Salads. Oh, salads. They can be a source of amazing nutrition. But they can also be a double edged sword – creating the illusion of healthy, yet bringing little to the table.
Before you throw carrots at me, let me elaborate. Most of my clients rely heavily on salads for lunch and dinner. Yet, when we look at the ingredients, we see some greens, a couple of tomatoes or cucumbers, some dressing, and if we are lucky – bacon bits, some boiled eggs, tuna.
Probably 90% of the salads I analyze for nutrition content lack protein, fiber (yes – fiber), and micronutrients (things like vitamin C, folate, beta-carotene, to name a few). They also lack flavor and taste variety – bitter, sour, tart give way to the easier on the palette sweet and salty. As we have stepped away from foraging for our food, we have tamed it to have simple taste, but with making the arugula less spicy and the kale less bitter, we have also bred out the nutrients which support health the most. Bummer. Bitter taste improves digestion, stimulates bile secretion. Spicy comes with anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties. Balanced taste – having a variety of sweet, salty, bitter, sour, hot also provides more satiety after a meal. If you have ever had something sweet and tried to wash it down with something salty, only to add more sweet later, you know what I am talking about. Taste, flavor and nutrients go together.
Here are a few simple ways to boost the quality of your salads today, and make a full meal out of fresh, flavorful and satisfying ingredients.
Choose flavorful greens
Things like baby spinach, kale, mustard greens, arugula, endive, chard, help bring complex flavor to the salads, but also more nutrients compared to iceberg or cabbage or even romaine.
Vary your protein sources
Choose between fish and shellfish, leftover roast meats (beef, pork, chicken, lamb, turkey, game), eggs, and legumes. Place as much protein on your salad as you would eat as a main dish. Things like cheese, nuts and seeds, make a great addition for healthy fats, but don’t rely on them to provide you with protein.
Choose less tender greens, and make beets, carrots, parsnips, asparagus, radishes, artichoke hearts, hearts of palm, olives, legumes, avocado, flax – a part of your salad planning operations. You want to shoot for at least 10 grams of fiber in a salad, and a few green leaves just can’t provide that.
Decorate like a forager
This is the biggest secret we give our clients – add culinary herbs such as dill, parsley, cilantro, mint – in larger quantities, so you can see and taste them, other than just decoration. Using culinary flowers, such as nasturtiums, calendula, violets, borage, lavender, the blossoms of albums and brassicas, add incredible flavor and nutrients. Studies show significant amounts of potassium, vitamin C, polyphenols. Just like we try to eat the rainbow in fruits and vegetables, so we try to eat the rainbow in edible flowers. Curious if something in your garden is edible? Check out this list.
Below you see nasturtium and the bud of a blossoming onion from the garden. Aliums have beautiful and delicious flowers, and if you are not much into garlic or onion you may appreciate the flavor they add without the strong aftertaste.
To make the steak salad above, you need:
2 cups mixed deep greens (I used spinach, chard and kale)
5 sprigs of dill
3 oz steak
2 tbsp blue cheese
edible flowers to add a punch of nutrients (onion blossoms, nasturtiums)
strawberries or other berries can also go well here
Once you have your salad arranged, you can make a dressing from the sauces from cooking the steak, a bit of olive oil, and some salt and pepper. Enjoy this feast at every meal this summer.
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