How to: Make DIY Salad Dressing

Long gone are the days of hearty soups, stews, and roasted root vegetables that kept our souls warm and our bellies nourished all winter long.  Spring and Summer mark a time to celebrate fresh, light, and vibrant vegetables. That's right, it’s salad season!

While salads are probably one of the healthiest meals of all, how we dress our salad can totally make or break our healthiest intentions.  In fact, store bought dressings can oftentimes be what I call the “undo” button, capable of completely sabotaging what could have been a delicious and nourishing meal. 

Don’t believe me?  Head to your fridge or pantry, pick up a store-bought dressing and take a glance at the list of ingredients.  More times than not, you will find a long list of highly processed ingredients, including sneaky sugar, excess sodium, and highly refined oils, along with an assortment of artificial additives and preservatives.  

So, how do we dress our salads for success?  You can start by learning what to look for when reading the nutrition label of store-bought salad dressing, which I explained in detail here.  And while there are a few good products currently on the market, such as Tessemae's All Natural Dressings, the truth is, you’re better off making your own.  DIY Dressing is a no brain-er - it’s healthier, more affordable, and puts you back in the driver’s seat.

The idea of making your own salad dressing may feel intimidating, but after a little practice, it becomes second nature.  To make it extra simple, here’s a step-by-step guide to DIY salad dressings.

DIY DRESSING: A Step-by-Step Guide

When it comes to making a salad dressing, I follow a simple acronym: FASSS — Fat, Acid, Seasoning, Salt & Sweet.  FASSS represents the 5 key components of a delicious and nutrient-rich salad dressing, with no recipe required! Let’s break it down:

Fat

Fat serves many purposes!  It brings a creamy texture to your salad dressing and serves as an emulsifier that holds all the other ingredients together.  Fat also acts as a chauffeur for your salad’s nutrients.  Did you know that many of our nutrients are “fat soluble”? That means they need fat to help transport them from our GI tract to our cells.  Without fat, our nutrients never reach our cells and we lose out on reaping their health benefits. This is why fat-free salad dressings are actually counterproductive. Try one of these high-quality fats: Olive oil, flax oil, nut and seed butters like tahini or almond butter, organic yogurt, hummus, or a mashed up avocado.

Acid

Acid brightens up your salad dressing, bringing a nice tang to every bite. Think: vinegars and citrus fruits.  There are so many different vinegars to explore: red wine, white wine, apple cider, sherry, balsamic, white balsamic, rice vinegar - each of these has a unique flavor.  You can also use lemons, limes, oranges, and grapefruits .

Seasonings

Here’s where you get to add some personality to your dressing.  Add garlic, some minced onions, scallions, or shallots, or mix it up with ginger or different herbs and spices.  Think of what kind of flavor profile you’re craving — whether it’s Asian, Mexican, Italian, Mediterranean — and let that direct you towards seasoning combinations commonly used in these areas of the world.  For example, if you’re going for an Asian-style dressing, you’ll probably add some grated ginger and garlic and perhaps some cilantro or fresh mint and toasted sesame oil.  Pro Tip: Use Chef Chad Sarno’s Herb & Spice Chart as a guide to creating flavor combination from around the globe!

Salt

In cooking, we add salt to bring out the flavor of the other ingredients, not to mask the ingredients.  Add a pinch of sea salt, or a splash of tamari, or whisk in a little bit of miso paste.  Chopped or pureed olives or capers are also a fun way to add a briney, salty bite.

Sweet

 A touch of sweetness helps round out the ingredients in a dressing, sauce, or dish.  I generally encourage tasting your dressing before sweetening -  you may find it tastes great as is!  If you do find a need for a sweetener, it’s best to choose something that also delivers nutrients.  Think: Fruits — fresh, frozen, dried, or pureed — or a splash of 100% fruit juice.  You can even add grated or pureed veggies that tend to have a natural sweetness, like sweet potatoes, beets, carrots, or roasted garlic, sun-dried tomatoes, and caramelized onions.  A teaspoon of honey or pure maple syrup is also a great option.  Whatever you choose, be mindful and sweeten sparingly.  This is a case of “less is more.”

