I used to really hate salads and I would avoid them at all costs. As far as I was concerned, salads meant strips of bland iceberg lettuce mixed with a few chopped tomatoes, slices of cucumber and some sort of oil and vinegar dressing. If I had salad with a meal when eating out, I would invariably leave most of it and hide the remnants under my knife and fork. And I just couldn’t understand why people would want to order a salad on its own as a main meal in a restaurant – it just baffled me!
It’s a completely different story nowadays. It’s strange for me to say this, but I really love salads now and eat them a lot, even as a main meal! The great thing about salads is that you can add all sorts of different ingredients, which means you get a variety of tastes, textures and nutrients in one meal, making them healthier and much more satisfying.
Now that I’m trying to keep my cholesterol low, I find eating salads is a really easy way to fit lots of cholesterol-reducing foods into a meal. I’ve tried and tested lots of different salad ingredients that are easy to prepare and that I can just chuck into a bowl with some salad leaves. Here are my favourites:-
1. Sun-dried tomatoes
I’m completely obsessed with sun-dried tomatoes and add them to everything. I love their tangy sweet taste and they’re also a good source of antioxidants, vitamin C and dietary fibre, so they make a great addition to salads.
As they generally come in big jars with sunflower oil, I drain them and chop them up before adding them to my salads, to avoid adding extra unnecessary oil. They are also pretty salty, so it’s best to add just a few at a time.
2. Wild rocket
Rocket is a great addition to salads, as it adds a slight peppery kick. I generally have it with baby spinach leaves as the base of my salads. It is very low in calories, high in antioxidants, vitamin A and vitamin K, and goes really well with the sun-dried tomatoes.
3. Kalamata olives
I love olives, and often have them as a starter in restaurants, although it’s always a bit awkward when you get whole olives and have to take the chewed stones out of your mouth and surreptitiously put them in that little bowl in the middle of the table. So pitted olives are definitely my preferred option! Kalamata are my favourite variety as they have a stronger flavour than the other ones, and I love their deep purplish colour.
Not only are they delicious, but Kalamata olives are rich in monounsaturated fats, which can help lower your bad cholesterol (LDL). Beware though, they are high in sodium, so don’t eat too many in one go.
4. Soya (Edamame) beans
Research has shown that soya beans can help lower bad cholesterol (LDL), and they are also rich in protein, calcium and magnesium. You can either buy Edamame beans in shells, like you get in sushi restaurants, or buy the soya beans already de-shelled (usually in the freezer department of big supermarkets).
I always have a bag of soya beans in my freezer, so that I can cook a small amount in the microwave whenever I need them. I love their bright green colour, and they contrast really well with the bright red sun-dried tomatoes and purple Kalamata olives.
5. Toasted seeds
Seeds are packed with dietary fibre and healthy fats, which can help to lower cholesterol. They are also a good source of protein and full of all sorts of other nutrients, so they’re a great addition to salads. Toast them with soy sauce for a delicious, crunchy salad topping.
6. Chilli flakes
I always sprinkle chilli flakes on salads to give them a bit of a kick. Not only do chilli flakes liven up meals (and unblock stuffed noses!) but apparently eating them speeds up your metabolism, which is a great added bonus.
Houmous is a great alternative to mayonnaise in salads as it contains chickpeas and garlic, both of which help to lower cholesterol. I always have a pot in my fridge or, if I have time, I make my own houmous and add flaxseeds, which increases its cholesterol-reducing powers even more.
8. Basil infused olive oil
This truly is the ultimate salad dressing! It’s inexpensive (you can buy it from most supermarkets), so easy, delicious and really healthy. Olive oil is lower in saturated fat than other creamy salad dressings, such as mayonnaise, and is rich in monounsaturated fatty acids, making it a great cholesterol-friendly option. I love that you can just drizzle it over your salad and that’s it – no measuring, mixing, whisking or any preparation needed.
For more cholesterol-friendly recipes and tips on how to reduce cholesterol naturally, click here.