Diabetes Diet

The Best Salad Fixings

Recently I wrote here about the tastiest and healthiest salad dressing, which you can easily prepare at home. If you can find anything like it at a restaurant, I would be surprised. The best you can do when eating out is to use a traditional olive oil and vinegar dressing.

Complementing the best salad dressing are the best salad fixings. You can easily prepare this salad and salad dressing at home for the nutrition that all of us, whether we have diabetes or not, need. Even when you eat out, you can find often good salad fixings — along with many others that you might regret eating.

If you can stand the crowds and the usual lack of ambiance, you can find the best ingredients in the deli section of Whole Foods stores. Many of their ingredients are organic.

Salad bar restaurants are sprouting up all over the country. While I don’t know of any others that offer organic fixings, if you pick and choose, you can find a great variety of ingredients at Souplantation and Sweet Tomatoes out West and some Midwest and Southern states,  Fresh Choice in California, Texas, and Washington, or Souper Salad in some Western, Midwestern, and Southern states. Here in Colorado we have eight Mad Greens restaurants. You can even get a so-called salad at the major fast food places, if you would otherwise starve to death.

But as with everything else gastronomic, choosing and preparing the ingredients yourself is best. Any salad worthy of that name has to start with green leafy vegetables.

Spinach, particularly baby spinach, is probably the best choice both for nutrients and taste and is what I usually use as the basis of my salad. Other excellent green leafy choices include arugula, watercress, dandelion greens, and anything that bears the name lettuce — except iceberg lettuce, which is much less nutritious than any other kind.

Raw broccoli is the next to go into my salad bowl. While cooking broccoli probably makes it somewhat more bio-available, I have tried it that way, but compromised on raw broccoli, because I just don’t like it cooked.

Cucumbers and celery find a regular place in my salad bowl.  But with so many green vegetables in our salads, we need some complementary color. That’s one reason why I almost always include radishes and sometimes use red bell peppers rather than green, even though the red ones are a bit higher in carbs. When I can find it, I add radicchio too.

Sometimes I include cauliflower. This week the local farmers market had bright orange cauliflower. I don’t know if colorful cauliflower is healthier or not, but it sure is prettier.

Often I eat some of my salad fixings before I have a chance to put them in my salad bowl. This is particularly true for radishes, which I like to eat plain, or, in the case of mushrooms, topped with a little Dijon mustard.

Then, I usually add a couple of ingredients for their intense taste. For years I’ve loved jalapeño slices. Recently I also learned to love anchovies, which happen to be exceptionally high in omega 3 fat. Both are acquired tastes, and I have certainly acquired them.

Finally, I top off this delicious concoction with a healthy sprinkling of chia seeds. Recently, I began adding nutritional yeast both for its B vitamins an d cheesy taste, the best tip I got from reading Dr. Neal Barnard’s Program for Reversing Diabetes.

I always make sure to use organic ingredients if I can. I am particularly careful about spinach, celery, and bell peppers, which are otherwise loaded with pesticides.
Since I eat a big salad, it’s always my lunch and never my dinner. I know from experience that a large meal at dinner isn’t any good for my digestion or for maintaining my weight.

Of course, I don’t include the same salad ingredients every day. Variety depends on my mood, what I have on hand, and what the markets offer.

Since I am careful to follow a very low-carb diet, my daily salad is my major source of carbohydrates. Like Dr. Richard K. Bernstein, I don’t think that we need any carbohydrates. But I eat some just in case they contain a nutrient or two that we don’t know about yet.

All of my salad ingredients are low in carbohydrates. The highest is my sweet red pepper, but it still has fewer than four grams of available carbohydrate per 100 grams, according to the USDA’s “National Nutrient Database.”

I rarely include eggs, because my usual breakfast is two poached egg whites. Sometimes avocados, cucumbers, canned salmon, tuna, or sardines go into the salad bowl, but I usually prefer them separately as a snack.

Too high in carbs for me are common salad vegetables like beans (except black soybeans), beets, carrots, corn, olives, onions, peas, scallions, sunflower seeds, or tomatoes. Likewise, almost all fruit, including apples, oranges, or pears. Anything made from grain, including croutons and pasta, is also out.

We generally love salads — in part because the term means so many different things to different people. To me salad means my nutritious and tasty main meal.

