Author | Cristian Luecke Eating raw fruits and vegetables is a smart way to get the most vitamins and minerals from your produce consumption. Salads can be a great raw vegetable meal that makes us feel healthy and energized. However, if you have ever had your tummy growl in protest soon after eating a salad, this usually means that you haven’t included the proper balance of food groups (specifically protein and fat) in your bowl. A few pieces of ice berg lettuce, a couple of carrots and a few tomatoes are just not going to cut it. So what should you do to boost the nutritional value of your salads? Focus on choosing nutritionally packed greens with some complex carbohydrate add-ins and a protein source.

Nutritionally packed greens: Don't waste your time eating lettuce that has no nutritional value. We all know that spinach is a great choice, but what other options are out there? One easy way to pick out the healthier, power greens are by color, the darker the green the more nutrients it will pack. The reason is that the darker color means that the green is absorbing more sun rays from photosynthesis which in turn creates vitamins and minerals for the plant. One way to tell there is more fiber in the green is by the “crunch value”. If you bite into Kale you hear, crunch crunch, and it feels slightly stringy. That’s the fiber! When you bite into ice burg you hear, crunch and then nothing.  Here are some great tasting greens to use for your salads:

  1. Kale
  2. Arugula
  3. Red Leaf
  4. Spinach
  5. Romaine

NOTE: Remember that most nutrients from vegetables are fat soluble and need a little bit of healthy fat to go along with them in order for your body to absorb all the nutrients from these great veggies.  One good way to do this would be to add avocado or 6 almonds (one serving of fat). A personal favorite is pine nuts.

Add a protein: Your body needs protein! Veggies tend to have very little protein if any, and usually none of the essential amino acids that your muscles needs to build and recover. Also, adding protein will help you feel full for a longer period of time so that you are not hungry again in an hour or less. I recommend these protein sources:

  1. Pasture Raised Chicken
  2. Pasture Raised Eggs
  3. Grass Fed Beef
  4. Clean Source Fresh Fish  (See Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch for Healthy Fish Sourcing)


Complex Carbohydrates are your friend: A lot of people hear the word "carb" and instantly have a negative reaction to it. However your body needs carbohydrates as an energy source, especially if you are athletic and active. So instead of eliminating carbs, use complex carbohydrates in your diet and salad, which are slow burning, longer lasting, and will not cause a spike in your insulin levels.  Try these complex carbohydrate sources in your salad:

  1. Potatoes (I like to cook them in a skillet, thinly sliced, with a little salt with a touch of coconut oil)
  2. Yams, Sweet Potatoes
  3. Quinoa
  4. Peas
  5. Black Beans
Salad Dressing: Oh yes I am going there. Take a look at your thousand island or ranch cream based salad dressings, or even the store bought "organic" vinaigrettes. What do you notice? That perhaps these bottles should come with a surgeon general warning? Salad dressings should be clean, tasty, AND healthy just like the salad you just took the time to make. A very small amount of homemade balsamic vinaigrette, a teaspoon of olive oil with a teaspoon of vinegar, or simply tossing your salad with half of an avocado and some lemon juice are all great options to try.
My Mom recommends the following healthy dressing :
  1. Table spoon extra virgin olive oil
  2. Fresh squeezed lime
  3. Finely chopped fresh garlic
  4. Sea salt and pepper to taste

Billy Polson uses this simple dressing as his go to for salads :

  1. Table spoon extra virgin olive oil
  2. Balsamic vinaigrette to taste
  3. Fresh squeezed lemon
  4. Sea salt and pepper to taste (Maybe some cumin as well if you are feeling adventurous)

Since this is your own dressing, make small amounts and play with the ratios to discover what matches your taste. Have fun with salads and experiment. Go to the store or Farmer's Market on weekends and pick out at least one new vegetable to try in your salad each week. Eat seasonally! Especially here in California, take full advantage of the tremendous variety of local, organic farms and produce which are available to us.

Check out these links for some more information on:

  1. Carb amounts for veggies.
  2. How to tell if your greens are nutrient rich.