Not All Salads are Health Foods

If there’s one thing that the Eating to Live on the Outside series has taught me it is that the American definition of "salad" is warped. Salad choices at many mainstream restaurants are merely standard American meals chopped up and tossed between “field greens.” Here’s what I mean, check out these excerpts from previous Eating to Live on the Outside posts:
Lonestar Steakhouse
Like usual my eyes gravitate towards the salad section of the menu; it’s like the Alamo, a safe haven in the middle of hostile territory. The Cobb Salad has some promise, but I’m making a couple alterations—goodbye cheese and adios bacon! Now, I can deal with the chicken and egg, I only eat meat once a week anyway, so I don’t really mind this concession. Overall my favorite thing about this dish is the avocado. I have bit of an avocado fetish.

Perkins Restaurant & Bakery
Now, usually the salad is a bastion of hope in standard American restaurants, but Perkins managed to compromise this old standby. All five of their options are served in “bread bowls”—whoopee! I’d still order a salad, but I’d hold off on the bread bowl, it’d be better utilized as a sombrero.

Even without the bread bowl these salads still concern me. As I’ve said before I have no problem eating meat once or twice a week, but other Eat to Livers aren’t so willing to compromise. The problem is all the salad options have some sort of animal product; eggs, cheese, chicken, ham, or godforsaken bacon. Of all the choices I’d probably go with the Chicken Fiesta (with or without the chicken) because it has the most veggies; black olives, red onions, red and green peppers, salad greens, and green onions. As far as the salad dressing, I’d ditch the ranch it comes with and opt for a little oil and vinegar or nothing at all.

Carrabba's Italian Grill
No surprise here, but the next dishes I’d consider ordering are salads. First you’ve got your basic house salad, which is usually a safe option (provided you limit or omit the oily dressing), but I’m also intrigued by the Insalata Fiorucci and the Insalata Carrabba. Are they perfect? Oh no, there’s some nit-picking to do. Sure, between the both of them you’ve got field greens, artichoke hearts, roasted red bell peppers, grilled eggplant, tomatoes, black olives, carrots, celery, and red onions. But there’s also plenty of stuff to make an Eat to Liver head for the hills; a hazelnut goat cheese medallion, and mozzarella and romano cheese, not to mention the vinaigrette. For me the solution is pretty clear, I’m cutting out the cheese, I can go either way with the chicken (of course some of you might prefer to ditch it), and I’d use just a teeny tiny bit of vinaigrette. See with a few alternations you’ve got a decent meal, take a moment and ponder all the phytonutrients.
Trust me this isn’t even the half of it. Go check out the actual menu’s for all the Eating to Live on the Outside restaurants and you’ll find a myriad of unhealthy salads; loaded with oil, croutons, crumbled cheese, salt, bacon, and other elements of the standard American diet (SAD).

Now, this article in today’s New York Times by Celia Barbour illustrates a prime example of how people comprise the healthful properties of salad vegetables by killing them with condiments. Brace yourself for some dangerous advice:
LIKE everything else in my life, salads grow more complicated in the fall. In June and July, I like lettuce plain, with olive oil and vinegar splashed on straight from the bottle, plus salt and pepper. It is one of the skills I am secretly exceptionally proud of, this ability to dress a salad in the bowl without mixing up the dressing on the side first. I am convinced that salad tastes better this way, though I can’t figure out why. And I enjoy doing it — I feel more in tune with the greens, and also more picturesque (which, by the way, is a vast and unexplored category of human satisfaction).

If you don’t already know how to do it, here is the secret: use more oil than you think you should, less vinegar than you think you should, and be generous with the salt.

Lettuce hates the heat of August, and while its timing couldn’t be worse — that’s just when we need its crisp, cool simplicity the most — I can’t say that I blame it. I let it have its month off and switch to tomatoes: tomatoes with garlic or onion or both, puddles of olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and bread to sop it all up.
By the end of the piece Barbour’s salad suggestions actually start to resemble that of typical restaurant offerings:
I often make salads that are simply variations on favorite fall meals. Roast chicken and parsnips becomes chicken and parsnip salad with roasted shallot dressing. Bacon and eggs becomes dandelion salad with bacon and fried egg. Soy-ginger tuna steaks become a kind of Asian salade niçoise, with Rick’s Picks’ addictive Windy City Wasabeans on the side.

The salad my family loves most starts with a head of sweet, mild lettuce to which I add toasted, salty pepitas, dried cranberries, thin slices of apple and goat cheese. My kids eat it by the bowlful.
Take a look at what Dr. Fuhrman has to say about salt:
A large body of data illustrates that populations with low salt consumption have lower levels of blood pressure compared to populations with higher salt intake. In Japan and China, salt intakes are often as high as eighteen grams or more per day. Hypertension (high blood pressure) and stroke are the major causes of premature death in these nations. The National Center for Health Statistics reports that in the United States, the man salt intake is eight grams per day. This high intake of sodium assures that we have an elderly population with high blood pressure.

High salt intake, and resultant high blood pressure later in life, does not merely increase the risk and incidence of stroke. It also can lead to kidney failure, congestive heart failure, and heart attack.
And olive oil is no saint either. In fact it can sabotage the healthfulness of any salad, Dr. Fuhrman’s thoughts:
I know you were told that olive oil is health food. It is not. Keep in mind, oil is processed food, it is not a natural whole food. Oils, even if they are monounsaturated, should not be health food because they are low in nutrients and contain 120 calories per tablespoon, promoting weight gain.

Sure, olive oil and almond oil are improvements over animal fats and margarine, but they still are a contributor to our overweight modern world. Overweight Americans consume an average of three tablespoons of oil in their daily diet, adding and extra 360 calories to their food each day. You need to reach a thinner, ideal weight to achieve maximum protection against heart disease and to reverse heart disease. Use oil, even olive oil sparingly or not at all; certainly, do not have more than one teaspoon per day.

As an alternative to oil, you can make great tasting salad dressings from raw nuts and seeds, such as walnuts, pecans, cashews, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, pistachios and avocados.
So, what makes a healthy salad? Here are a few posts with some of Dr. Fuhrman's original recipes:
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KENNETH SCHNEIDER - September 21, 2006 12:10 AM

I have bought both of Dr Fuhrmans books Eat to Live and Lower your Cholesterol for Life. I am a type 1 diabetic and became a full vegan last February 2006. I started following the diet Dr Fuhrman outlines in Eat to Live. Every day I try to eat a full head of Romaine lettuce along with two tomatoes, mushrooms and cucumbers. I use a fat free salad dressing with white vinegar, basil, red pepper and oregano and a touch of garlic. I have lost 30 pounds in six weeks of following the diet and I cannot believe the speed that I have lost weight. When I became a vegan in Feburary of 2006 I weighed 304 pounds. I lost 6 pounds and was down to 298. My first week on Dr Fuhrmans diet I lost seven pounds. I was riding my bicycle 13 miles a day at this time so I was doing a fair amount of physical activity. At this time I have not eaten meat, milk or any animal products except once I had some veggie pizza that had mozzeralla cheese last June. I find that a vegan lifestyle takes a little more effort but once you get in the groove it is worth it as far as the health benefits it provides. I make a vegan chili with red kidney beans and homemade marinaro sauce that is really delicious.

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