I am a salad lover, and what's not to love? Salads make it easy to eat a well-balanced meal at home or on the go. Just toss a bunch of fresh vegetables together, add beans, whole grains like cooked quinoa or brown rice, and even your favorite fresh or dried fruit. Leafy green vegetables are some of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet, containing a potent dose of vitamins and minerals. However, there is one essential piece of salad prep that will make them even more nutritious.
Including a few ounces of healthful fats in the form of nuts, seeds, or avocados to daily salads is the secret to soaking up as many nutrients as possible. This increases the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins and beneficial phytochemicals. You can sprinkle these foods on your salad, or blend them up for a super-nutritious salad dressing.
When we eat salads with a nut- or seed-based salad dressing, we absorb a substantially higher amount of the carotenoids found in the raw vegetables. In a 2004 study conducted at Iowa State University and published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, it was found that more than 10 times as much alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, and lycopene were absorbed when participants consumed salads with a nut- or seed-based dressing versus a fat-free salad dressing. That’s a huge jump in nutrient absorption. Healthful fats consumed in the form of whole foods like nuts, seeds, and avocados are better for us than oils because they contain more nutrients per calorie. That’s why I like to prepare salad dressings in my blender with nut and seed butters, whole nuts and seeds, or delicious avocados.
Getting enough nuts and seeds in our diets has been shown to benefit skin health, prevent heart disease, keep blood sugar in check, lower cholesterol, increase protection against cancer, and even promote weight loss. Although they are high in fat, numerous studies have found that consuming just an ounce or two of nuts, seeds, or avocado each day results in more weight loss than the same number of calories consumed in the form of carbohydrates. A large cohort study of over 83,000 women from the Nurses’ Health Study found that body mass index decreased as nut consumption increased. Nuts help us feel satiated on fewer calories, keep our weight in check, and enhance the absorption of fat-soluble nutrients found in already nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables.
So get on the nut-, seed-, or avocado-based salad dressing bandwagon! I love getting my dose of healthy fats in the form of a creamy, smooth salad dressing, and I don’t feel guilty about using a lot of dressing.
Talia Fuhrman has a BA in nutritional sciences from Cornell University and is currently working on a psychology, nutrition, and healthy recipe book for young women called Love Your Body to be published early next year. Visit her Web site taliafuhrman.com and her Facebook page for nutrition tips and yummy vegan recipes.