The Daily Beet

31 Jan Guest Q&A with Lani! Thinking outside the salad bowl.

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This is a perfect follow up to our challenge last week!

Thinking outside the salad bowl:  Q & A with Lani Muelrath

If you’ve jumped into a plant-based food plan with both feet, you already get it that it’s all about the food. All about the plants. The place from which all phytonutrition and color come to build that healthy, beautiful body.

Yet there’s usually some point of pause when it comes to salads, now that you are not only plant-based but aso of a healthy, whole-foods and low-fat frame of mind. Now you’ve not only jumped in with both feet, we’re talking both hands too. Those days when ‘salad’ meant raw veggies tossed with oil and grated cheese are fading into the fatter-days past.

Perhaps Mary Jo’s letter has a familiar ring:

Mary Jo Leach asks:

Hi Lani,

I am rather new at all this and I accidentally ran across your blog. Sounds like something that will help me along. I have many questions. My first question would be, “How do I make a salad dressing that me and my husband would like?” Sadly I am used to sweet, french style dressings, and my husband likes ranch or blue cheese. Neither of us like vinegar taste. We are trying to keep it plant based, dairy free, salt free, sugar free and fat free. You can see we do not have many choices. Can you help us?

Lani’s reply: Hey Mary Jo, thanks for bringing this up as it is not an uncommon question – how to get creative with salads now that you are going to be ditching the old toppings that can create a salad that actually ends up being an unhealthy affair. At the highest calorie dense edible around, vegetable oil weighs in at 4,000 calories a lb – that’s over 100 for every tablespoon with essentially nothing to show for itself but a load of fuel that is easily destined for storage. Remember, the fat you eat is the fat you’ll wear.

I’m not going to kid you,when we’re used to those creamy dressings let’s face it, there’s going to be some re-alimentation to do. That means a changing of your tastes. Trust me, a little time spent on this shift and before long heavy dressings and oily toppings just seem like – well, heavy oil additions. The trick is finding transitions while at the same time having a pro-active mindset about creating lighter tastes. Previously, your admitted preferences were for a serving of rich dressing that created a tasty backdrop for your salad veggies. With a little creativity and patience, this will change.

It helps to keep in mind that a salad without all the oil and extra fat of creamy dressings will make a huge difference in your health and body-shaping plans. And before long the old heavy dressings such as ranch and French will lose their pull and your salads will leave you feeling a whole-lot better. Going into it with the intention of healthy purpose will help.

1) Add more flavorful crunch: If your salads have been largely greens with other vegetables tossed in, rethink the base to something more colorful. Shredded green and purple cabbage, carrots, chopped colorful sweet peppers, and jicama make great salad bases.

This is actually my new favorite go-to salad and you can see a picture of a recent salad lunch at my house here:  Today’s lunch, color and crunch. I use a food processor to grate the veggies which allows you to make a pile of crunchy salad in a snap. Add in finely chopped parsley, cilantro, spinach, or even kale – just make it tiny enough to mix in as some great color. Sometimes I’ll add sprouted sunflower seeds too. Toss in some garbanzo beans. And here’s the honest truth: A salad like this only needs a squirt of lime juice to make it absolutely divine. And if you are including a few nuts or seeds in your diet, sprinkling on even a teaspoon of raw or roasted sunflower seends creates amazing flavor.

2) Investigate simple ‘dressing’ solutions: There are some great low-fat, no oil dressings out there yet to be honest, I never seem to like to make the time to prepare these in advance. Admittedly my own shortcoming. Yet if you’re like me and want great flavor without a big time investment, and you find that just lime juice is not sweet enough for you, here are some other great ideas:

  • Soak some dates overnight and mash them into lime juice to make a creamy, sweet dressing. When ‘sweet’ sounds best I’ll do that for the salad I described above. This may be all you need to offset the ‘vinegar taste’ that you refer to.
  • Balsamic or brown rice vinegar can be sweetened in the same fashion. Sometimes it comes flavored distinctly sweet. A few weeks ago we were visiting a winery and they had balsamic vinegar sweetened with fig juice concentrate. This goes perfectly on greens.
  • Greens tossed in a flavored vinegar and a sprinkle of nutritional yeast to boost a savory flavor.

These are quick, easy, and fat-free.

3) Take a look at Healthy Girl’s article right here on Engine 2 with a whole garden full of simple salad ideas: How Healthy Girl Makes a Salad and Makes Salad Making Easier.

Thinking outside the salad bowl.

