How many times have you tried to start a “health kick” after feeling guilty for binge eating junk food or in anticipation of a big event coming up? You feel super motivated to have a salad for lunch so you spend your Saturday night cutting up lettuce, cucumbers, and tomatoes so your lunch will be ready to go for tomorrow. Then at lunch time, you devour this salad and are shocked to be hungry only 30 minutes later. Your stomach is grumbling, you’re feeling irritated, and so it’s no wonder you reach for the nearest snack to fill up. If this has happened to you before, it can be discouraging and turn you off from ever wanting a salad as a full meal. This was totally my mindset before starting my health journey, since I didn’t know how to create a salad that would actually fill me up and be really tasty. Salads are a great way to get in loads of fresh veggies which are filled with important micronutrients such as vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, flavonoids and more that support healthy brains, healthy guts, and tons of other important metabolic functions. Here’s my super salad algorithm that makes me actually crave a salad for lunch every day!
There are 5 components to a good salad that you need in order to fuel you and keep you full:
Let’s go through each one and talk about why you need them and what they do for you.
Leafy greens are superheroes in terms of nutrient content. They are packed with phytochemicals which help release antioxidants and and fight off toxic compounds in our body, as well as fight inflammation. They are full of important vitamins that aid the body in all sorts of chemical processes. They’re also a fantastic source of fiber and water, which helps your digestive system to keep running smoothly. My salad base always starts with at least 3 cups of leafy greens, but never hold back on adding more if you want.
My favorite leafy greens for a super salad: Baby spinach, kale, mixed baby greens, romaine lettuce, and arugula. But don’t be afraid to get creative and try out some more out there greens like Swiss chard, collared greens, endives, or water cress.
There are a few reasons I specifically look to include a variety of colorful veggies in my salads. First of all, it makes it look pretty, and I am a big believer that the presentation and aesthetic of my meals contributes to how much I enjoy them. Second, the more colorful your plate, the larger the variety of micronutrients you get from that meal. Colorful veggies are an amazing source of fiber, which is crucial for a healthy gut, and gut health is crucial for maintaining hormonal balance, good mental health, and good digestive health.
A fun way to incorporate colorful veggies into your meals is to challenge yourself- can you get all 6 colors of the rainbow into a single dish? Or try to keep increasing the number of different vegetables in your meals per day. I try to average having between 7-9 different types of non starchy veggies per day to make sure I’m getting a full panel of different micronutrients and to keep me from getting bored. When possible, try to buy your veggies from organic, local farms to reduce the amount of pesticides you're eating, making more environmentally-friendly choices, and support local farmers.
My favorite colorful veggies for a super salad:
Red- beets, bell peppers, cabbage, tomatoes, red onion, raspberries
Orange- carrots, sweet potato, butternut squash, pumpkin
Yellow- bell peppers, corn, cooked cauliflower, summer squash, lemons
Green- artichoke, asparagus, bok choy, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cucumbers, celery, cabbage, parsley,
Blue/Purple- blackberries, blueberries, eggplant, purple potatoes, purple carrots
No matter how many leafy greens and colorful veggies your salad has, they’re unlikely to keep you full for long without a hearty protein. Proteins slow digestion and help keep you full by releasing satiety hormones such as glucagon-like-peptide-1 (GLP-1), and peptide YY (PPY) and slowing the release of appetite stimulating hormones, such as neuropeptide Y (NPY). Proteins also contain amino acids are the building blocks for the proteins we make in our own bodies, which help us with everything from muscle growth, tissue repair, immune health, hormonal health, production of hormones and neurotransmitters, and more.
For most people, I recommend a serving of protein that is between 20-40 grams per meal. An easy trick for this is for your protein portion to be about the size of an iPhone.
My favorite proteins for a super salad:
Grilled chicken, hard boiled eggs, salmon, tuna, ground meat, and steak. Preparing these proteins in different ways and with different spices helps keep me from getting bored.
If you still believe that fats will make you fat and you’re avoiding adding avocado to your salads because of this myth, go listen to my instagram stories where I rant about this nutritional and culinary travesty. Healthy fats are crucial for brain health and neural communication. Many vitamins can only be absorbed and used by the body if you have an adequate intake of fat (that’s what fat-soluble vitamins are referring to). Fat also helps you feel full by releasing satiety hormones such as leptin and cholecystokinin (CCK). However, the type of fat you use does matter. Processed oils found in most store-bought salad dressings contain toxic free radicals due to the chemical processes used when extracting them from their source. If you want a mayo-based dressing, try making your own from a healthier oil, such as olive oil or avocado oil.
My favorite fats for a super salad:
Avocado, toasted, chopped nuts and seeds- almonds, brazil nuts, cashews, macadamia nuts, pecans, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, olives, olive oil, avocado oil.
A small amount of complex carbohydrates, especially when eaten alongside protein and fat, keeps your blood sugar stable, gives you energy for your day, and adds a bulk to your salad that helps you feel more satisfied. It’s best to focus on complex carbohydrates as opposed to refined carbohydrates because complex carbohydrates are made up of longer chains of sugar that require more time to break down, slowing the release of sugar into the blood, and are usually more nutrient dense than refined carbohydrates. Depending on your body type, body composition, and insulin sensitivity, portion size will vary. For most people, somewhere between 1/4 cup-1/2 cup is a good measure to aim for.
My favorite complex carbs for a super salad:
Roasted sweet potato, roasted squash, quinoa, buckwheat, chickpeas, beans, lentils, black rice
You know how restaurants always seem to make better salads than you can ever make at home? It's because they throw in the fun extras. Go out and get whatever it is that calls your name when you order that salad from your favorite cafe- feta cheese, toasted walnuts or pumpkin seeds, fresh parsley or cilantro, craisins, etc. Include it to help your salads fun and satisfying.
Other tips for super salads:
Upgrade your knife and cutting board if they are old and tiny. You want a big, sharp chef's knife and a solid-sized cutting board to make chopping quick and easy. I can't stress this one enough. There is nothing more unpleasant in cooking than using a dull knife and a tiny cutting board.
Prep in advance- at the beginning of the week wash, dry and chop your greens and veggies and store them in clear glass containers in the fridge. Pick one or two proteins and a complex carb and make a big enough batch to last you through the week. Store your greens with a damp paper towel or tea towel to help them stay crispy!
Buy a good salad container with a lid that won’t leak. I love my glasslock containers and use the 6.3 cup one to hold my salads.
Invest some time into your dressings- these can make or break the salad in terms of taste. But store them in small glass containers and don’t add them to your salad until you’re ready to eat, otherwise it’ll become soggy.
Check out my instagram salad highlights for some ideas on delicious combos, dressings, and more.
Wishing you health and happiness!