It's the kitchen sink - in my salad bowl.
July 29, 2011 10:25 AM   Subscribe

"Is This Healthy?" question #85,847,389. In an effort to start eating better, I've started to make my lunch salads for the week on Sunday nights. To stave off boredom from eating the same boring salad every day, day after day, week after week, I've collected a number of ingredients that keep my salads from making me shriek with horror. Tell me if I'm doing this wrong.

I was never much of a salad eater growing up. We simply didn't really grow up with salads as part of our diet. So I'm coming late into the game, in my 40s, with a distinct disadvantage.

So every Sunday, I crank up some music, then spend about 30 minutes making up 5 individual servings of salads to eat over the next week - mostly for lunches. I love my Vidalia Chop Wizard, by the way.

I always start my salads with a mixture of red leaf lettuce and spinach leaves as the base, and the ONLY salad dressing I use is olive oil mixed in with a sploosh of lemon juice and lime juice. Proteins - sometimes a small amount of leftover grilled chicken or steak as a topping.

Then I try to use at least 5 or 6 of any of the following items below to dress up my salads (they vary week to week, depending on what I remember to pick up at the grocery store). I find that the more different flavors and textures I can add to my salad, the more I enjoy them.

Sliced almonds or crushed walnuts
Fat free croutons
Cherry tomatoes
Mushrooms / cucumbers / red, green or orange bell peppers
Hard-boiled egg
Garbanzo or chick peas
Mrs. Dash seasonings (Lemon pepper or garlic pepper)
Low sodium feta cheese or goat cheese
2% small curd cottage cheese
Dried cranberries for a touch of sweetness
Real bacon bits (just a tiny bit)

Are any of these ingredients really bad health-wise? Any suggestions for new things I should consider adding to my repertoire?
posted by HeyAllie to Food & Drink (37 answers total) 81 users marked this as a favorite
You're definitely getting there. Variety is the one thing most nutritionists agree on. It's hard to tell without knowing your proportions, but you are naming a lot of protein ingredients. Maybe try to include a slightly broader range of vegetables - try adding some grated carrot, shredded beetroot, sweet onion, and perhaps a some different leaves or herbs. Maybe also try to make your salads twice a week, because freshness matters.
posted by Ahab at 10:35 AM on July 29, 2011

Slices of radish, green or black olives, avocado and sunflower seeds are nice additions. Not all at once!
posted by kiwi-epitome at 10:35 AM on July 29, 2011

The question is about proportion. If your salad is 85% greens and raw fresh vegetables and beans, and about 15% add-ins, you're probably in fine shape. However, I've often seen new dieters make the mistake of having a "salad" which features a small amount of greens/veggies along with lots of bacon, cheese, meats, eggs, etc. The animal products are rich food sources, and a little goes a long way. Nuts are another thing that's easy to overload.

But your general strategy is a great one for making a salad delicious - if it makes the difference between getting 5 servings of veggies a day and not getting them, it's helping. Just think of your add-ins in terms of tablespoon-size amounts, not quarter-cup-size amounts. A sprinkle of crumbled cheese is plenty.

In addition to things on your list, I make salads tasty with things like (not all at once)

-corn and black beans
-chopped celery
-capers (great for spiffing up a dressing)
-fresh herbs (in with the greens: dill fronds, basil leaves, thyme leaves)
-shredded carrots - buy them shredded or slice off ribbons with a vegetable peeler
-zucchini and yellow squash - pre-roasted or sauteed for softness
-roasted red peppers from a jar
-olives - ripe black olives for a Mexican tinge, green or Kalamata for Greek/Italian
-pecans, toasted
-golden raisins
-tart, crisp apple, chopped small
-pear too
-berries: blackberries or raspberries are amazing with goat cheese, greens, and some balsamic vinegar and pepper
-rice noodles

Another tip: before you eat, toss your salad restaurant-style. It distributes the dressing and ingredients so that every single bite is full of flavor.