Here's an example of the FASSS method...

Everyday Lemon Dijon Vinaigrette

I make this at the beginning of every week so that it’s in the fridge ready to go.  It’s super simple to make, and incredibly versatile - I love it on salads, roasted veggies, fish, chicken - you name it.  Here’s the FASSS breakdown:

  • Fat: Olive Oil
  • Acid: Lemon Juice (and zest) + Vinegar (switch it up: red wine, apple cider, or champagne work great)
  • Seasonings: garlic + Dijon mustard + herbs + cracked black pepper
  • Salt: pinch of Sea Salt
  • Sweet: Do you need it? The lemon juice usually does the job for me! If not, add a tsp of honey or maple syrup.

Practical Tips for DIY Dressings

  • Ratios: Traditional salad dressings are usually one part vinegar to three parts oil, but feel free to play around and discover your personal preference.  I tend to enjoy tangy dressings, so I use a higher acid to oil ratio.  Others may prefer more subtle notes of acidity, so using a higher fat ratio, or even simply adding some water, can help dilute or mute the acidity in a dressing.  
  • Re-purpose Jars:  Save glass bottles from store-bought dressings, pickles, condiments, etc.  These make for a great container for your homemade dressings as they can be securely sealed and are conveniently portable so that you can take your DIY dressing to-go for salads at work.  Since I use Dijon mustard in most of my dressings, I love using a nearly-empty Dijon mustard jar.  I simply add all the ingredients, give it a shake, and store it in the fridge for the week. 
  • Make one or two dressings each week: I recommend preparing one basic dressing, like the lemon Dijon vinaigrette, and one new, “fun” dressing each week.  That way you always have a flavorful dressing at the ready to use for your veggies all week long.  Plus, if you follow this formula, you will have mastered four DIY dressing recipes by the end of each month!
  • Reverse-engineer your favorite store-bought dressing: Consider using your favorite bottled salad dressing for inspiration - what flavors and textures does it offer?  Check out the ingredient list and cross out or omit all of the non-real food ingredients.  The ingredients that remain represent a list of real food ingredients that you can use as a great starting point for a DIY recipe.  Now categorize the ingredients into each of the FASSS categories, and fill in the gaps as needed!
  • Beyond Salads: Your DIY dressings are great for salads, but they also work well as marinades or finishing sauces for proteins, roasted veggies, and Buddha bowls.  So if you aren’t a salad lover, learning a few DIY dressing recipes to keep in your back pocket will still be worth the investment.

The Challenge

Now take what you learned and put it into practice.  Here’s your homework assignment for the week:

  1. Save an old glass condiment container, or buy a case of mason jars.
  2. Pick a dressing to try (I’ve included a few of my favorite combinations below for your to experiment with, or try hacking your favorite store bought dressing)
  3. Jot down the FASSS ingredients you plan to use
  4. Add them to the mason jar, give it a shake.  Store it in the fridge for up to a week.
  5. Report back - I want to hear, how did it go for you?  Leave comments below.
FASSS is inspired by and adapted from culinary educator and founder of Healing Kitchens, Rebecca Katz.

Green Tahini Sauce

Green Tahini Sauce

  • 1/2 cup Tahini
  • 1 lemon (juice + zest)
  • 3 Tbs of vinegar (apple cider, red wine, white wine all work well)
  • 1 Tbsp cumin
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 2 handfuls of fresh cilantro and parsley
  • cold water (as needed) 
  • salt

Throw all of the ingredients into a food processor and puree until smooth.  The tahini will "seize" (turn into a super thick paste).  Begin to add small amounts of cold water (1 Tbs at a time) and continue to pulse until sauce "relaxes" and reaches desired consistency.  Store in the fridge for up to a week.  Drizzle over salads, roasted veggies, seafood, chicken, or my personal favorite, use as a dipping sauce for Sweet Potato Falafel!

