hand in hand with simplicity is that making a salad is quick and easy once you’ve done it a few times. The process never changes unlike with many other meal preparations.
Additionally, with eating a salad you can easily increase the variety of foods you eat. You’ve already seen that there are many foods you can add to a salad without any complications.
There are probably more benefits I could list here, but as you probably already noticed all those benefits add to each other. The simplicity makes it easier to increase the variety of foods you eat and the variety of foods adds to the nutritious qualities of the salad.
I don’t want to dive deeply into the health benefits of eating more leafy greens or vegetables as I already mentioned them above, but just to remember: salads are healthy!
No benefit comes without a problem, but especially with these benefits, the, problems are not so big. The main problem with this routine, as with any routine, is getting started. In the beginning making a salad appears to be annoying and tedious, but as I mentioned it is actually pretty easy, as soon as you know what you are doing.
Another problem you might think about is whether a salad is satisfying your hunger and taste. This was my main problem, as I thought that salads always taste the same and won’t make me full. This is simply not true. As soon as you have some basics for making salads and dressings you will never go back to these thoughts again.
I agree that sometimes a hunger develops that a salad can’t satisfy, but if that happens, and it will only happen from time to time, eat something else, but always add a side salad. Combining the right ingredients could even make it possible to satisfy any hunger you’ll ever experience.
After addressing benefits and problems, I’ll want to provide you with my technique on how I manage to eat leafy greens in a salad every day. It involves 5 steps and those five steps are planning, buying, preparing, making, eating.
If you combine planning & buying into one step and don’t count eating as a step, there are only 3 steps left: planning, preparing, making.
It gets even better. If you have enough time during lunch, to prepare your salad each time, there are only two steps left: planning and making.
Let’s take a closer look at each one of these steps.
Planning: In order to do something successfully you need to have a plan of some form. Whether it’s starting a business or building a house. If you don’t have a plan it’s likely going to fail.
The planning part of this endeavour is usually a weekly occurrence. It could be twice a week or every two weeks, depending on your preferences, but in my opinion, it should be on a weekly basis.
Here’s what I do. Every Sunday I’ll go through a list of salads & salad dressing I like to eat. I’ll pick six or seven for the week (six if I’m planning on eating out once). I’ll create a shopping list for them.
One shopping session should usually be enough if you store your foods properly.
One sentence action: Once a week plan on what salads & dressings you are going to eat throughout the next seven days.
Buying: This one is pretty straight forward. Use your list and buy the things you need. As I said, if you store the foods properly and they are fresh you can buy them once a week. As all stores are closed on Sunday in Germany, I usually go shopping on Monday. Don’t take this to strict, you can move the sessions around to whatever suits you best. If you like to buy your food on Saturday, that might be even better.
One sentence action: Buy the ingredients for your salads.
Preparing: Preparing could be the most annoying part, but there are also tips & tricks you can use to make everything go as smooth as possible.
This step is what I usually do once or twice a week. If you have enough time during your lunch break to make your salad from scratch, don’t bother with this step.
If you don’t have enough time to prepare all of your salad every day, read on.
Let’s start with the preparation of the leafy greens, which I already mentioned above. The important things here is to prepare enough leafy greens to last for a couple of days. Let’s say you buy two lettuces and they will last 3 days. Here’s what I would do.
I would wash all of them, tear or cut them apart and store the ones I don’t use in the fridge.
How to store your leafy greens.
I checked the internet for this and found some great tips especially on thekitchn.com.
Everyone who eats leafy greens has this problem: What’s the best way to store them? There are several methods, but I like to only include my favourite & easiest ones.
Using these methods you can store your lettuce up to a week and sometimes even longer.
Method #1: Seal them in a plastic bag with a paper towel. The greens should be as dry as possible and the paper towel will take up any excess moisture.
Method #2: Put them in a container/bowl with a plastic towel and seal the container. The greens should be as dry as possible and the paper towel will take up any excess moisture.
Methode #3: Put them in a plastic bag and exhale into it. This will increase the carbon dioxide content in the bag to keep the greens fresh.
My favourite method is #2 because I don’t have to use new plastic bags and experiments have shown that the greens will stay fresh the longest.
Besides the leafy greens, you could also prepare the other ingredients like tomatoes, cucumbers etc. I would store them the same way, by putting them into a container and store them in the fridge. I do not recommend preparing avocados in advance, as they tend to get brown quickly.
If you prepare all these ingredients in advance, it will only take you a couple of minutes to throw them together in a bowl and pour the dressing on them.
Even if you only prepare the lettuce in advance, it will probably take you 10 minutes to put together your salad and enjoy it. How’s that for a quick lunch?
Making: This step is the logical consequence of your preparation. If you only prepare the leafy greens in advance you need to add the other ingredients when you want to eat the salad.
Throw the leafy greens in a bowl and add all the other ingredients you want to add. Wash them, cut them and throw them in the bowl.
In case, you already prepared your dressing in advance, pour that over your salad and move on to the next and most delicious step.
If you don’t have you dressing prepared, mix together the ingredients and use it right away. That way might be better for you if you want to have a different dressing each day. The dressings I mentioned above don’t take much time and are usually prepared in a few minutes.
Eating: There is not much to add to this step. Sit down at your table, take your time and enjoy your salad. Focus on it and all the different flavours. Think about other great additions to your salad and make a mental or physical note to add them next time.
I hope this guide was helpful for you and inspired you to take action, by eating a salad more often. It doesn’t have to be every day, but including a salad once in a while will make your diet & yourself much healthier.