Thoughts on the Psychology of Eating Salads

November 16, 2009 in Diabetes Management, Psychology of Food by Victor Bunderson

OK, I didn’t like eating salads at the time I was diagnosed with diabetes.  The main reason was time – it takes a long time to crunch through a large bowl of salad.  My Dad had health magazines around the house when I was growing up, and I saw pictures of a vibrantly healthy 80-plus year old guy sitting down to a HUGE bowl of attractive salad – lots of colored vegetables as well as good lettuce -- with the most enthusiastic expression of delighted anticipation on his face.  That expression says that it is possible to really enjoy eating salad, and for some reason that picture is still stuck in my memory, even though I rejected it at the time.

The idea of enjoyment in eating salad still sticks with me, because it rang of truth then, and now I know of extensive research that confirms it.  A lot of this has been cited in Dr. Grandma's newsletters and blog posts. Eating lots of vegetables has incredible benefits to healthy living.  Not the least of these is it fills you up with real nutrients your body needs, and permits you to keep your portion sizes small for calorie dense foods like fats, meats, refined four products, and empty-calorie sweets.  The extensive fiber also does wonders for digestive problems of advancing age, whether it be hemorrhoids, diverticulitis, or constipation.

So, for those with a strong mind, the intellectual pleasure of knowing it is good for you, and the experiential pleasure of enjoying the digestive and feeling-good benefits later can outweigh the toil of fixing it and eating it. This is NOT ENOUGH! If we do not receive enough enjoyment out of a meal, we will be reluctant to repeat it another time.  Good Heath not only can be yummy, but it must be, if we are going to eat that meal again and again. So how can we reprogram our taste and time habits to enjoy salads?

Understanding our habits and tastes. As a skinny kid, and up until some dental work in my 20’s, my teeth had a bad occlusion.  They came together and kind of locked in, so grinding was poor.  This made crunching through a salad even more time consuming.  I was not so interested in food for most of my life.  One had to eat to live, so get it over with and get on with something more interesting.  Salads tasted ok to me, but they took sooo long! Some people are better described as living to eat.  I guess if you are more toward being one of those, your problem with salads might be that you really love the tastes of meat, cheese, and rich, fatty dressings.  Adding these foods into salads makes them easier to sell and easier to eat for those who love them. This is especially true if the same live-to-eat people are also so-so (or downright anti) toward vegetables. But adding the meats and fatty foods to the salads greatly compromises their value in managing weight, diabetes or cardiovascular health.

Clearing the palette. The wonderful discovery came a matter of weeks after I launched into the diabetic diet under the guidance of Dr. Grandma.  We pretty well replaced all refined white flour products with interestingly and tastefully prepared whole wheat products.  We pretty well got rid of refined sugar and replaced it with the sugars in whole fruits, with Spenda, (later replaced by Doctor Grandma’s Delight all-natural sweetener).  What happened is that my taste buds came alive.  This is one important way to make your palette come to life.  Now I could taste the myriad of tastes in those salads.  Instead of fatty dressing she would use avocado, hummus, yogurt with crumbles of blue cheese in it, or other dressings.  We do sometimes use commercially prepared dressings, especially the low fat ones, but off on the side, where you can just dip a fork in it and get the taste with a minimum amount of calories.  We do not pour it all over the salad.

The combination of the taste buds coming out of “sugar shock” and the visual and taste combinations of Dr. Grandma’s salads has made her salads and carefully selected “eating out” salads really enjoyable to me.  Sweets and sugar now have a kind of “burning” shock associated with them when tasted.  They really are strong and concentrated.  My experience with replacing them with healthier alternatives has been a greater sensitivity to tastes that were once too subtle to notice.  The composition of these visually and taste-interesting salads is full of taste adventures now.  It still takes more time to eat a salad that many other foods, but it can be enjoyable to eat together with family and friends, and not just stuff oneself with no social interaction, in an eagerness to run off to the next appointment or task. Don’t forget:  this social, relaxing, and enjoyment function is part of the idea of the American Mediterranean diet idea we espouse.

The 90’s were billed as the “decade of the brain.”  I like to keep up on brain research, and it has evolved remarkably from the ideas I learned in school about neural pathways being fixed, and that brains cannot be changed once damaged or “locked in.”  It is clear now that The Brain That Changes Itself new pathways of neural connections can be built and exercised, even at older ages, until new circuits can substitute for the older habitually used circuits.  We can reprogram our brains, and in so doing acquire tastes for meals that are both intelligent to thinking people, and delightfully yummy.

The first picture below is today's salad.  Red peppers are a staple, and Spring Mix greens.  We often have mozerella cheese cubes.  The red beets and artichoke hearts are special.  The next picture also has the staple greens and reds, but has a bit of the southwest with corn, red beans, and Jicama.  Again, salad picture 2 has a bit of the mediterranean with the mozerella chunks.  The third picture has chunks of canned turkey, cucumbers, boiled eggs and pine nuts.

I encourage you strongly to clear your palettes and program new habits to choose new enjoyments, including beautiful and tasty salads.

Happy and Healthy Eating!

Dr. Grandpa

Today's salad for lunch features artichoke hearts, whole small red beets, and mozerella cubes.

Add some corn, beans, and jicama to the staples for a Southwestern tang. Mozerella chunks remind us that it is still American Mediterranean

Add turkey chunks, boiled eggs, cucumbers, and pine-nuts to the staple red peppers and greens (down there, really!).