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When I wrote my post on salad the other day, I pointed out all the bad, sneaky things that can happen when we don’t pay attention to what gets into our salads. Mainly, I picked on dressings. Dressings can, in one dollop, take a salad from being a beautiful pile of healthiness and turn it into an instant junk food. Or they can make it even better, with a little thought.

So, let’s get into healthy dressings. Olive oil is a great base for dressing. Some people love the strong taste of extra-virgin olive oil, others don’t; I personally like the light olive oil better. You may need to take olive oil out of the refrigerator a while before you plan to eat it, if you decide to refrigerate the dressing. It tends to solidify in the cold.

Vinegars are fun, and there is tons of variety. Red wine, white wine, balsamic, apple cider… all are delicious and will add interest to your dressings. Don’t use white distilled vinegar; it’s best saved for cleaning.

Herbs are great additions. Any culinary herb will work, and you can play with variations. Try a basil vinaigrette, and add some dried tomato. Or a rosemary and thyme dressing. Or get crazy and add mint and lemon juice. (Maybe to you that’s not crazy. It sounds super adventurous to me.)

If you want creamy-ness, try this recipe for homemade mayonnaise, and add spices to taste. An Italian herb blend will give you creamy Italian. An avocado and some salsa could make a delicious, creamy, cool dressing for a taco salad, or, made with more avocado and less mayo, could even be a pretty tasty guacamole.

No matter what kind of dressing you make, you’ll need a container. A cruet is great for oil and vinegar recipes; some even have little measuring lines on them to show you how much oil and how much vinegar to put in. Here’s one that’s pretty utilitarian. For thicker dressings, you could even wash out an old mayonnaise jar (glass is better) or use those ever popular Mason jars. Just be sure to get plastic lids, as from what I’ve heard vinegar and metal don’t get along well. You apparently get some sort of weird reaction that creates a disgusting slime.

Now that I’ve thrown a lot of ideas, all healthy, at you, I’m going to start experimenting. That’s why this is part one. Over the next week or two, I’ll be posting some recipes and results; please post your own! If they turn out well I’d love to share them here. (Rules: no cheese or milk, no sugar. Thanks!)

Let the healthy salad adventure begin!

I’ve always thought salad was healthy. It looks healthy. It’s green. And green is healthy, right?

The problem is that, thinking all salad is healthy, we eat it a lot. There are people that will protest that they don’t know why they can’t lose weight; after all, they’re eating salad twice a dayWell, besides the unfortunate fact that they’re probably malnourished because they’re not eating enough variety, salad can be a misleading food.

All kinds of things sneak into our salads these days. I’m all for things like real chicken or beef, avocado chunks, oil and vinegar dressing with spices, and even some good, real, all natural cheese as long as it’s in moderation. Load it up with squash and sunflower seeds and some dried cranberries (again, moderation here as they have lots of sugar), and you’ve got yourself quite the feast. And it’s healthy. But if we’re not careful, other things weasel their way in there and salad stops being healthy very quickly.

Salad dressings are probably the main, and worst, cuplrit. Ranch dressing is advertised as a way to get kids to eat vegetables! They’re seen eating mounds and mounds of broccoli, only because they have a little blob of creamy dressing on the top. Unfortunately, this is kind of like saying that you ate apples today… mixed up with sugar and wrapped in pastry and served a la mode. That’s called apple pie, and isn’t healthy anymore. Same with salad slathered in ranch dressing. It’s ceased to be healthy. Ranch dressing has about 150 calories per tablespoon, and I bet most of us use more than a tablespoon on a meal-sized salad. And it’s not just fat, it’s the sugar. Sugar is in everything these days, from vinaigrettes to bleu cheese; it’s in things that don’t even make sense, and in some salad dressings it’s actually the first ingredient. I have found a few dressings that are healthy; notably, Newman’s Own makes some dressings that have no sugar. They aren’t labeled “sugar free,” so you’ll have to actually read the ingredients. But when in doubt, make your own. Get a jar, some oil, vinegar, and spices, and experiment. It’s fun. The general rule is about 1 part vinegar to 2 parts oil, and use good oil and good vinegar.

However, other unhealthy things besides dressings are in our salads. Chicken is good for us and I eat a lot of it, but breaded chicken, again, is not. It’s the breading. Wrong kind of fat (often a hydrogenated vegtable oil or Trans fat), and the refined flour acts similarly to sugar in your body. Get grilled chicken, and ask if it’s marinated. Even the marinate might have lots of sugar or fat or salt.