Sweet Potato Falafel

Sweet Potato Falafel

This falafel recipe is a winner in so many ways.  Receiving a healthy upgrade to the traditionally fried chickpea cakes, this falafel is baked in the oven, avoiding the messy kitchen and processed oils that normally come with frying. This recipe uses sweet potatoes to marry the typical flavors you normally see in traditional falafel, while adding a subtle sweetness that takes it to a whole new level.  Bonus:  these little nuggets are amazingly freezer-friendly, and thaw in a flash - so consider making a double batch - you won't regret it!

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Basil-Pesto Farro

Basil-Pesto Farro

In this recipe, my all-time favorite whole grain (hello farro!) gets all dressed up in a delicious DIY Basil Pesto (psst... it's dairy-free!!) along with blistered cherry tomatoes, crispy kale, crunchy celery, and toasted walnuts (all.the.textures).  The best part?  It's super tasty served warm for dinner, but can also be enjoyed chilled or at room temperature - just like a pasta salad (which means leftovers are perfect for a packed lunch!)   Be sure to include this dish in your lineup for the week, as it's one of those MVP recipes: cook once, eat twice. 

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DIY Basil Pesto

Pesto makes everything better (am.i.right?)  But here's the deal: Jarred pesto is almost always a load of C.R.A.P.  Take a look at the ingredient list, and you'll often find highly processed, nutrient deplete oils (i.e. sunflower oil, soybean oil), and an interesting collection of preservatives.  The good news is, DIY pesto is crazy easy to make, and actually tastes wayyyy better than store-bought wannabes (like, not even in the same ballpark).  Plus, by making your own, that puts you back in the driver's seat and in control of your health and what goes into your body.

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Investigating Intermittent Fasting

In a world of information overload, we are constantly inundated with nutrition advice coming from all directions, most of which is conflicting, confusing, and contradicting.  As a registered dietitian, it’s up to me to weed through the hype, dig up the research, and uncover the truth.  In fact, I often joke that my title, RD, has a dual meaning: “registered dietitian” and, “registered detective”.

Today’s nutrition investigation is on Intermittent Fasting.  Gaining popularity thanks to celebrities likes Hugh Jackman, Jimmy Kimmel, Jennifer Lopez, and the Queen Bey, it’s time to set the story straight: Is Intermittent Fasting (IF) a safe and effective health intervention, or just another fleeting fad?  Read on to discover the hard and fast truth behind IF.

Types of Fasting

Fasting regimes come in all shapes and sizes...

  • Alternate Day Fasting (ADF) - Alternates between eating days, where food is consumed as usual, and fasting days, where no calorie-containing foods or beverages are consumed,

  • Modified Fasting (MF):  Limits caloric intake to 25% of daily requirements (~500 calories/day) for 2 nonconsecutive days a week, and ad libitum eating the remaining 5 days of the week (ad libitum = “as you please”)

  • Time Restricted Fasting (TRF): No limits on daily calorie intake, but rather time limitations are placed on meals.  Typically, ad libitum eating occurs during an 8 hour window, and fasting occurs during the surrounding 16 hours of the day.

The Theories Behind IF

The concept of intermittent fasting was sparked by an assortment of theories.  Some propose that long bouts of fasting more closely resemble the eating patterns of our fellow mammalian species as well as the typical meal frequency of our human ancestors during hunting and gathering eras.  Others argue that time-restricted feeding helps synchronize our eating patterns with our biological circadian rhythm, so that oscillations in behavior, physiology, sleep, and metabolism are all synchronized in harmony.  Longevity researchers suggest extreme calorie restriction and IF serve as mild acute stressors, or “fire drills”, conditioning the body to grow stronger and more resilient in anticipation for future stressors.  These advantageous adaptations are hypothesized to boost disease resistance and promote longevity.  Another theory is that IF creates ketosis, a state in which the body has fully exhausted its carbohydrate sources, and is forced to use fat as fuel.  Some research suggests that ketosis improves cognitive function, increases insulin sensitivity, inhibits cancerous cell growth, and reduces inflammatory markers linked to chronic disease.  