1. In a chilled bowl, put your dressing ingredients (olive oil, acids, seasoning) and mix with a fork or whisk to emulsify a little
2. Add your veggies and greens
3. Sprinkle in your crumbled cheeses and nuts, etc
4. With a pair of tongs or a large fork, stir the salad in a loose, gentle, circular fashion, turning it over in the bowl, but being delicate with the greens. Goal is just to coat everything in dressing.
5. Plate the salad and add the heavier proteins - chicken, egg, meats, etc.

This makes a big difference. You need only a tiny bit of dressing to really coat a whole salad - MUCH less than if you pour dressing over the top.
posted by Miko at 10:40 AM on July 29, 2011 [14 favorites]

Are you going with that dressing for health reasons or because it's the only thing you like? I would recommend some variety in your dressings. There are a lot of low-fat and non-fat dressings out there.

I would also try
- dried cherries or golden raisins
- avocado slices
- grilled chicken
- chopped or grated carrot
- kidney beans or black beans
- corn
posted by radioamy at 10:41 AM on July 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think that as long as you're not over-doing it with the cheese and nuts, or the cranberries (they have a lot of sugar), you're fine! You could try some new dressings for more variety (this cucumber herb vinaigrette is seriously amazing, and only 28 calories per tbsp). This summer, I've been into roasted beets (or strawberries), goat cheese and toasted pecans over spinach with a maple-mustard vinaigrette. This variation on a cobb salad is also really good, and super filling. This salad has chicken, peas, and potatoes over mache with a honey tahini dressing. All those recipes are from a magazine focused on healthy eating, and they show that you can have a wide variety of foods (even bacon) and still be healthy as long as you watch your portion sizes.
posted by amarynth at 10:43 AM on July 29, 2011 [4 favorites]

Drop the croutons (unhealthy processed carb) and all the other processed chemical foods (the bacon bits, the reduced fat cheeses, etc.) That stuff is crap.

Go for the real deal, least processed, whole foods whenever you can. Don't be afraid of bacon!

Otherwise, your salads sound awesome. I especially approve the use of nuts and seeds!


I am wondering how the leafs and other chopped up vegetables do after 5 days in the fridge? Do you dress the veggies before storage?

In my house dressed salad would be an inedible mess in a few hours. I'm wondering what your magic secret is!!
posted by jbenben at 10:44 AM on July 29, 2011 [5 favorites]

You might find your salads vastly more palatable toward the end of the week if you don't dress them and put things together so far in advance. Lettuce is delicate and being soaked in acid or next to other acidic veggies for long kills it. I would put your greens into individual containers, the other toppings into their own container, and mix up a week or two worth of dressing and leave that at work.
posted by slow graffiti at 10:46 AM on July 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Consider some shaved cheese. Parmesan, Manchego, or Ricotta Salata would all work well in a salad.
Do be aware that fat is the only thing that keeps you from being hungry again 30 minutes later. It doesn't have to be a lot of fat, but you will need at least some.
Learn to make a couple of dressings beyond the oil and lemon. A basic vinaigrette is endlessly versatile, limited only by how many vinegars you have. Ranch is also not to hard to reverse engineer. The same goes for thousand island. Don't worry too much about how bad this is for your health; there is no way that you could make something as bad as what you would buy in a store.
posted by Gilbert at 10:51 AM on July 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Hmmmm, good point, I need to balance out less of the the add-ons and more of the greens. Thanks for the reminder.

I hate carrots, raisins, and roasted peppers - other than that, keep the suggestions coming!

One of the reasons the salads work so well for me is that I only have 30 minutes for lunch. So I pull out my salad from the fridge and I sploosh on the olive oil and lemon/lime juice mixture just before mixing the salads up in its container and eating. I top the cottage cheese and hard boiled egg the day of eating too. I haven't had a problem of anything getting mooshy or going bad if I eat the salads by Friday.

