There are a number of myths regarding the humble salad. Not only that, but there are an especially large number of misunderstandings and misconceptions regarding this humble meal.
Now super quick, before I get into the substance of the article, I want to be perfectly clear: I am NOT saying that salads are bad. What I am saying is that not all salads are created equal and that how you make them can change drastically depending on your goal.
So with that in mind, here are my top 6 myths:
- Salads are great for fat-loss
- Salads are healthy
- Salads are boring
- Salads are useless if you’re trying to gain muscle
- All Salad dressings are created equal.
- If you’re a man and you eat too many Salads, your penis will shrink.
Okay, that last one may sound a little silly, but bear with me, because I promise it’ll make sense by the end of this article.
So here’s the reasons why the above 6 myths are potentially garbage:
1. Salads are great for fat-loss
The idea behind this one is that people who eat salads just eat salads and as a result generate a calorie deficit that ultimately leads to fat-loss. Unfortunately, in my 20 years coaching on exercise and nutrition, most of the people I’ve met who’ve tried to lose fat by increasing their salad consumption have failed in the long term. Why?
Normally it’s for one of 2 reasons. 1. The salads taste like crap and as a result they get bored or demotivated and eventually quit. 2. They make salads so badly, that they have the opposite effect, (see points 2 and 5 for more information on this).
2. Salads are healthy
Salads can be incredibly healthy, but unfortunately the typical iceberg lettuce with tomato and cucumber fiasco that most people produce has very little nutritional value. If a food is low in nutrients it’s not healthy. To boost the healthiness of a salad, you need to put healthy stuff in it, not just rely on the fact that a lettuce leaf is a cure all.
3. Salads are boring
Boring salads are boring. Healthy, nutritious salads are anything but boring. See the list of salad ingredients at the end of this post to get an idea of what to add to your salads to spice them up (pun intended). A good salad will have around 5 ingredients or more, all providing TNT, Taste, Nutrients and Texture. Whilst I often stick to a single leaf, some nuts/seeds and a rich coloured fruit or veg if I’m eating for function, I’ll always go to town if I have time.
4. Salads are useless if you’re trying to gain muscle
One of my clients had to look the part of Tarzan in 12 weeks, (actually it turned out to be 7 weeks due to a change in rehearsal schedule). During that time he ate salads every day and as a result he gained 10lbs of muscle and lost 9lbs of fat in that time frame. Again, see the list of salad ingredients at the end of this list for ideas on how to bump up the calorie content of a salad without resorting to crummy dressings.
5. All Salad dressings are created equal.
Speaking of crummy dressings, if something says low calorie, low fat or low carb, I want you to think high-X. Any time you take something out, you have to put something else back in, otherwise you just serve smaller portions. Not only that, but sometimes those terms are defined by amounts rather than percentages. If a salad dressing is 50% fat and 50% sugar, I don’t care how many calories a serving has, I’m not interested. See the ingredient list below for easy dressing solutions.
6. If you’re a man and you eat too many Salads, your penis will shrink.
Too many men I speak to are horrified at the idea of eating a salad. They’re worried their muscles will shrink and their girlfriends/wives/online virtual partners will leave them. A good man-salad (as my friend Zack calls them) will have around 800-1000 calories and be incredibly anabolic (muscle building), whilst also improving health and reducing body-fat. Hardly the man-truncheon-reducing catastrophe most guys worry about.
So what should go in a salad?
If you know anything about me, you’ll know that 90% of the time I’m a big fan of keeping things simple. So with that in mind, here’s a list of all the healthy ingredients you can use:
- Baby Leaf Spinach
- Tenderstem Broccoli
- Steamed Broccoli
- Steamed Kale
- Steamed Cabbage
- Pak Choi
- Mange Tout
- Runner beans
- Sugar Snap Peas
- Garden Peas
- Peppers (Red or Yellow)
Healthy Fat Source
- Brazil Nuts
- Macadamia Nuts
- Sunflower seeds
- Pumpkin seeds
- Pine Nuts
- Kidney beans
- Navy Beans
- Aduki Beans
- Pinto Beans
- Feta Cheese
NB: Some of the above fall into multiple categories, i.e avocado is actually a healthy fat and a fibre source, ditto for nuts.
If I’m making a salad, I’ll normally include one ingredient (or more depending on time and availability) from each section. Tinned ingredients, whilst definitely second to fresh, are convenient and often eating healthily is a matter of convenience in today’s world.
Steamed veg should always retain a slight ‘bite’ or crispness and beans should always be pre-cooked. Nuts tend to work better crushed, although this may be a matter of personal preference.
As for dressings, I’m something of a traditionalist and tend to stick to variations on a theme. So with that in mind here are the most common ingredients in my dressings:
- Olive Oil
- Hemp Oil
- Avocado Oil
- Balsamic Vinegar
- Cider Vinegar
- Lemon Juice
- Lime Juice
- Orange Juice
- Dijon Mustard
- Wholegrain Mustard
Most of the dressings follow the same formula too:
- 1-1 ratio of oil/s to vinegar
- 2-1 ratio of oil/vinegar mix to sauce (mustard, pesto, etc)
- 3-1 ratio of oil to juice
- Absolutely random inclusion of spices and herbs
Don’t go crazy when you’re putting the dressing on as 1 teaspoon will have around 40 calories. I’ve seen way too many people sabotage fat loss by overdosing on the dressing.
So that’s it. Hopefully salads now have a little more potential for enjoyment and a little more opportunity for use. However, if you’re still not sure where to start, here’s one I really enjoy:
- 2 cups steamed broccoli
- 1 cup sliced yellow peppers
- ½ cup green lentils
- ¼ cup crushed cashews and walnuts
- 300g grilled chicken (normally seasoned with chilli, garlic, pepper and ginger)
- ½ cup crumbled feta cheese
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 tablespoon hemp oil
- 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 2 teaspoons lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon chilli pesto
- Pinch of turmeric and garlic