To benefit from the nutrients in salads, you need to add fat—but the right fat.
Salad bars sprout on urban street corners. Growing demand for healthy, unprocessed food has spurred a huge growth in supermarket sales of salads, especially pre-bagged leafy greens and accompaniments. Even the ultimate fast food purveyor, McDonald's, now offers fresh greens.
Hara Estroff Marano is the Editor at Large of Psychology Today and writes the magazine's advice column, Unconventional Wisdom. Her newest book, A Nation of Wimps: The High Cost of Invasive Parenting, grew out the groundbreaking Psychology Today article A Nation of Wimps.
Editor: Nadeem Noor
The popular ingredients of salads—tomatoes, red peppers, shredded carrots, to say nothing of greens from arugula to watercress—are loaded with vitamins and minerals. They provide fiber that keeps our systems functioning. And they are especially rich in antioxidants, particularly carotenoids.
What could possibly be wrong with this development? For one thing, many salad savorers think they are doing themselves a favor by opting for dressings with low or no fat, or no dressing at all. The fact is, you need some fat to extract the nutrients from salads, especially all those carotenoid antioxidants.
At the other extreme are those who take their salads with prepared or commercial dressing. But most such dressings, even in health food stores, are made with inferior and even unhealthy fats.
The secret to a good salad dressing is a good oil. Extra virgin olive oil is, literally, the gold standard. Nut oils—walnut oil, hazelnut oil—are delicious too, with a more delicate flavor. Commercial dressings almost invariably rely on cheap soy oil, which, aside from its tastelessness, oversupplies omega-6 fats to bodies and brains that need more omega-3fats.
So turn over a new leaf and start preparing your own salad dressings.
Recipe: Basic Vinaigrette
- Servings: 6
- Total Time: 2 minutes
This dressing is so easy to prepare and so tasty that there's no excuse not to have a fresh salad with every meal. For everyday use, keep a supply on hand or mix a fresh batch just before sitting down to eat. It's easiest to mix and refrigerate in a small covered jar. The possibilities for variation are endless. Stir in a teaspoon of curry paste and toss over shredded red cabbage. Crumble in some blue cheese, shake vigorously, and spoon over sliced tomatoes. Use sesame oil and orange juice and toss with shredded napa cabbage.
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 3 Tbsp. quality balsamic vinegar, sherry vinegar, or juice of fresh lemon
- ½ tsp. powdered mustard
- 1 tsp. sugar
- salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Put dry ingredients (mustard, sugar, salt, pepper) in a small bowl or jar. Add a few drops of oil and mix to a paste, then stir in the rest of the oil. Add vinegar or lemon juice. Stir well to mix, or cover jar and shake. Spoon onto salad and toss greens to distribute dressing. Refrigerate after using.