While proponents of IF tout its ability to support weight loss, reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer's, and cancer, and potentially prolong life, it’s important to take an objective look at the research before you go starving yourself.

The Evidence

Though limited, there are in fact scientific studies that support the above theories.  The critical question becomes, how strong is the evidence?  The answer: pretty weak.  Here’s why…

  • Animal studies - The majority of research on IF is based on animal studies, specifically rodents like mice and rats.  While animal studies can provide important scientific insight, unfortunately, the science does not always translate to humans; mainly due to the drastic fundamental differences in anatomy, biology, physiology in humans versus rodents.  Extrapolating scientific findings from animal research to humans is the epitome of making an apples to orange comparison.

  • Human studies - There a handful of IF human studies, however, this research has several shortcomings.  Of the limited human research that does exist, the results are inconsistent: some studies link IF to weight loss but show no effect on the risk of chronic disease, and vice versa. Small sample sizes, short study durations, and poorly constructed methodology significantly weaken the results derived from human research. Because the existing human studies are so short in duration, it’s nearly impossible to determine whether the potential benefits of IF are temporary or lifelong, and conversely, whether there are any long-term risks associated with IF.  

  • Future Studies - In order to draw a definitive conclusion about IF, additional human research is required, using larger sample sizes, better research practices, and a longer duration of data collection.  The research methodology also needs to be designed in a manner that specifically isolates “fasting” as the experimental variable, and accounts for all confounding variables.  It’s still unclear whether the weight loss observed using IF in preliminary studies is specifically due to time restricted feeding, or if it’s an indirect result of the caloric restriction that naturally accompanies IF.  Finally, more research is needed to tease apart the three types of IF in order to determine the optimal frequency and timing of meals, as well as identify the safest and most effective regime.  

The Cross Examination

The case for Intermittent Fasting was analyzed from all angles.  Here are the pro’s and con’s to consider..

The Con’s of IF

  • Skipping Meals - Fasting requires skipping meals, which can induce hypoglycemia, ketogenesis, brain fog, fatigue, mood swings, hunger, and a slowed metabolism.   

  • Dysfunctional Eating -  Extreme restriction during fasting promotes mindless and uncontrollable binge eating on feeding days, creating an unhealthy “all or nothing”, yo-yo approach to eating.

  • Quantity over Quality -  With so much focus on meal timing, IF tends to lose sight of what’s most important: the quality of your food.  The emphasis becomes more about when you eat rather than what you eat.

  • Calorie Restriction in Disguise - Fasting involves significant calorie restriction which is associated with slower metabolism, malnutrition, disordered eating, and unsustainable weight loss followed by a significant relapse of weight gain.

  • Impractical, & Practically Impossible - IF requires resisting human nature and ignoring our instinct to eat in response to hunger, to gain energy, to be social, and to thrive. Following an IF regime for a lifetime is not only unenjoyable and illogical, it’s completely unrealistic.  A true health solution is one that yields lasting results in a practical, reasonable, and realistic manner.  

  • A Flawed Definition of “Health” -  IF’s claim to fame is its ability to support weight loss, reduce risk of chronic disease, and boost longevity.  But since when is the definition of health merely the absence of disease, or a number on the scale, or the length of your life?  True health isn’t about body weight, it’s about nourishing your body with an abundance of nutrients that empowers you to shine.  It’s not just about the absence of disease, but about optimizing well-being.  It’s not just about living a long life, but living a vibrant, rich, and fulfilling life.  Undernutrition, deprivation, and starvation, will never be a formula that cultivates true health.

