There are a lot of “rules” tossed around about healthy eating and I find myself disagreeing with most of them.
Many of these “rules” are fabricated from half-truths or extrapolated from outdated nutrition dogma.
In my world, you’re often better off just listening to what your body wants to eat and how much at any given time.
Even if you’re not eating particularly healthy foods, tuning into these inner cues can go a long way to maintaining a normal weight and avoiding feelings of deprivation and guilt. These ideas are central to mindful eating, which has been the focus of many of my articles and nutrition workshops in the past. If you want to hear about future workshops, join my email list via the box at the end of this post.
Now some of these supposed rules are harmless, but sometimes I have to tackle the misinformation head-on because it’s just. so. wrong. So today, I’m doing just that with one of my least favorite “rules”.
“If you eat a salad with dressing, you cancel out the health benefits.”
“If you eat carrot and celery sticks with dip, it’s not healthy anymore.”
“Salad is only healthy if you use low-fat salad dressing.”
This is bogus and here’s why.
5 reasons to ditch low fat salad dressing:
1. You need fat to absorb the nutrients from your vegetables.
The beta-carotene found in carrots is fat-soluble and so is the lycopene in your tomatoes and so is the zeaxanthin in your kale… (I could keep going). This means you must consume it with some fat to get the benefits of these powerful antioxidants. Also, the fat soluble vitamins – A, D, E and K – require fat for absorption.
Don’t believe me? In a study comparing the absorption of carotenoids from 3 salads with varying amounts of fat (and equivalent amounts of spinach, romaine lettuce, cherry tomatoes, and carrots), “Essentially no absorption of carotenoids was observed when salads with fat-free salad dressing were consumed.” And to that I say –
What’s the point of eating a tasteless, unsatisfying plate of raw vegetables if you’re missing out on the health benefits?
Turns out the salad with the most fat—28 grams—resulted in the highest absorption of carotenoids. That’s 2 tablespoons of oil or ~ ½ cup of nuts or ¾ cup of avocado. We’re not talking a worthless, decorative “light sprinkling” here. This is a healthy, flavorful, filling portion of fat.
A similar study looking at salad and tomato salsa concluded, “adding avocado fruit can significantly enhance carotenoid absorption from salad and salsa, which is attributed primarily to the lipids present in avocado. “
2. Vegetables are unsatisfying when eaten plain.
You’ve heard me say this before: If it tastes bad you won’t eat it. Sit me down in front of a bowl of plain steamed broccoli and I won’t touch it. Put a little butter or sharp cheddar cheese or pesto on top and I’m there! Our bodies evolved in an environment where food was scarce and thus we’re biologically wired to enjoy higher calorie foods more than other options. Obviously salad dressing or sour cream dip tastes good and leads us to eat more vegetables. If you don’t add some good fat to your vegetables, your body will simply lead you to eat other high calorie foods later on. Seriously. Have you ever eaten a dry salad with the best of intentions only to end up eating junk food later that night out of desperation? (Confession: I have!) Remember,
When it comes to food cravings, it’s not a lack of willpower, it’s biology. – @LilyNicholsRDN (<– tweet that!)
3. They don’t have enough calories to keep us full.
If you eat vegetables by themselves, you will not satisfy your hunger for very long. You can use this to your advantage if you simply want to distract yourself and chew something when you’re not really hungry, but if you actually need energy to get on with your day, get through a workout or simply hold yourself over between meals, plain vegetables won’t cut it.
4. Low fat dressings and dips are full of crap.
Have you ever looked at the ingredients on low fat dip? If you haven’t, check out my post on sour cream. Real is always better than fake, wouldn’t you agree? I trust real cream more than partially hydrogenated soy oil, monodiglycerides, carageenan, xanthan gum, guar gum, and corn syrup. Look at this ingredient label from a bottle of fat free dressing. Notice anything? Aside from water, corn syrup is the main ingredient. So much for being healthy.
5. Fat does not make you fat.
The most commonly promoted way to lose weight is to simply cut fat. The argument is that fat contains a lot of calories (true) and that calories make you fat (not 100% true). If this simple equation of calories in=calories out worked, losing weight wouldn’t be so hard. The more important details are how we biologically manage how much we eat (brain) and how our bodies respond to food (metabolism). Eating fat does not slow down your metabolism and unless it’s packaged with a lot of carbohydrate (crackers, cookies, cake, etc), it won’t trigger you to overeat.
