Updated: Jun 30
We all know salad is good for you. Vegetables and leafy greens are among the healthiest foods on the planet, combining extremely low calorie density with high nutrient concentration, meaning you get the most vitamin and mineral bang for your “caloric” buck! For example a bowl of 100g fresh spinach contains only 23 calories, a virtually negligible percentage of your daily energy but also provide more than 100% of your daily required intake of Vitamin A and Vitamin K along with 30% of your daily vitamin C, Iron and Manganese and Folate. Compare this to Rice (x5 the calories/100g) or Beef (10x more calories) or Chocolate (20x more calories) all which provide virtually no vitamins at all and very low levels of minerals.
Another great bonus of leafy greens and vegetables is their volume. Because of their high water content these foods provide the physical bulk to fill you up at the end of the day without piling down the calories. All this water content ensures adequate hydration saving you from worrying about consuming so many cups of water per day. In the wild humans wouldn’t have had constant access to drinkable water, we got most of our hydration from our food.
All the reasons listed above are part of why I think that a good salad is one of the best options for your last meal of the day. Due to the low calorie density and high physical bulk you can stuff yourself to the point of feeling satisfied without taking on a large amount of calories. This provides a good safety measure or “buffer” for the unpredictability of a busy day. Lets say you were short for time at lunch and ended up buying some high calorie convenience food that contained a significant majority of your calorie intake for the day. By the time you get home for the evening you will probably be hungry again and want to eat something, yet you have already consumed 90% of your daily calorie intake. Most people consume their largest meal (and therefore most calories) in the evening. Even if you were to home cook a healthy meal of 500 to 800 calories, this would push you significantly over your daily calorie intake. And lets be honest on a busy day, where someone has already made a less than perfect choice earlier in the day, not many of us are going to be motivated to spent the time preparing a healthy meal, most will just double down on the bad day by having an extra 1000 calories of convenience food, telling themselves they will just have to try to do better and “make up for it” tomorrow. If you get into the habit of finishing your day with a salad, then even when you have over consumed and only have 10% of you daily calories in your calorie bank balance, you can still have a way of feeling full and satisfied without “going overdrawn”. This routine goes in line with the “Eat breakfast like a King, Lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper” concept of front loading your calories throughout the day which scientists have found to be beneficial for weight loss (read more: here). On a day where you had eaten less earlier on and need a more filling evening meal you can always add some denser cooked foods such as sweet potatoes, quinoa or lentils to your salad to up the total calorie content. So its good for us, yes, but it sounds pretty boring right? And if we don’t enjoy it then it won’t be sustainable, so how do we make salad more interesting? Get Saucy!
It’s all about the salad dressing that provides the different and interesting flavours for you to enjoy, “a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down” after all. A quick word of warning: a pre-made store-bought dressings can render all your good intentions and hard work null if it is loaded with fat (and therefore calories) as most of these are made from mostly oil (so always check the label!) Its not hard to make a good salad dressing at home, you just need to include one of each of these four flavour categories: (I’ve included my some of favourites as examples) Something Sweet - (Dates, Maple Syrup, Raisins) Something Salty - (Tamari, Soy Sauce, Seaweed, Pickles, Samphire) Something Sour - (Apple Cider Vinegar, Citrus fruit) A Fat Source - (Avocado, Cashews, Tahini, Peanut butter, Olives) If you are in a hurry choose only liquid options from the above examples and you can just splash a dash of each on the salad and mix it all up, no prep required. If you choose any of the the solid options then you will need to blend it all together to make a sauce first before pouring over your salad. And I know I just made a big fuss about keeping the fat content low but a little bit of healthy fats such as these are essential to maximise nutrient absorption from the leafy greens. The vitamins A, D, E and K are fat-soluble vitamins meaning we store them by binding them up in our fat stores in our bodies, consumed without fat we wouldn’t be able to utilise as much of these and they would go to waste. One of my favourite ways of putting all of the above into practice is my “Massaged Kale Salad” Recipe. It is quick, simple and surprisingly delicious. Kale is a cruciferous vegetable (like Broccoli and Cauliflower) and therefore a good source of Sulforaphane which has anticancer properties. The breaking of cell walls actually increases the production of this compound, hence the "massage". What I love about this recipe is how it transforms the flavour and texture of Kale, without the need for cooking, maximising the nutrients available from it (1). However if you don't have any Kale, this recipe still works based around any green that you enjoy and therefore will eat most of. Spinach, Lambs Lettuce and Rocket are some of my other favourites. If you can find it, the best variety is "Black Kale", which is also known as "Cavolo Nero" or my personal favourite term "Dino Kale". This is because it looks like something out of Jurassic Park and has a dark-green-almost-blue pigment, this deep color shows the higher density of the nutrients contained within. I even found a field of it growing nearby while living in Spain this winter....
Massaged Kale Salad Recipe Here are the ingredients: For the salad: 60g Kale 1 Carrot, Grated 10 Cherry Tomatoes
Sweetcorn (Optional) 1/4 Cucumber (Optional) For the Dressing: 1 Tbsp Apple Cider Vinegar 1 Tsp Tamari (or Soy Sauce will do) 1 Tsp Tahini 20g Raisins (or Maple Syrup)
Instructions: 1.) Put Kale in a large bowl, rinse, shake dry and remove any hard stalks. Now here comes the interesting bit… give it a massage, yeah you heard me right, just treat it like you were giving someone a back massage, apply pressure to it, kneed it, pull it apart and tear it into smallest pieces, just break it down the same way that you would try to break down knots in someones back, just repetitively applying pressure and movement. Do this for about 60 to 90 seconds, you can do this by setting a timer, counting 60 squeezes or if you are feeling silly like me: by singing a verse and chorus worth of any mood setting-seductive love song of your choice. You will know when its done because the texture and color will have completely changed, from dry and stiff to soft and moist with a brighter green color and a smell like freshly cut grass. (that’s how you know she’s all ready for you to go to town on her…)
2.) Chop the remaining salad ingredients and throw in the bowl, I tend to quarter the cherry Tomatoes, grate the carrot and chop the cucumber into thin strips. 3.) Either mix all the dressing ingredients in a cup and pour it over, or you can save yourself the washing up and just put a splash of each in one by one. 4.) Stir the salad for a minute to ensure the dressing is well mixed in. 5.) Enjoy, As much as you can eat.