The Pro’s of IF

On a more positive note, there is a valuable lesson to learn from Intermittent Fasting, and that’s the relationship between food and time.  Today, eating has become a ‘round-the-clock activity, snacking our way from one meal to the next.  A better understanding of how your food choices, meal timing, and eating frequency interact can help guide you towards a healthier, more personalized eating pattern.  Here’s how:

  • Food Stamina - Pay attention to the composition of your meals, and note which foods provide long staying power versus which foods provide quick bursts of energy followed by abrupt crashes.

  • Pace Yourself - Everyone is different.  One person may function better on three square meals/day, while another may benefit from 4-6 smaller meals.  Get to know the ideal meal structure that supports your personal digestive pace

  • Sneaky Hours -  Keep track of not just when you eat, but why you are eating.  You’ll be surprised to find that you tend to repeatedly snack out of boredom or emotion during certain times of the day (mostly mid to late afternoon, and in the evening).  Anticipate these hours of the day by arming yourself with non-edible antidotes for boredom or stress, such as calling a friend, or going for a walk.  

  • Eating Curfew - Most of our late night eating involves mindlessly munching on nutrient deplete nonsense, completely out of boredom or fatigue.  Take a play out of the IF playbook and aim to cap all food intake at least 2 hours before bed.

  • Get into a groove - Once you identify your ideal meal timing and frequency, form a daily routine that follows this eating pattern. Then repeat, repeat, repeat.  The structure and consistency not only make healthy living easier, but it’s also the key to lifelong maintenance.  

The Final Verdict

When it comes to IF, the jury is still out.  But rather than wait around for stronger and more conclusive evidence, take advantage of the strategies already proven to optimize health and well-being: Eat real food. Sleep. Hydrate. Move. Relax. And, be mindful.  Not only is this formula logical, practical and enjoyable, it’s also effective and science-backed.  Case closed!
 

http://www.andjrnl.org/article/S2212-2672(15)00205-1/fulltext
http://translational-medicine.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12967-016-1044-0
http://www.fasebj.org/content/29/1_Supplement/117.4.short
http://www.cell.com/cell-metabolism/pdf/S1550-4131(15)00224-7.pdf


What are your thoughts on IF?  Have you tried it?  What type of fasting schedule did you follow?  How did it go?  What did you learn about yourself?  I want to hear from you!  Don't be shy, click "comment" and share your story :)

Broccoli Steaks, Mushrooms & Roasted Chickpeas with Lemon Garlic Aioli

Broccoli Steaks, Mushrooms & Roasted Chickpeas with Lemon Garlic Aioli

I love "butchering" produce into cross sections - this cut truly captures the beautiful artistic shapes of our food.  Here, a crown of broccoli is cut into 1/3" cross sections and roasted until crispy and somewhat charred - just like a steak.  Paired with earth mushrooms to bring some meaty umami flavor, and topped with crispy chickpeas for a crunchy bite, and finished with a drool-worthy lemon garlic aioli.  Get ready to experience broccoli like you've never experienced before. 

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Lentils may appear small, but they are a seriously strong and mighty nutritional powerhouse.  Just 1 cup of cooked lentils contains 18 grams of protein (that's about 1/3 of your daily requirement), 17 grams of fiber (about 50% of your daily requirement), and 8 mg of iron (nearly 80% of your daily requirement).  Not to mention, lentils are incredibly affordable compared to your typical animal proteins.  Stock up on this pantry staple and your wallet and waistline will thank you!

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I love making a big batch of hard boiled eggs at the beginning of the week.  I keep a few in the fridge to have on hand for a grab-n-go protein-rich snack and use the remaining for this quick and easy egg salad recipe.  Serve it over a bed of greens, spread it on a piece of whole grain toast or a brown rice cake, or serve it as a dip with veggies and whole grain crackers - delish!

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