Dressing Isn’t What’s Ruining Our Salads

Fad DietsI was talking with a friend about vegetables, specifically that in looking at the research eating vegetables is consistently shown to support health but she was struggling with eating them.  The usual disclaimer applies – health is not an obligation, barometer of worthiness, entirely within our control, or guaranteed no matter what we do.  We each get to prioritize our health and choose the path we want to get there and those choices can be limited by things like socioeconomics, access etc.

So she asked me how I get vegetables and I said that one way was salads because I like them and they are fast and easy to prepare.  She said that she likes salads but there’s no point in eating them because she only likes them with dressing.

And that, y’all, is how the diet culture messes us up. In talking with other people who’ve recovered from diet culture, this kind of mentality was a big obstacle to overcome.  The diet world tells us that nothing is ever enough unless it’s the “absolute healthiest” and that we should sacrifice anything and everything without complain, for the chance of becoming thin.

It is in this way that a meal with chicken, roasted root vegetables, salad, and a brownie becomes a minefield. Is that white meat?  Was that chicken cooked with the skin on?  It wasn’t cooked with added fat was it?  Were the vegetables roasted in olive oil? Is it possible to just get them steamed. with no salt? Is that cheese on that salad? Oh god is that ranch dressing?!  Do you have some red wine vinegar and Mrs. Dash?  And do you have some fruit instead of the brownie, actually the fruit probably has too much sugar.  Screw it, I’m going to try to survive on the energy of the universe and the dew from a single leaf. (And a reader has now earned a million points by correctly identifying the source of that quote!)

I’m not interested in telling anybody else what to eat, ever.  I am interested in examining the messages that we get around food from diet culture and the way that those messages affect us.  Going back to my original conversation with my friend, she had bought into the idea that you “ruin a salad” with dressing.  In truth, vegetables have a nutritive value that is not “ruined” or reduced by adding dressing to them.

I think we would all be in a much better place around food if we weren’t told that health is  “all or nothing” and always about “the absolute healthiest” thing. I think that we would be in a better place if  we focused on making supporting our health an additive process rather than a restrictive one.   I think we’d be better off if we looked at supporting our health as a series of choices made for various reasons that are personal and nobody’s business but our own (and those we choose to include.) I think we’d be better off if we stopped confusing the concepts of health/healthy with weight/weightloss.  It’s not the dressing that’s ruining our salads, it’s the messed up diet industry messages around food.

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44 thoughts on “Dressing Isn’t What’s Ruining Our Salads

  1. The message is even more messed up when you understand that a number of the nutrients in vegetables literally canot be used by our bodies without eating some fat with them. Salad dressing not only doesn’t ruin salad, it allows your body to get all the nutrients it can from it.

    1. Lisa, you beat me to that one!

      Ever since I learned that fact I have understood why dressing makes a salad so much tastier. It’s nature’s way of making us get the most out of our fuel.

  2. Diet culture really is screwing things up.

    My grandmother taught me four things
    1. Always enjoy your food
    2. Try everything at least once (as long as you don’t have any allergies, intolerance etc.) – you don’t have to like it
    3. Cook your own food if possible but there is nothing wrong with takeaway.
    4. And most importantly: when it comes to food there is no perfection just delight (hopefully).

    She also said that low-fat cheese taste like wet cardboard. I agree! 🙂

    1. Everyone should have a grandmother that wise.

      My grandmother was a wonderful woman and I learned a lot from her… but she never ‘got’ the food thing. Then again, she was one of the five worst cooks I’ve ever met. Thank goodness I only had to eat her cooking a couple times a year growing up or I would have starved!

      Luckily, I had a mother whose food wisdom was on par with your grandmother’s. She’s also the one who taught me never to yuck someone’s yum.

      1. Love both of you and your mothers/grandmothers!
        My grandma couldn’t cook, we grew up with few funds and had a garden, canned, made jelly, the whole nine yards. Thankfully we learned from others/gained our own experience. We were introduced to many flavors, for we would always try a new packet of seeds if it was in our price range, local farmer friends/books at the library said that cultivating it in our area was worth our while. Some items were better received than others. Kale and I are not friends, but my mom loved it, I’ll take those beets, thank you.
        I got a scholarship to go to Austria in High School I got one bit of wonderful advice from my great aunt (my chosen grandma): try everything once. You don’t have to like it, but you learn from the experience.
        And we’ve had a saying since I can remember. If we don’t like something someone else loves: More for you! So happy you enjoy it!

  3. Yes, absolutely! I used to eat salads while dieting and found them horrible simply because I was supposed to eat them. Now that I no longer focus on that dieting crap salads have become more of a pleasure. Diet culture is totally backward, robbing enjoyment from every experience we have. Now I’m going to go have an indulgent salad and enjoy every bite!

  4. *lol* “…the dew from a single leaf” I may need to borrow that phrase the next time I am shamed by someone who comments on how much salad I can put away. I make awesome salads and I get lots of ideas from meals that I might want but don’t have the time to prepare, fully, like fish tacos or turkey club sandwiches — I deconstruct them into salad form.

