Disrupt your salad dressing, not your gut.
You’re going to salad the shit out of some romaine. In the crisper drawer a regiment of complementary vegetables awaits deployment.
Naturally you ponder the perfect dressing to caress those delicate leaves. You head deep into the supermarket’s heart to the dressing aisle, where an abundance of convenient bottled products awaits you. Perhaps you’ll pick up something light, fresh and tangy, like I don’t know, polysorbate 80, or maybe some propylene glycol aginate?
Not what you had in mind? Me neither.
Alas, the vast majority of bottled dressings are heavily processed products masquerading as vinaigrette, ranch, blue cheese and sometimes frosting. In order to convince you that they’re the real deal, food manufactures employ all kinds of tricks, like using cheap, shelf-stable chemical emulsifiers to bind these (mostly) water, oil, sugar and sodium mixtures together.
What’s the big deal you ask?
Well for one thing, they just don’t taste as good. Ever wonder why salads are more enjoyable in restaurants than at home? Chances are the dressing was made from scratch using nature’s emulsifiers: garlic, mustard or egg to name a few.
More importantly, if you’re one of the millions of Americans dealing with IBS, inflammatory bowel disease, type 2 diabetes, some extra pounds and a host of other unpleasantries, those emulsifiers may be really f’ing shit up for you, quite literally.
You may have heard some of the buzz about the gut microbiome lately. Increasingly, scientists are looking into how this colony of diverse bacteria lurking in our bowels impacts health. Not only do these bugs play a critical role in digestion and nutrient uptake, but they also effect immunity and may even influence our mental health.
And now researchers have zeroed in on low-fiber processed foods and emulsifiers as enemies to the delicate order of things within our guts.
Remember how the Goths sacked ancient Rome? Essentially, emulsifiers are the barbarian invaders of your gut, killing off good bacteria and generally leaving a trail of destruction leading to inflammation and potentially contributing to the lovely maladies mentioned above. And they are everywhere: in ice cream, baked goods, dairy-free milks and yes, salad dressings.
So getting back to that bottled salad dressing—it just doesn’t seem worth it to pay for something that may go all Attila the Hun on your insides, and is nothing more than water, soybean oil, sugar, sodium and emulsifiers anyway.
Enter my zesty kefir ranch dressing. For the uninitiated, kefir is a fermented dairy product similar to yogurt, but thinner. Like yogurt, it contains bacteria that may benefit your busted bowels.
More importantly, kefir happens to be an excellent base for a creamy, cool ranch dressing bursting with fresh herbs. Drizzle it on a simple green salad, or use it as a dip for crudités or wings. Some people even insist on plunging their pizza into ranch. I won’t judge you (too much).
Feel free to tailor this recipe to your taste and swap out the herbs for your favorites. Soft fresh aromatics like parsley, chervil and cilantro work best.
Let your gut be your guide on this one.
- 1 cup plain, unsweetened, full-fat kefir find it in the milk and yogurt section
- 2 tbsp. finely chopped dill
- 2 tbsp. finely chopped chives
- 2 tsp. finely chopped mint
- 1/2 tsp. grated garlic a microplane works great for this
- 1/4 tsp. freshly ground pepper
- salt to taste
- Whisk all dressing ingredients in a small bowl. Season with salt to taste.
Sources aka more reading!
NIH News in Health. Keeping Your Gut in Check 2017.
Valdes AM, Walter J, Segal E, Spector TD. Role of the gut microbiota in nutrition and health. The BMJ. 2018;361:k2179.
Belluz J. Processed foods are a much bigger health problem than we thought. Vox. 2019.