Literally. Often while prepping the lunch soup, sandwich, wrap or veggie burger, I’ll yank some veggies out of the fridge. By the time everything is officially ready to serve for lunch, I’ll have noshed on at least 2 big carrots, 1/4 of a head of cabbage, and few chunks of sweet bell pepper or sugar snap peas. There’s a salad. It just didn’t look like one. Salad doesn’t have to mean all prepped up and pretty in a bowl.

Thanks Lani! Do you have a question for Lani? Please leave a comment below.

Thanks again Lani!

If you’d like to see some of Lani’s work and check out her great fitness programs, check out her website: http://lanimuelrath.com/

Lani Muelrath is a plant-strong fitness expert! Lani is the creator of The Body Transformation Formula and Fit Quickies™ 5 Minute Workouts. She has a Master’s Degree in Physical Education and over 30 years of experience as a teacher, coach, and trainer. She has received awards for her instruction, created and starred in her own CBS TV Show, and her expertise in the area of health and fitness is called upon by examiner.com, as Fitness Expert for Dr. John McDougall’s Health and Medical Center, coach, Dr. Neal Barnard’s 21-Day Kickstart program, and Health and Fitness Lifestyle Expert for Vegan Mainstream.com. She is Certified in Plant-Based Nutrition through Cornell University.

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Engine 2 Team
Engine 2 Team

The Engine 2 Team is dedicated to helping you become plant-strong! Each of us are on the plant-strong journey right along side of you!

  • Laura Liston
    Posted at 18:21h, 01 February

    I’ve found that the BEST salad dressings come in their own container… I simply tuck 1/2 of a lime or 1/3-1/4 of a lemon in my salad container in the morning, then right before I eat, I squeeze the heck out of it all over the salad. It gives such an amazing, bright, fresh flavor!!

    • Lani Muelrath, Plant-based health & fitness
      Posted at 05:51h, 02 February

      Laura, you underscore a biggie with your idea – the more we invite natural flavors to our buds the more we enjoy the natural flavor – it just bursts out. I appreciate that you posted this simple yet elegant idea ♥

    • Happy Herbivore
      Posted at 12:40h, 02 February

      I do this too, fresh lime juice, squeezed right before eating is wonderful

  • Diane
    Posted at 19:56h, 01 February

    I have a question. I don’t like salads and I know that drinking smoothies is bad, especially because I’m a diabetic. But will I lose out on a lot if I don’t eat salad and just eat steamed vegetebles and cooked vegetables?

  • Lani Muelrath, Plant-based health & fitness
    Posted at 09:52h, 02 February

    Hi Diane, there are no vegetables that you like raw? As you can see from my article, ‘salad’ doesn’t have to look like the conventional chopped-into-a-bowl. Do you like raw sugar snap pease? Carrot sticks? Jicama? Celery? Radishes? Sweet peppers? Chunks of cabbage? The list is endless. If you have a few hunks or chunks like this a day, even noshing as you are prepping your gorgeous steamed veggies, you’ll get the best of both worlds and won’t miss out on a thing. Howz’ that sound?

  • Melissa
    Posted at 10:06h, 02 February

    Hi Lani,
    This might not be the place to post, but I wanted to thank you for your smoothie article. I was going to post on Facebook but I didn’t want the lynch mob coming for me! I couldn’t believe how angry people were at Lindsay Nixon or Dr. Esselstyn for their opinions!! Back to my story, I am a newly diagnosed T2 diabetic and I am overweight. I started eating a plant based diet, mostly McDougall (LOVE HIM!) anyway so there is a plant-based dietitian who was talking about the benefits of drinking green smoothies as well as another online personality saying that juicing was good. Well long story short (HA) I started drinking smoothies and doing some juicing. Well one day I was not feeling well, and checked my blood sugar and it was 400!!!!! I had to go to the doctor and when he asked me what I was eating I told him a plant-based diet, so he told me that I needed to stop that right away and go back to eating lean meats and higher protein. So I did that, and things were not getting much better and oh I forgot to mention, I had gained weight.

    It didn’t occur to me ONCE that maybe it was the smoothies and juices that caused the problem to begin with, until I was reading somewhere on FB that Engine 2 didn’t think they were the best idea, and then I read your post about it and it clicked! Maybe I had added the wrong food!

    So back to my McDougall style diet and being better about checking my blood sugar, and guess what? My blood sugar is now normal, and I am losing weight again.

    I guess what I learned is that MORE of something is not always better if you mash it all up and put it in a blender.

    I’m glad I found Rip and your blog as well! It’s nice to have another perspective in a crazy world. I’m also glad I’m back to the plant-strong life!!


    • Happy Herbivore
      Posted at 12:39h, 02 February


      • Melissa
        Posted at 14:16h, 02 February

        Thanks Lindsay! I’m just in shock that people said anything bad in those comments , it was totally uncaled for, all you did was state your opinion, and instead people responded like you told them to sell their first born! haha.