In fact, just last year, a great study from the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association compared weight loss and metabolism from people on either a low carbohydrate, low glycemic index, or low fat diet. Those who ate the low carbohydrate diet (which is by definition high in fat) burned 350 MORE calories per day without exercising.
(Here’s the study for the fellow nutrition nerds: Ebbeling CB, Swain JF, Feldman HA, et al. Effects of Dietary Composition on Energy Expenditure During Weight-Loss Maintenance. JAMA. 2012;307(24):2627-2634.)
As one of the researchers said, “Losing weight is hard enough for anybody. We need every advantage we can get. We’ve wasted a lot of energy pursuing ineffective approaches like a low-fat diet.” – Dr. David Lustig.
I’ll have to address the issue of fat in more detail in future posts, as I believe there is a lot of un-learning and re-educating that needs to happen in this arena.
At the very least, enjoying some fat means the nutrients in your next salad wont go to waste, and I’m sure it will taste better and be more filling. So, the next step is finding a healthy salad dressing.
What Salad Dressings are Healthy?
I’m not a huge fan of commercially prepared salad dressing. They are usually made with poor quality vegetable oils, such as corn, soy, canola, or cottonseed oils. I avoid these oils as much as possible for reasons that I’ll leave to another post. Even your vinaigrette “made with olive oil” is mostly canola or soy oil. Flip over the bottle and look at the ingredients.
Due to the high content of monounsaturated fat in olive oil, it will semi-solidify or at least look thick and cloudy when stored in the refrigerator, so food manufacturers mix it with cheap vegetable oil. Plus, it’s expensive, so they don’t use much of it.
It is much better to make your own salad dressing with good quality ingredients and no weird fillers. Plus, it’s so stinkin’ easy and tastes much better, so why not?
A Few of My Favorite Salad Dressings:
- Basic Balsamic – Balsamic vinegar + EV olive oil + salt + pepper
- Raspberry Balsamic – same as above. Add ¼ cup smashed fresh raspberries
- Creamy South of the Border – Plain full-fat yogurt or sour cream + lime juice + lime zest + honey + salt + chili powder
- Pomegranate – Pomegranate molasses + lemon juice + EV olive oil + salt (not familiar with pomegranate molasses? See this post for more info.)
- Bacon Balsamic – Balsamic vinegar + bacon fat + salt +pepper (really really good on baby kale or arugula)
- Olive+Thyme – Apple cider vinegar + black olive tapenade + EV olive oil + salt + pepper + fresh thyme
- Honey Mustard – Apple cider vinegar + mustard + honey + EV olive oil + salt + pepper (make it creamy with a dollop of sour cream)
- Thai Sesame – Lime juice + toasted sesame oil + soy sauce + sweet chili sauce
Just a heads up on my recipes – I don’t measure, but for a vinaigrette, I use approximately equal portions of vinegar/sour and oil/fat, since I like mine a little tart. I typically mix it up in a large bowl that I also use to toss and eat my salad.
Simply make your dressing, toss in your greens, and you’re good to go!
Less dishes always wins in my book. You can mix it in a jar and store extra in the fridge. That’s your call. Know that you might need to let it sit out on the counter to “melt” before using next time.
Be sure to taste test before you use it. Remember your salad is plain Jane without dressing, so make it a little on the salty side, especially if the salad greens are freshly washed and still damp. I taste and adjust seasonings as I go.
Too tart? Add more oil or something sweet (honey, stevia, fresh orange juice).
Too bland? More salt or sour or herbs/pepper.
Other Tasty Ways to Add Fat to Salads:
pesto (did you see my arugula pesto? It makes a great dressing when mixed with equal parts olive oil.)
hard boiled egg, sliced, with the yolk!
sun dried tomatoes, jarred in olive oil
bacon crumbles (made from real bacon, not those weird dried pink chunks)
freshly grated parmesan cheese (not the fake stuff in the can)
nuts – almonds, walnuts, pine nuts, macadamia nuts, etc…
Now I’d like to hear from you.
- What is your favorite salad dressing?
- And, what is your least favorite nutrition rule?
In the comment section below, please share your feedback!
Until next week,
PS – It’s easy to eat enough vegetables when they taste delicious! For some yummy vegetable recipes and more tips on getting the most out of your produce, check out my ebook “Veggies: Eat Them Because You Want To, Not Because You Have To”.
I’ve turned countless veggie haters into regular veggie eaters with the tips and tricks I describe in this information-packed guide.