This article is based on an earlier version of my article published by HealthCentral.

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  • Reply John October 27, 2012 at 6:24 pm


    I’m with you on the Dr. Barnard program. I tried 2 types of vegan diets for diabetes (type 2) and failed miserably. The more carbs I ate, the more I wanted.
    If you looked at Dr. Barnard’s program, it was strict and did not include many of the items that many vegetarians (vegans) enjoy. The worst part was the boredom in the food selections.
    What made me return to counting carbs was that my A1C went from 6.5 to 8.2 effectively ending that experiment in vegetarianism.
    I feel so much better counting carbs and my blood sugars are hovering around normal now.

  • Reply I'm grateful for this blog! October 26, 2012 at 10:06 am

    Thanks very much for your reply!

    It is confusing when experts are at such odds with one another (re diet). Both my former diet (to control diabetes) and current (more dairy in place of soy) have in common avoiding the things you list as needing to be avoided, yet I felt better than I had in years on the former diet and in much worse shape on the current one.

    Oh well, something I can do that there is no controversy about is exercise more, so I guess I’ll focus on that. (But will read with great interest if anyone else with experience with diet as it relates to the diabetes-Hashimoto’s combo is willing to share what they’ve learned.)

    By the way, thank you, David, for researching/posting info on chana dal–it has made a real difference to my blood sugar control to have chana dal hummus etc. in my diet. (Thus my “screen name” here!)

  • Reply I'm grateful for this blog! October 26, 2012 at 5:25 am

    Would also like this info. Also interested in any info on optimal diet for combination of diabetes and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis/hypothyroidism.

    Had gotten high sugar levels at time of diagnosis of diabetes to plummet with a diet high in soy protein and cruciferous vegetables (my doctor was amazed that I went from an A1C of 13 to 7 without medication) only to have what had been borderline high TSH (borderline hypothyroidism) skyrocket, and was ultimately diagnosed with Hashimoto’s.

    So cut out the soy (replaced with more dairy) and greatly cut down on the cruciferous vegetables, but don’t feel healthy (and now have high blood sugar again).

    Seems like the diet that is good for my diabetes is bad for my thyroid condition–any suggestions? (Am wondering whether to go vegan but still avoid soy?)

    Has anyone come across anything in Neal Barnard’s writings (or writings of anyone else who recommends his type of diabetes dietary approach) that addresses combination of diabetes and thyroid issues?

    • Reply David Mendosa October 26, 2012 at 9:42 am

      Dear “I’m grateful for this blog,”

      I love your name!

      Like you, I have type 2 diabetes, and I also have had high TSH levels that I am now treating with Synthroid. I have never found any contradiction between what we need to do in order to manage both diseases. But I do think that you are focusing on peripheral issues in terms of soy and cruciferous vegetables. The key to managing our diabetes is managing our carbohydrate intake. This seems so obvious to me, because it is essentially only carbohydrates that raises our blood sugar levels.

      Take soy protein, for example. Who needs more protein? Very few of us, unless we follow a diet unnatural for human beings. Such a diet is one that avoids meat and/or fish. In this regard I have studied Barnard’s writings, and frankly found absolutely nothing of value in them. He is, of course, one of the biggest advocates of vegan/vegetarian diets, which are trendy and may be good for the environment (and actually may not be), but are certainly not good for the health of people with diabetes who basically need to manage blood sugar levels.

      As to cruciferous vegetables, I didn’t know that was a problem with Hashimoto’s. These vegetables are, of course, highly recommended for their cancer-fighting properties, but if you have to leave them out of your diet it is otherwise no big deal. We have lots of other non-starchy vegetables that people with diabetes can safely eat.

      What we need to avoid is ever so simple: grains and tubers, table sugar and fructose, except that in reasonable amounts of fruit.

      By the way, congratulations on reducing your A1C from 13 to 7 without medication. I do the same, although I have gone from 14.4 to 5.5 without medication, albeit in quite a few years time!



  • Reply Richard February 22, 2012 at 5:17 am

    I’m a few years later than John in asking but have you had any feedback about Neal Barndard’s programme?

  • Reply John September 17, 2009 at 8:13 am

    Has anyone tried Neal Barnard’s Program for Reversing Diabetes and if so, can you share your results? Thanks!

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