I've always heard another big mistake salad eaters make is too much fattening salad dressing. So I do the olive oil / lime/ lemon juice dressing because it's inexpensive, easy, and hopefully not laden with calories. I'm willing to try other salad dressings if they are healthy options.
posted by HeyAllie at 10:53 AM on July 29, 2011

I like sultanas/raisins in a salad but not to many as full of sugar.
I also like pretty much any fruit grapes, pineapple, strawberries again not too many but enough for a surprise touch of sweetness.

I like to vary up the greens and get all sorts of random mixed bags of greens for my salads, things like endive or rocket or even nasturtium flowers in a salad can had a little spicy hit.

Other things I like in salads are grated carrot, grated raw zucchini, cucumber slices, avocado (full of good fats and help you feel full) sesame seeds, very fine rice noodles (nice if you have some soy in your salad dressing adds an asiany feel to it), mint leaves, cilantro(if you like it) leaves plucked and tossed through, corn kernels, snow peas, some people like bean shoots or sprouts of some sort, grated beetroot, kidney beans, small pieces of salami cut up, tofu, feta cheese, capsicum/sweet red pepper slices, raw broccoli florets, cubes of ham or turkey, sunflower seeds, olives of all sorts, roasted peppers in olive oil, sundried tomatoes, red cabbage sliced thinly, spring onions, fennel slices, cooked sweet potato, artichoke hearts (from a jar).

My husband calls my salads "everything in the fridge salads".
posted by wwax at 10:58 AM on July 29, 2011 [3 favorites]

Ok just saw your comments so ignore the roasted peppers, raisin and carrot suggested. *laughs*
posted by wwax at 10:59 AM on July 29, 2011

Olive oil has about 100 calories per tbsp, so you might be better off (calorie-wise) trying to bulk up a dressing with other things. The dressing recipe that I linked to above makes 1 1/4 cups, but only has 1/4 cup of olive oil. Recipes that use other fats (like creamy recipes that use avocado or low-fat mayo and yogurt) might be even lower in calories.

Sorry if it seems like I'm posting too much -- I have a salad for lunch every day (and probably 90% of my meals come from EatingWell, which is why I link to them so often).
posted by amarynth at 11:16 AM on July 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

Just for variety, here's a salad dressing everyone in my house loves. It's easy to mix in a jar and shake.
6 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp white balsamic vinegar
1 tsp honey
1/2 crushed garlic
pinch of salt

Also, I like these combinations:
fennel, oranges, honey pecans (i buy them at Trader Joes) and bleu cheese
fennel, tart apple, add mustard to dressing
black bean, corn, red bell pepper, avocado (lime dressing)
spicy: red mustard, arugula, chickpeas, shaved parmesan cheese, lemon-y dressing
posted by hellochula at 11:21 AM on July 29, 2011 [3 favorites]

Just for kicks, consider measuring out all the ingredients precisely one time, including exactly how much olive oil etc you're using, and entering all that into nutritional software like the trackers at or or so that you'll be able to see what's in them nutritionally speaking. It'll help you judge whether you're using too much of something and how much impact it has on the mix when you double the bell pepper (not much) vs doubling the cheese (quite a bit).

Of course, that will be most helpful in the context of what "eat better" means to you - maybe the purpose of this salad is to introduce 3 servings of vegetables into your day and healthy fats like olive and avocado are good, or maybe the purpose is to be low-calorie and filling, in which case they're less good. It's all in what you're after, but it could still be interesting to know what different salads are doing for you.
posted by aimedwander at 11:24 AM on July 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

Lentils or black beans are awesome on salads.

For dressing variations, I like a dash of sriracha, vinegar (Louisiana-style, preferably Crystal or Louisiana) hot sauce, sesame oil, or pomegranate molasses in my dressing.

