Salads are healthy….right?
After all, they’re a great way to ramp up your nutrition, by boosting your fresh veg intake. Salads help you fill up, and they're full of goodies like vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fibre. You can be confident you are doing your body a favour every time you eat one.
But could you be offsetting your good intentions....simply by adding your favourite dressing?
When it comes to nourishing our bodies, it’s not always easy to know what is healthy and what isn't. Particularly when conflicting messages about nutrition are everywhere we look. Not to mention the fact that food manufacturers go to a lot of effort to pull the wool over our eyes!
As nutritionist Mel says, we all need to be our own ‘food detective’! When we are armed with knowledge, we are more empowered to be able to make informed choices.
And that's something we're passionate about - helping you healthier alternatives, easier ways and simple swaps you can make in everyday life - that will have a BIG payoff in terms of your health.
Do you know what’s actually in your salad dressing?
Most of us have a bottle or two of commercial salad dressing in our household. Whether this be mayonnaise, French dressing, thousand island or coleslaw varieties, there's an array of options in every supermarket. Salad dressings really can make getting our veg quota in so much more tasty and enjoyable.
But when was the last time you took a look at the nutrition label on your everyday salad dressing or mayonnaise? You may be surprised at just what is lurking in there…
- Highly processed oils: Unfortunately, many commercial dressings are based around oils like canola, soybean or ‘vegetable oil’ (which here in Australia usually refers to either/both canola or soybean). These oils are usually quite refined, and also contain a high percentage of omega 6 essential fatty acids. It’s important to note that this type of essential fatty acids are actually good for us (hence the ‘essential’) when we eat them in their natural state, and in the correct amount. However, they are found in so many foods nowadays that they can be a common cause of inflammation in the body – simply because we tend to eat far too much of them, which can then affect our Omega-6 to Omega 3 ratio (more about this topic here).
- Added sugar. Many products also list sugar as one of the main ingredients – in fact, one popular commercial full-fat mayonnaise contains 9g sugar per 100g – which means it was almost 10% sugar! And if you are thinking the low-fat alternative of the same brand may be a better option, think again – this contains more than 20% sugar!
- Additives such as preservatives. This may mean a nice long shelf-life in your pantry or fridge, but it’s not good news for your body.
So, what’s the alternative?
Thankfully, it’s actually incredibly easy to make your own versions of salad dressings! I’m going to show you just what you can do, and open you up to a new world of fresh veggie flavour.
Not only do homemade dressings taste a LOT better, you also have complete control over the ingredients. Whether you want to adapt for taste preferences, food intolerances , or include ingredients with specific health benefits (‘food as medicine’), the possibilities are endless.
When it comes to making your own dressing, there is a basic formula to follow:
3 parts oil
1 part acid
The best oils to use for health are extra virgin olive oil (you can find this in a light-tasting version if you find the flavour of olive oil too strong), flaxseed oil or nut oils (like macadamia or almond). These oils contain healthy fats and extra nutrients such as healthy fats, polyphenols (a beneficial type of antioxidant) and vitamins like vitamin E.
The acid component can be something as simple as balsamic vinegar, or you may like to use apple cider vinegar, red wine vinegar (great for creating an Italian-style dressing) or the juice (and zest if you like) of a citrus fruit such as lemon, lime, orange or grapefruit.
Grab a clean jar, pop in the oil and acid shake vigorously to mix.
You can then flavour your dressing to taste. You might like to add:
- Crushed fresh garlic
- Grated ginger
- Garlic or onion powder
- Mustard – wholegrain, French or Dijon work well
- Fresh herbs like parsley or dill
- Dried herbs or spices. I like to use an ‘Italian blend’, but you can mix up the flavours with things like Mexican, Greek or Asian spices
- Maple syrup (optional) if you like a little sweetness
- Sea salt and cracked pepper to taste
Your creation can be stored in the fridge for 3-4 days.
Mayonnaise can be a little bit trickier to make, as it does require the use of eggs and a way to emulsify the oil in order to create that creamy texture we know and love. However, once you have done it a few times it’s quite easy to get the hang of. And well worth the effort in terms of taste and health benefits!
There are plenty of recipes available on the net, so I suggest finding one you like and that works with the equipment you have available. Many recipes will call for a food processor or Thermomix, but you don’t need these – it can be done with just a whisk, a bit of elbow grease and a can-do attitude!
Click here for a simple homemade mayonnaise recipe.
Please note: most mayonnaise recipes use raw egg, which means that out of necessity it doesn’t last for very long (usually 2-3 days), even when stored in the fridge. This also means that it may not be suitable for you or your family (particularly elderly, immunocompromised individuals, or infants). You may prefer to find a ‘cooked mayonnaise’ recipe that heats the egg yolk to pastuerise it, meaning that the risk of bacterial contamination has been reduced, and the mayonnaise will last a lot longer in the fridge.
How to use your creations (beyond salads):
Of course, using your fresh dressing is perfect with a salad, but you can also try tossing it through steamed vegetables, or mixing with leftover rice or quinoa for a flavour boost and a quirky spin. Another idea is to blend with cooked or canned pulses (such as chickpeas) to help create a smoother texture and additional flavour.