  5. Geez–evenif it was better to eat veggies with no fat (which is factually untrue, as Lisa pointed out), it would still be better to eat veggies with fat than no veggies at all. I am sick to death of our culture of fear around food. It’s all such bullshit. I remember when the diet gurus first latched on to the concept of avoiding dietary fat and cholesterol. Eggs, which are an amazing food if you aren’t allergic, became a demon. Fat was to be avoided at all costs, so we got inundated with fat free junk foods that were loaded with sugar like Snackwell brownies that had so much sugar in them that they sparkled in the light like they were covered in glitter. Now the same gurus are going after carbs, because it turns out that eating starchy foods with no fat can spike your blood sugar. But it’s not enough to say that maybe you should put a little butter on your bread or potatoes to avoid a blood sugar spike. Nope. It’s OMG, I can’t believe you’re going to eat that potato! It’s bad for you–you might as well faceplant into a bowl of candy!

    1. Does putting fat like butter on something like a potato really help with the blood sugar aspect? I’m insulin resistant, so I’m trying to eat to reverse it and I hadn’t heard about the fat thing (very interesting!). I’ve been avoiding potatoes for a bit and miss them terribly. 😦

      1. Fat stabilizes blood sugar levels and prevents a large spike. Protein also helps, but if you have sugar (that is essentially what a carb is) with just protein it won’t be enough, and you’ll feel crappy. Excess protein without fat eventually causes kidney failure (within a week) and copious amounts of diarrhea. Not a pleasant way to go. The condition is called rabbit starvation. Here’s some info: http://backacrosstheline.blogspot.ca/2007/09/rabbit-starvation-syndrome.html

        On another thread here or at Fat Nutritionist, someone posted that to prevent grapes from spiking your blood sugar, and then having a huge crash shortly after, have it with cheese. Problem solved. That is as an example.

        I think with potatoes, since they are so low in protein, you could add sour cream to it too, or yoghurt. I use a thick greek yoghurt (full fat) as chip dip.

  6. I love my veggies. Always have. I was the kid who requested spinach for her birthday dinner every year. I didn’t care if it was a raw salad, steamed, creamed, pureed into a soup or what. I just wanted my spinach.

    How messed up is it that people can beat themselves up over the concept of a couple teaspoons of olive oil or a dab of mayonnaise on their leafy greens?

    As it happens, I had a delicious salad for dinner just last night. I had a couple tiny heirloom tomatoes and a head of organic romaine. So I tore a couple leaves of the lettuce up and mixed them with chunks of tomato. Dash of kosher salt, a generous coarse grind or two (maybe even three) of black pepper, a bit of red wine vinegar, a small glug of olive oil, and a sprinkle of Parmesan, and voila! I did it while I heated up my Trader Joe’s steak and ale pie in the microwave. Yes, I (GASP! CONSTERNATION!!) combined a homemade salad of mostly organic ingredients with a microwavable convenience food, AND I DIDN’T DIE OF IT!!!!

    As a matter of fact, I was so satisfied when I finished that I scrapped my vague notion of making a super small batch of peanut butter cookies for dessert… but if it doesn’t get too hideously hot today, I just might make them for tonight. I love peanut butter cookies and I nearly never think to make them.

    Life would be much happier if we stopped panicking so much about food as a society in such stupid ways and started concentrating more of making sure everyone has access to enough food instead of going all a-twitter over whether or not it’s okay to dress our salads and whether cocoanut water will make us live forever.

    Feed the hungry, don’t let your salad go naked (unless that’s truly how you prefer the taste), and no, cocoanut water is not the phiosopher’s stone.

    1. Childhood salad eaters represent! I was considered strange as a kid because I would routinely order salad at restaurants. I never could understand why; we lived in a hot climate, salads are cool and refreshing and tasty when done right.

      One of my former aides was always astonished that I would voluntarily eat salad, even going out of my way to find places to eat lunch that serve good salads. To her, it was diet food, something you eat because you have to, and she knew I wasn’t dieting. Why, then, did I want to eat it? I always found that sad.

      1. A good salad is not only tasty and refreshing, but a thing of beauty to boot. I think that’s one of the things I’ve always liked about them. They often look so cheerful on the plate, with the colors and shapes all mingled together.

        You’re right, it is a terrible pity that so many people have been shoved off the path of enjoying salad by such perverted teachings. Salad is good for many reasons.

        Hmmm… now I’m having a hankering for a Cobb salad, but I don’t have half the stuff I would need to make one. Drat.

  7. You think the food police are awful about salad? You should try eating low carb like myself. I eat steak slathered in butter, salad slathered in dressing, coconut oil in my coffee. The low carb high fat lifestyle has a ton of research behind it and it works for me. I am no longer a victim of mood swings, the shakes, swelling, poor sleep, etc. A ketogenic diet is and has been used for years for kids with epilepsy to control the seizures. Yet we have been so bombarded with fat =fat so people tell me regularly how I am killing myself. Funny, the blood numbers look good, I feel good, and my health is not your concern, but thank you for letting me know I am dying!

    1. As far as I’m concerned, if it works for your body, then you should absolutely do it. And results like good blood numbers, no more mood swings, and an ability to sleep definitely trump some armchair Dr. Oz’s assumptions.

