Salads: Healthy or Not?

Salads. They are the probably the number one food people think of when they want to lose weight or go on a diet. There is a perception that salads are super healthy, and they can be, but you have to be careful.

For example, check out these two items on the McDonald’s menu. The salad has more calories and more fat than the burger!

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How could this be? Salad dressing plays a big part. Creamy salad dressings are often packed with loads of fat your salad’s calorie count to skyrocket. Watch out though, low fat salad dressings can be filled with salt and sugar to make up for the missing flavor. Your best bet is to choose a salad dressing that is oil based, not cream. The first three ingredients on the label should be oil, water, and some kind of vinegar. But, even if you pick the healthiest dressing, it doesn’t entitle you to use half the bottle. Always ask for dressing on the side and drizzle it on (don’t drown your lettuce). Better yet, dip your fork into the dressing and then get a fork-full of salad so you aren’t using any more than you need. Making your own salad dressings is also a great way to make sure there isn’t any extra preservatives or additives.

With all that being said, a high calorie salad isn’t always bad. Yes, if all those calories are coming from creamy dressing and fried chicken then there is a problem, but high calories sometimes means high nutrients.

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I started thinking about this last weekend when I was in Toronto while I was eating one of many huge (and delicious) salads. It had kale, quinoa, poached eggs, curried cauliflower, chickpeas, sweet potato, cashews, nori, and avocado. Obviously I don’t know the exact nutritional value of it, but I’m guessing it was around 700 calories. You could easily eat 700 calories worth of cookies or ice cream, but you would be missing out on so many nutrients. That salad was packed with so much good fuel for the body — ie. Vitamin K in kale, vitamin A in sweet potato, healthy fats in avocado, iron and protein in quinoa, and the list goes on.

The moral of the story is that it is not always about the sheer number calories. Two salads, both with 700 calories, could have very different health effects. The one with fried chicken and creamy dressing are NOT going to help you lose weight and WILL contribute to heart disease. The one with lots of vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats will keep you full longer and give your body nutrients that it needs.

The next time you eat a salad, or any food, don’t just think about the calories; think about what is in it and how those ingredients will or won’t be good for your body.

Bowls

If you haven’t noticed, bowls are one of the biggest food trends right now. Buddha bowls, poke bowls, acai bowls… they are everywhere!

Last week I checked out a new restaurant in Cleveland called Rebol. Guess what they serve?? You got it—bowls! They are 100% nonGMO, organic when possible, don’t use any refined sugar, and only cook with avocado, coconut, and olive oils. You can see why I had to try it :).

Anyways, I got a chicken bowl with zucchini noodles, corn salsa, cauliflower & bok choy, apricot ginger honey mustard, cashews, and toasted sesame. It sounds like a strange combination, but it was delicious. They use lots of bold spices to make the food super flavorful. It just goes to show that healthy food doesn’t taste bad (contrary to what some people believe).

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This week I decided to jump on the “bowl” train and make my own at home. Since I move out of my apartment in about a week I have been trying to use the ingredients I have instead of buying more food. I put my cooking skills to the test and was trying to use up some quinoa and BBQ sauce. I think my hours in the kitchen are starting to pay off because my bowl turned out super yummy…so yummy that I have made it for dinner every day this week.

Here’s how to make my BBQ Chicken Quinoa Bowl:

  • Grab a bowl
  • Add about ½ cup cooked quinoa
  • Toss in 3-4oz of shredded baked chicken breast
  • Throw in a handful of broccoli
  • Drizzle on about 1 Tbsp of BBQ sauce (try to choose one that is low in sugar!)
  • Top it off with a fried egg
  • Mix it up and enjoy!

Since I wanted this every night for dinner, I ended up making a bunch of quinoa, baking two big chicken breasts, and steaming a large head of broccoli all on Monday so each night all I had to do was assemble to bowl. No excuses for not eating healthy because it literally takes 2 minutes to put this bowl together, pop it in the microwave, and then add a fried egg.

*Note: I just baked my chicken completely plain because I knew I was going to add BBQ sauce to the bowl but feel free to add any more spices you like.

Give it a try and let me know what you think!

Dana

P.S. I officially took my last final exam on Wednesday so I am officially done with undergrad! T-9 days until graduation.

Quinoa Butternut Squash Salad

Almost a month and a half into school and two weeks away from midterms, my semester seems to be on a high-speed train and I’m hanging on for dear life. Papers, test, my research job, and Dietetic Internship applications are leaving little time for cooking meals. Instead of trying out new recipes every week, I have been making lots of “salads”. No, I don’t mean lettuce and vegetables. I mean, taking anything I can find that sounds good throwing it in a bowl. Thankfully, the past year or two of working on my culinary skills has helped me figure out what tastes good together and all of my concoctions have turned out pretty well. One was so good that I am writing this post about it.

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I have still kept in the sprit of trying new things by buying a new fruit or vegetable each time I go to the store…my latest obsession: butternut squash (which is fitting with fall weather approaching). I used roasted butternut squash to make a quinoa salad with dried cranberries, spinach, chickpeas, and walnuts. I like to eat is warm, when the butternut squash is fresh out of the oven, but I have had it for lunch at room temperature and it is just as good.

This recipe packs in whole grains (quinoa), fiber (squash), healthy fats (walnuts), some protein (chickpeas) and lots of vitamins and minerals (spinach).

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Quinoa Veggie Mix

Rice out, quinoa in. Try this Quinoa Veggie Mix instead of a rice based stir-fry. Before you stop reading and say “I don’t like quinoa”, let me just say that I am not a huge fan of quinoa, and I thought this was delicious! Quinoa packs in lots of protein and fiber to fill you up, so it is a great alternative to nutrient-poor rice.

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The vegetables used in this recipe are some of my favorites but feel free to add any other veggies you may like. The first time I made this recipe, I was startled by the amount of veggies it called for. It seemed like I had mounds of vegetables and little quinoa. Turns out the recipe amounts were just right, so don’t hesitate if it seems like you are cutting lots of veggies.

Quinoa Veggie Mix ntrn facts

The approximate* nutrition facts of one serving are shown here for the ingredients on the recipe. The quinoa I used is Village Harvest Premium Whole Grain Quinoa (pictured here). It is very easy and takes about 20 minutes to cook.

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If you want this recipe to have a more “fried rice” feel, you can mix in 3-4 tablespoons of soy sauce at the very end.

Quinoa Veggie Mix

*Nutrition facts will change depending on the brand and exact amounts of ingredients used.