Stick to real food - real cheese, real meat.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:28 AM on July 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

I like salsa or canned tomatoes as an alternative to salad dressing. It also seems like they keep coming out with more and more diced, seasoned tomatoes, too.
posted by youngergirl44 at 11:35 AM on July 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Nthing the suggestion to use real food, not substitutes, and minimally processed.

I find people eat ginormous salads. That's not going to help you if you're trying to control your calories.

I personally find it easier to stay the course by eating the same salad for lunch every single day. Baby spinach, beets, fresh bell peppers in three colours, and some protein, usually a boiled egg. It all fits in a 2-cup Snapware container, and it's sufficient.

For dressing, my absolute favourite is classic French Dijon vinaigrette. Just vinegar, olive oil, mustard, and salt and pepper. Nothing beats that for authenticity, simplicity and deliciousness. If you happen to have fresh chives, chop some of those in too.
posted by Dragonness at 11:48 AM on July 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

Are you open to non-traditional salads (i.e. without greens being the main component)? I make a fantastic bhutanese red rice and black bean salad, and it's probably no more prep than what you're currently doing. Plus, it fills you up and is a complete protein, without meat (although some canned tuna or some leftover pork or chicken pieces wouldn't be bad in it).

Here's my summer recipe (i.e. - I tend to only buy what's in spring, I'd use asparagus, broad beans, peas, wild garlic, etc. In winter, I'd use butternut squash, maybe apple, etc.):

Make 1 cup of bhutanese red rice/bulgar wheat/brown rice/quinoa/etc. Open a can of black beans/chickpeas/kidney beans/white beans/etc. Mix together with any combination of these:
--1/2 orange/red pepper, diced finely
--green onions (about 3), shallot (1-2 smallish ones), or finely diced red onion (1/4-1/2 of onion)
-- one head of broccoli or cauliflower (I like to roast it using this recipe, minus the pine nuts and with Pecorino, only smaller quantities than indicated)
--green beans, blanched and chopped into 1/4 inch pieces
--tomatoes, usually a handful of cherry tomatoes or some nice heirlooms, cut into bite-size chunks
--any other vegetable you like

Then add some feta or goat's cheese (if you want - I love both). Toss. Finally, add some lemon juice, a touch of champagne vinegar, some olive oil, lots of salt/pepper, a handful of 1-2 chopped herbs (I like basil, lemon basil, thyme, lemon thyme, chervil, rosemary, and tarragon, in various combinations). Sometimes I marinate the tomatoes first in olive oil, balsamic, salt and pepper, then pour the marinating liquid over the salad.

You could also have this over spinach or spring greens. That kind of proportion would last me for about a week, but I eat small lunches, so YMMV.
posted by guster4lovers at 12:00 PM on July 29, 2011 [3 favorites]

Time to branch out, and turn over a new leaf!
Here is an older AskMe thread on non-leafy salads that I keep saving.

I also noticed your comment about hating certain vegetables. As you get used to your new eating pattern, give them another chance. Your preferences will change as you get accustomed to a better diet. I used to hate cucumbers and now eat them every day. Today I found a carrot salad that I will definitely make again because it did not taste overwhelmingly of carrot, even though that was the main ingredient. And lemme tell you, I hated carrots.

About the dressings, I asked a question about good sauces/dressings for raw veggies and was recommended to buy the book Saucy Vegetarian for simple sauce recipes, and it's fantastic!
posted by whatzit at 12:09 PM on July 29, 2011

Maybe try mixing in some other greens as well. Most farmers' markets and grocery stores have some type of mesclun available that you can use either on its own or mixed in with other lettuces. Arugula and dandelion greens are both excellent, too.

If you're amenable to grains, a chop salad with some quinoa mixed in is one of my favorites. This is really good with a Greek-style salad of greens, olives, feta, tomato, and onions, and a vinaigrette dressing.