      I’ve long believed that different bodies react to different foods in different ways. And I’m an even bigger believer in the idea that we should pay more attention to our own plates than those of other people.

      What makes people believe they have the right to walk up to people and tell them their lunch is killing them? Didn’t they have mommies and daddies to teach them the most basic manners?

  8. My idea of a salad is lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber, shredded carrot, diced apple, goat cheese, candied pecans, and raspberry walnut vinaigrette. It’s practically dessert but I’m eating my damn veggies. Same goes for corn slathered in garlic butter and roasted parmesan green beans. Simple fact is that I enjoy good food and cooking it. I also enjoy being happy and I’m not happy if I’m hungry or stuck eating only bland tasteless food.

    1. Delectable! I could make a meal just out of those three dishes and go to bed happy. But I couldn’t eat them for breakfast. I have to have a lot of protein and animal fat with some fiber at breakfast time or I have a pounding headache by midmorning. Other people who try to eat a breakfast like mine feel bloated and tired afterward. That’s another piece of the puzzle: Even among just the non-metabolically-disordered population, individual reactions to the same foods can vary widely.

    2. Noadie, you can make me a salad any day of the week. And roasted parmesan green beans are simply my idea of culinary Heaven. I love roasted things. In fact, I’m thinking of taking some green beans I have in the fridge, coating them with panko and curry spices, and roasting them tonight.

      Roasted beans, crunchy panko, and warm spices. Yum.

    1. I believe it’s available in my area but I’ve never tried it. I’ve tried goat milk, yogurt, and cheese (drunken goat cheese is the best), but not butter. Have you tried it?

      1. I’ve recently seen it for sale at a cheese shop I frequent. I was wondering if anyone had used it, and does it taste diff. from cow butter, cook well, etc. It’s about $7 for a half pound.

        How the heck do you drink cheese?

    2. I’ve tried my hand at making my own butter with some success. Guess I’m now gonna have to try using goat milk next time. I’ve got a hunch it’ll be pretty tasty if I succeed.

      1. I watched a baking show and they made butter out of whipping cream and a stand mixer. I don’t know if that would work on milk. If it does you’d get buttermilk out of it.

  9. My daughter Bea is a human garbage disposal. She’ll eat just about anything, and she LOVES salad. She calls it “Leaf” and gets annoyed if we have a salad, and she doesn’t have any on her plate.

    I’ve never liked it, but every now and then I get a craving. And I LOVE red wine vinegar on mine because I flat out love vinegar…a hangover from my pregnancy days. I’d stick a straw in the bottle if I could get away with it. I splash it on everything.

    1. You should try Shrubs (full disclosure, I make and sell them for a living). They are a fruit infused vinegar syrup used to make soft drinks and cocktails. They are easy to make at home, just mix equal parts vinegar and fruit, heat or let sit for a couple of days, strain, and then add sugar to the flavored vinegar and heat to dissolve sugar. Then you mix it with fizzy or still water. I like to use a 1:10 ratio. It makes a really great alternative to soft drinks because of the tangy vinegar flavor.

  10. yesterday my husband, two friends and i went to a diner before a movie. i had two really strong cravings: a chocolate milkshake and a big salad. i had both and it was great! i had the mexican fiesta salad with ranch dressing and had no dietary guilt about this. i grew up with a yo yo dieting mom, so i strongly relate to all the diet culture concerns you’ve written about here. i’ve heard a lot about how dressing “ruins” a salad and my mom only uses rice vinegar. it tastes okay but i like ranch dressing and i’m not feeling bad about it any more. thanks for this awesome post!

  11. I love all of these salad comments! I came across my particular favorite salad when I realized that you don’t have to use leafy greens to make a salad. I don’t love lettuce (or spinach for that matter) because it’s kind of blah. I DO, however, LOVE arugula and parsley, so I make crazy salads comprised almost entirely of traditional toppings. A favorite combination of mine is: diced bell peppers, carrots, green onions, garbanzo beans, cherry tomatoes, parsley, small diced salami, and sometimes some fresh dill or other herbs, all mixed with olive oil and vinegar. So. Yummy. I’ve also come to like some of the richer salad dressings (I was raised in a strictly oil and vinegar home, and didn’t even have ranch until my 20’s), like home made bleu cheese or lemon garlic tahini yogurt, but again get foiled by how limp these dressings make regular greens. Kale, on the other hand, is the perfect green to mix with them. I like to make it ahead of time, and let it sit in the fridge for a couple of hours so the kale gets a chance to break down a little bit.

    I remember the first time I was on weight watchers and discovered that eating one of their frozen processed meals was “better” for me than a salad (less points). I really should have known then.

    1. Your salad makes me happy to think about… especially with that bleu cheese dressing. I adore bleu cheese. And kale and arugula? Yeah, I’m good friends with them, too.

      I’m rapidly coming to the conclusion that what we need here is a Dances With Fat meet up complete with a delicious potluck buffet.

      We would have several delicious salads from the folks in this entry, and I would volunteer to do some major dessert action, because I live to bake.

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