    • Lani Muelrath, Plant-based health & fitness
      Posted at 18:39h, 03 February

      Hey Melissa,

      Thanks so much and it’s perfectly appropriate for you to share your thoughts about my smoothie article right here. I am thrilled that you are making such inroads in your health and am pleased to be a part of it.

      I love your post and it underscores exactly the whole point of my article. I never said smoothies were ‘bad’ or that ‘no one should ever have smoothies”. My point was that if you are working on optimizing your body composition and need to lose weight, then slamming back smoothies on a regular basis, which you may have been doing (as you so generously share in your report) then this may be slowing you down or actually causing you some problems.

      I can’t tell you how many emails, comments on my blog and facebook came streaming in thankful for the information in that post.


      I’m referring to the studies reporting satiety based on the apple vs. sauce vs. juice vs. juice with fiber added back in. These bits of information can be very helpful, as you have reflected.

      In only a couple of instances did I need to point out to readers that I was simply reporting important information to help out with health and weight loss. One of the foundations of my reputation is myth-busting and telling the truth when we might not want to hear it. And I always say, I’m not telling you what to do, I’m reporting some information to you, freely giving advisory, and you must make your own decisions for your own health. I am glad to see you too are a fan of Dr. McDougall and I am deeply honored to be working with the good doc in the Health and Medical Center.

      Evidently I missed the big kerfuffle that I am hearing now referred to, yet apparently many of those posts or conversations have been taken down, so there is no way that I can enter them or comment. Though insults and defamatory language are not acceptable, healthy discourse and disagreement can be very helpful to us in making decisions and keeping us true.

      Looking forward to more reports on your improving health and happiness, Melissa!

  • VegChick
    Posted at 10:14h, 02 February

    OMG MELISSA!! ME TOO! I didn’t want to say anything because people went crazy the other day! But I agree! Every time add them I gain weight, I haven’t understood why and finally figured out it was because I was adding calories and stuff by drinking them.

    • Lani Muelrath, Plant-based health & fitness
      Posted at 18:45h, 03 February

      Hi VegChick,

      Gee, was everyone in on this wild exchange but me? I started writing my smoothie article in October and it needed to back seat to several other writing projects, which put it to publish mid January. Next time don’t be shy, OK? Come on by, you can even drop me an email or pm if you like.


  • Happy Herbivore
    Posted at 12:39h, 02 February

    Thank you both for being brave enough to share your stories!

  • Jen
    Posted at 14:15h, 02 February

    Really liked the salad post Lani. I had to comment on the smoothie thing as well! I could not believe how out of hand that got! I really don’t get that HH or Dr. Esselstyn said anything crazy, just they don’t recommend them. Who cares? I’m in the same boat though, I thought I’d “cheat” and get my greens in by drinking them, and I started to gain weight. I took them out, started to lose weight again. I also wasn’t going to say anything because there were crazy people saying some awful things, over such a stupid thing! I un-fanned 2 popular authors yesterday because I thought they were just adding to the nonsense, their true colors really came out, so I guess that Iam glad I learned that now about them, I don’t want to support people who get angry like that!

  • Lani Muelrath, Plant-based health & fitness
    Posted at 08:01h, 03 February

    Hey Everyone, I’m traveling and internet went out for 24 hours only to pop up for a few minutes right before we head out for the day! I want everyone to know I just got in here and saw your posts and will respond to everything when we get back – as long as the airwaves cooperate! If there is more delay, at least you know why.

    thank you for your patience!


  • Sarah
    Posted at 14:54h, 04 February

    I am just coming into the plant-based information. I’m actually a nutritionist, and I’m very interested in learning about all of this. I appreciate your blog Lani!
    Just a note, I also saw the smoothie nonsense on Happy Herbivore and as a nutritionist I just would like to say I would never recommend my patients drink their food, in fact with my older patients it is very important that they chew their food! I thought this was nutrition 101. The only time we recommend drinking food is when someone physically can not chew their food! I also didn’t comment, because I thought I’d be chewed out (PUN INTENDED!) HA!

    • Lani Muelrath, Plant-based health & fitness
      Posted at 18:19h, 04 February

      Sarah, what a perfectly clear explanation and thanks for your contribution. I also mentioned about ‘for medicinal purposes’ on the blended greens – certainly a godsend if there is no other way to get
      ‘chewed’ nutrition in.

      Now, where were you afraid to comment? I’m still not up to speed on all the controversy. Your comment would have been perfectly complimentary to the information on smoothie post. Go figure!

      Thanks for your kind words as well!

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