And maybe for a little variety, you could make some gazpacho. It takes many of the same ingredients as you do in a salad, but it's a nice changeup, and it tends to keep better than salad. I like a sort of classic gazpacho recipe, with a diced avocado tossed in right before you eat it, and maybe some crusty bread.
posted by ernielundquist at 12:11 PM on July 29, 2011

I just remembered my Go To salad of late has been....

Smoked turkey breast, sliced up
Rocket and/or mixed salad greens
A tablespoon or two of really really good hummus - watered down a little so it acts a dressing.

It's the cucumber and smoked turkey that put it over the top. I've tried it without the hummus altogether, or with just tahini (sesame paste that makes chickpeas hummus), and it is not nearly as good.

Fresh chopped tomatoes work in this, too. But really, it is the cucumber and turkey combo that you can't live without here.
posted by jbenben at 12:15 PM on July 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

The salad chart here looks like a good basis. I love some shredded cabbage in my slads, both for the flavor and texture.
posted by annsunny at 12:38 PM on July 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

You mention Mrs. Dash and low-sodium feta, so if salt intake is a concern you should check your cottage cheese. It's surprisingly (and sadly) high in sodium.
posted by Room 641-A at 1:27 PM on July 29, 2011

So I do the olive oil / lime/ lemon juice dressing because it's inexpensive, easy, and hopefully not laden with calories.

I never buy salad dressing, because it's so easy to make a variety at home, and yes, commercial salad dressing is mostly full of sodium and processed ingredients and fats that you don't need. All my dressings are basically an oil + an acid with seasonings. Lemon or lime juice are fine acids, but they aren't giving you anything much more than you'd get with vinegar plus your veggies, so don't feel you have to use a fruit juice. Vinegar is really low in calories. The only thing you may want to measure out is the fat in your dressing, so you can discover how many calories' worth of, say, olive oil you're using.

You don't need any kind of fancy recipe to get the variety, and even the 'classic' proportions aren't necessary to observe if you like the flavor. So some combinations I use:

Olive oil + balsamic vinegar OR cider vinegar (great with cukes) OR red wine vinegar OR white wine vinegar OR sherry vinegar + dried herbs (vary these) AND/OR a little dijon mustard
Sesame oil + rice vinegar OR lime juice OR orange juice

Infinitely variable - you get the idea. You can make a big batch of vinaigrette in a shaker and pour out a portion into a 2-oz portable container for your salad each day - more efficient that way.
posted by Miko at 1:30 PM on July 29, 2011

Keep that splash of olive oil small. Your list of ingredients looks good to me. A recent study suggests that tree nuts (walnut, pecans, almonds, etc.) are quite good for you and are associated with weight loss. Yogurt, too. French fries and potato chips were associated with weight gain; don't put them on your salad. I love different lettuces like romaine, and spicy greens like radicchio and arugula - they might help you with the boredom. Also, small amounts of fresh herbs are great in salad. I like green beans, snow peas, beets, and tuna in my salads, in addition to many of the ideas above.
posted by theora55 at 1:51 PM on July 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

I take notice of your terminology. You're very careful to note "fat free" croutons and "just a little bit" of bacon bits. Don't be fat averse. Fat is good. Fat is fuel. And fat is only converted into dangerous triglycerides if there's an overabundance of carbs in the system (I may be muddling the science there but that's my oversimplification).

Go nuts on the protein. Hardboiled eggs are great. Buy some chicken or turkey sausage and throw that in. A can of tuna fish is great protein AND helps with omega 3s (canned salmon is even better, of course, but I've had bad luck with canned salmon) (tuna in the pouches is even healthier but costs more).

I've just recently LOVED throwing blueberries into salads - a fresh, crisp sweet, summery lightness.
posted by carlh at 2:28 PM on July 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

Watch your fat-free items for unhealthy fat substitutes (like hydrogenated vegetable oils); watch dried cranberries (and other fruits) for added sulfur, sugar, and oil; watch mixed seasonings like Mrs. Dash for MSG (often called hydrolyzed XXX protein, glutamate, spelled out monosodium glutamate, or even just listed as "spices").

