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.
HealthCentral published an earlier version of this article.