Cheese is not so much a problem for some people; for others it is a weakness to be avoided. Good cheeses like parmesan or sharp cheddar are okay in small amounts if you control yourself; however, cheese in restaurants, especially fast food places, is often not good cheese. It’s American cheese (which, by the way, isn’t really cheese at all), or it’s cheese that’s been dusted with cellulose (wood or plant fiber) to keep it from clumping. Which is why it doesn’t act or taste like cheese.

Often, too, the “vegetables” in salad are nothing but iceberg lettuce. While iceberg isn’t bad for you, it doesn’t have much nutritional value. It’s much like eating unbuttered, unsalted popcorn. Few calories, lots of fiber, and nothing else. So by the time you have an iceberg lettuce salad with fried chicken, ranch dressing, cheese, corn, and worse, add some highly salted processed deli turkey or ham, you’re really getting nothing healthy at all. If you’re lucky enough to get some actual vegetables, it’s much like the apple pie: it’s already so unhealthy that the added healthy things don’t do any good.

This is why salad is a trap. It sounds so good for you. Even the word “salad” sounds healthy. And it is: lots of greens and veggies with some healthy fats like avocado or olive oil and some grilled chicken, add some crunchy walnuts and a few dried or fresh berries and apple slices. It’s simply realizing that food manufacturers are sneaky, and restaurants are sneakier. We, as healthy consumers, have to make conscious choices about our food. There is no drifting subconsciously into healthful eating. It must be a firm decision. Even with salad.

When I think about dieting challenges, eating outside my home always tops the list. What do you do when you go to a friend’s house? To a work party? To a restaurant? While it’s tempting to hibernate at first, eventually you will go to some sort of social event.

Just this week I went out to eat with my dad. It’s our tradition and I wanted to keep it even though I’m newly Paleo and still a little fragile. We went to a different restaurant and I ordered different food, but the experience was the same. In reflecting on my experience, I came up with some small details that really help me when I’m eating out. I hope they help you.

1. Be honest with your friends and family. Tell them you’re Paleo and that you can’t eat bread or cheese or apple pie. If they understand why you are doing what you’re doing, it may make them less likely to push chocolate mousse on you.

2. Which leads to the second tip. Don’t go out to eat with people who push foods on you that you don’t want to eat after you’ve told them why you can’t have them. My family is really supportive. Dad even hid the rolls behind a drink menu. This is the kind of person you want to eat out with.

3. Do go out with supportive people. This should be obvious, but supportive people will help you when you start to eye the dessert menu.

4. Plan ahead. Don’t choose a restaurant that serves mostly starchy, breaded items. Italian is bad news. I’m from Pennsylvania and many restaurants here put macaroni salad and apple fritters on the “vegetable menu.” If you can, check menus online to see if there are Paleo-friendly items. For example, Ruby Tuesday serves grilled zucchini and roasted spaghetti squash as sides, and has a fabulous garden bar with oil and vinegar available for dressing.

5. Ask the server not to bring bread. They may tell you you can always take it home. You don’t want to take it home. Be firm.

6. Don’t be afraid to ask if things are breaded, have cheese, or if the salsa contains beans if you are avoiding these. Ask if they can be left off.

7. Additionally, don’t be afraid to ask if menu items can be altered. They CAN hold the cheese.

8. Order water. If you hate restaurant water like I do, order with “lots of lemon.” Don’t be afraid to ask for more lemon. Resist adding Splenda or sugar or any other sweetener; the lemon tastes really nice on its own. If it doesn’t, try adding more.

9. Don’t even think about dessert, and if you can, go with someone who has the kindness to not get dessert either. There’s nothing worse than smelling chocolate lava cake at two feet and not being able to have any.

10. If you’ve read all these tips and are feeling that you just can’t do it–you know that if you set foot in a restaurant you’re going to order something you shouldn’t–I recommend you wait awhile. You’ll get stronger. You will find it easier and easier to follow your new eating habits and eventually, you’ll get through it. Eventually, you’ll be able to even order dessert once in awhile (as in, maybe once a month or so) without it spelling doom for your Paleo resolve. But if you feel shaky and uncertain, don’t do it yet, or go with a firm plan and a supportive friend. It’s worth it.

I’ve been reading so much about the Paleo Diet over the past couple days, and it’s exciting. I’m getting through It Starts With Food and finding it fascinating! The science is good and seems to line up with what I learned in my nutrition classes in college: highly refined, processed foods mess with your body while whole, nutrient rich foods nourish the body and promote healing.