As others have said, you're doing a good job! Increase the greens and veggies, go for the least processed add-ons, and I would add: go organic on pretty much everything.
posted by attercoppe at 7:41 PM on July 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

I agree that store-bought croutons can be bad news, but you can make your own delicious croutons so easily, by toasting cubes of your favorite bread. You don't even have to toss them in oil or anything - that's what makes them taste rich, but if you're interested in crunch you can just bake them at 350 until toasty and they taste plenty good just like that. Bonus, you know what went into them, at least if you know what went into your bread.
posted by Miko at 8:13 PM on July 29, 2011

One tip that saves me calories is mixing low-fat ranch and/or caesar with chunky salsa. I sometimes do 1/3 dressing, 2/3 salsa. Or, 1/2 dressing, 1/2 salsa. Mix it up and it makes a wonderful southwest ranch.

Also, I *love* some carb crunch in my salads. Here's a great little trick. Take a few whole grain tortillas and cut them into thin strips, about 1 1/2" long by 1/8" wide or so. Place them on an ungreased baking sheet in an oven set at 400 for about 5 minutes (I'm approximating - just watch until they crisp up). Mist them with olive oil when they come out of the oven & sprinkle with sea salt. A few tortillas makes a LOT of strips - enough for several salads!
posted by Falwless at 8:30 PM on July 29, 2011

Look at my chow algorithm for some more ideas. I've been using thinly sliced raw kale (leaves only, no ribs) as the main green in this. Mixed with other veggies and a reasonable amount of dressing turns into an awesome salad green, even after several days in the fridge. No cooking or massage required.

These days I go veggie only, adding in beans/lentils/chickpeas and/or cooked grain only iof I feel like it that day, and these make up up less than 25% of the salad by volume. Nuts are good: in addition to walnuts and almonds, you might try sunflower seeds or pepitas.

I wouldn't worry too much about the calories in oil. If you're eating mostly veggies in the salad and relatively few starchy carbs, the overall calories should be fine.

One type of oil you might try is (steady now!) Carlson's lemon-flavoured fish oil.


It's not cheap, but given its health benefits, it's certainly one way to get that supplement into your diet. Audition the oil by getting a small bottle (or begging some off one of your health-nut friends) and trying it on a small bowl of your mixed veggies and stuff before you add your usual dressing. It goes well with lime juice or the vinegar of your choice.
posted by maudlin at 10:21 PM on July 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

I wouldn't worry too much about the calories in oil.

Well, olive oil is very good for you, but I bring it up because olive oil has 120 calories or so per tablespoon, and a lot of people just accidentally overdo it. That adds up fast. Even if you start with just 1 tablespoon, when you add in 1/4 cup of crumbled cheese for 100-150 calories, 50 for a slice of bacon crumbled, 100 for a sprinkle of nuts, and 200 for half a breast of chicken chopped up, and you're in the nieighborhood of 600 calories before adding the veggies. The add-ins and the oils are the most calorie-dense part of the salad, as the veggies have more water and fiber and deliver fewer calories per unit of measure. So it's important to control those so they don't swell out of proportion.

Not that these foods are bad in any way; they really aren't, even the bacon in moderation, and most of them have great nutrient qualities. It's just that if you're trying to lose weight, it's really easy to think "salad=healthy!" without realizing how many calories a salad can add up to when you don't limit the portion sizes. There are a lot of restaurant lunch salads, for instance, that start climbing up in the area of 800 or 900 calories or worse.
posted by Miko at 7:09 AM on July 30, 2011

Olive oil is not "very good for you"'s okay for you. It is less bad than fake oils like corn oil, soybean oil, that sort of thing. Basically what you are looking for in food oil is a replacement for fat. Coconut oil is FANTASTIC for this. Aside from that, real meat fat is brilliantly healthy.
posted by carlh at 12:12 PM on July 30, 2011 [2 favorites]

That's not quite true. Meat fats have some beneficial Omega 3s and 6s but the saturated fats in meat carry their own set of dangers. Monounsaturated fats, like those found in olive oils, are associated with a lot of health positives.

Mayo clinic: If olive oil is high in fat, why is it considered healthy?

Mayo clinic: Dietary Fats: Know Which Types to Choose.
The two main types of potentially harmful dietary fat:
1. Saturated fat. This is a type of fat that comes mainly from animal sources of food. Saturated fat raises total blood cholesterol levels and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels, which can increase your risk of cardiovascular disease. Saturated fat may also increase your risk of type 2 diabetes.
posted by Miko at 12:49 PM on July 30, 2011

Seconding the non-greens salad recommendations above. Some of my favorite salads include little, if any greens. Someone mentioned black beans & corn salad (I usually make it w/ cilantro and bell peppers and maybe some lime.), which is yummy, and filling. Also, quinoa. Quinoa rules for salads.

One that I make all the time, when mangos are in season, is this one from the Veganomicon. It's really tasty, and a batch of it will keep just fine in the refrigerator for several days, making it great for packing in lunches.

That is, unless you have a problem with the same thing for lunch several days in a row.

Anything with grains and/or beans is probably going to pack a higher caloric punch than your typical greens salad, but are generally pretty healthy. If your goal is to simply eat better, they're fine. Maybe pack smaller portions of them if your goal is also to lose weight. Quinoa is filling enough that you won't tend to notice the smaller portion size as much.

One more thing, cookbooks are great, but definitely don't discount food blogs. It may have been MeFi where I discovered Lisa's Vegetarian Kitchen, I can't recall, but there's a regular feature called "No Croutons Required", where she challenges readers to come up with soups or salads based on a given ingredient. That's a wealth of ideas for really delicious sounding salads.
posted by zen_spider at 12:52 PM on July 30, 2011

The saturated/monounsaturated/polyunsaturated fat issue is far from settled, and it makes much more sense from an evolutionary perspective to only limit polyunsaturated fats. I'll not derail here, but Gary Taubes' "Good Calories, Bad Calories" is a great expose on the bad science behind how saturated fats got the bad rap they have, and Mark Sisson or Stephan Guyenet's websites give some sensible eating guidelines.
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 9:48 AM on July 31, 2011

I think you need to give some more thought to your goal. Throughout your post, you ask whether various things are "healthy," and most of the posters have answered that. However, you also ask whether certain things are "fattening," and some people have spoken to that question. They're most definitely not the same question. Dietary fats are necessary to absorb the vitamins and nutrients in vegetables. However, fats are also higher in calories than carbohydrates and proteins. Fats and proteins tend to be more satiating than carbohydrates, so they may keep you feeling full longer. But carbohydrates can provide necessary energy to keep you from feeling sluggish, depending on how your body processes them.

The bottom line is that our current nutritional science is not good enough (and given the variations in human physiology, it may never be precise enough) to declare some foods "healthy" and good to eat and other foods "unhealthy" and not good to eat for everyone under all circumstances. Eat a wide variety of foods. Eat lots of vegetables and other vitamin-rich foods. Eat things that taste good to you. Eat foods that make you feel satisfied and energetic. Eat foods you like. And try not to stress out too much about this. If you're eating a salad with two kinds of lettuce and olive oil and lean protein every day, you're already miles ahead of a lot of people. Have fun with your food!
posted by decathecting at 10:48 AM on July 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm going to agree with everyone above who said that the most important thing is to add real, non-processed foods to your salad. Make sure to avoid added sugar (the cranberries might be sugar-coated). And as others said, fats and protein are absolutely essential in a healthy diet and help keep you full longer, which ends up decreasing how much you feel like you need to eat. Also, lots of raw nuts can be hard on digestion so try not to overdo those.
posted by lachnessmonster at 8:36 PM on August 3, 2011

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