Most exciting for me has been reading not only blogs and articles and my book, but discovering that there are all these people out there that have found this way of eating and living and that they’re thriving on it. Not sort of getting by, not being hungry but it’s ok because they’re losing weight, not toughing it out…. Thriving. They love it. They love being healthy and feeling great. And I want to be one of them.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a nutrition professional. I know better. I don’t eat Twinkies or candy or macaroni and cheese on a regular basis. Actually, I think Twinkies are kind of gross. (Have you seen Wall-E? Where the cockroach eats the Twinkie? The… you know… 300-year-old Twinkie? Yeah, they’re kinda gross. But I digress.) But my diet leaves a lot to be desired. For example, I eat a lot of cheese, and probably more than my share of peanut butter, and vegetables are kind of lacking. And I can’t believe I’m the only nutrition professional out there who struggles.

Discovering this whole community of people is an eye-opening experience. I didn’t realize they were out there, and that so many people not only want to be healthy but are actually getting healthy. I can’t wait to be one of them.

I start July 1, I’ve decided. July 29 is my birthday, and I’ll almost be done with my Whole30. I think it’ll be a happy birthday.

The whole point of a diet, any diet, in any place on this whole earth, is to nourish the body. There are other reasons to eat, of course, but the point biologically for our bodies being able to take in food is so that we can keep on living, replenish vital nutrients, grow, heal, move…

Unfortunately, many people have a very sour relationship with food. They eat too much, too little, or just the wrong kind of food. Sometimes this is of necessity; not all societies can afford to buy or grow a balanced diet. But more often it is because of a misunderstanding of how food works. Food, to our bodies, is fuel. It is a building block. It is healing, nourishing, energizing.

When we do it right.

When we do it wrong is when things go haywire. We feel tired. We gain weight. Our skin gets funky. Our jeans no longer fit and we start wearing sweatpants all the time (I’ve been there). Frequently at this point we over-react. We think, “Oh, no! Diet! Quick!” Instead of drydocking our ship to do a slow, careful check and repair, we do the speedy patch job, so to speak. We get meal-replacement shakes with unpronounceable ingredients and munch tasteless rice cakes when we get so hungry we just have to chew something. We try diets of canned beets and plain tuna fish. Essentially, we try anything that promises “Lose 20 lbs In Two Weeks!”

Anything… except really changing the way we eat. All those miracle diets are really just fad diets. Most of them cause you to either cut calories to the point that you are hungry a lot, drop water weight and not fat, or are beyond complicated. And eventually we throw up our hands and think, “Being healthy is just too hard.”

The truth is that none of these so-called “diets” are really diets at all. The definition of diet is simply the way you eat. Most of us just aren’t conscious enough of what we are eating to consider it a “way of eating.” It’s simply haphazard munching on whatever’s easy.

The healthiest way of eating is probably the simplest. Real food. Yes, you can eat real food. Meats, vegetables, fruit. Nuts. Seeds. Foods that are eaten as close as possible to their original form, unadulterated and unprocessed. Even cooked, these foods are highly dense with good nutrients, but not packed with sugar and salt. They are healthy. Good. Real. And if you eat them, you will feel better. You will look better. You’ll be thinner if you need to be. Forget all those diet shakes and lists and counting. Eat until you’re full. We’re meant to do that anyway. Your body gets hungry for a reason: it needs to eat. Hunger is not necessary to wellness. Nor is tastelessness or monotony. Wellness and suffering do not coexist. Food should be wholesome and nutritious, and it should also taste good.

It took me a long time to learn this. But you know what? It’s worth it. Because it’s true. It’s a good, good way to eat.

Welcome!

Welcome to Nutrition Explorations! First posts are always tough to write, so I’ll be fairly brief. I want this blog to be a journey. I have no idea where it’s going to go, but I hope it will be fun.

My next adventure is embarking on the Whole30 by Whole9. It’s a 30-day challege based on the Paleo diet, the diet where you eat “hunter-gatherer” food. Meat, vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, and healthy oils, nothing processed or weird, or unpronouneable. I will be documenting my personal experience with the challenge; maybe you’d like to join me?

This is a very different experience for me. I’ve tried very specific diets before, but nothing so simple, and made so completely up of real food instead of “diet” food. I’m very excited, but nervous. However, I feel it’s an important step for me in becoming the most healthy I can possibly be.

The other new journey I’m beginning is starting my own coaching business. I’m very excited but also very nervous. It’s exciting to be starting something this big, but at the same time I wonder if I will be successful.

Finally, if you have any questions, comments, or suggestions as to what you’d like to see on this blog, feel free to email me! If you’ve tried Paleo or Whole30, I’d love to hear about your experience.

Looking forward to the journey,

Sarah

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