Purple Kale Salad with Creamy Apricot Ginger Dressing, Walnuts, and Apples

I wish I could begin this post by telling you all how well my biochem exam went, but I’m afraid it was no better than Orgo. That said, the end is near, and rather than dwelling on the negative (finals), I thought I would focus instead on the positive: I was so busy this year that I forgot my four year quitiversary on April 19th. Hooray!

If you’re new to my blog, here’s the deal: it may surprise you to learn that I smoked for nearly eight years—some of those years as a vegetarian/vegan/”healthy” living enthusiast. The irony! I blogged about quitting not long after I started CR, in this tell-all post. I hope it shows you that even people who care about healthy living struggle with less than ideal habits. No one’s “perfect,” and if blog reading ever gives you that impression, don’t be fooled! Whether on or behind the scenes, health bloggers struggle just as much of all of you do to stay healthy in body and spirit. It takes hard work to treat oneself well, and there are missteps and occasional slips and stumbles along the way. Period.

As you all know, I like to commemorate this day proudly every single year. What’s interesting is that I have new thoughts about it with each celebration. This year, I’m struck by two things:

1) Given the stress of my post-bacc, it amazes me that I haven’t picked up a smoking habit again! The thought crosses my mind, of course, and to be honest, were Georgetown slightly more populated by smokers, I’d be even more tempted. I’ve had a few cigarettes since I quit (as you guys know), but I’ve resisted the urge to go back. And that, given that I’m in a university environment again, is a big deal for me. In fact, one nice thing about the post-bacc is that it has proven to me that I can go through the collegiate experience again without returning to the coping mechanisms I used during my undergrad days: smoking and food restriction. That’s pretty cool, and it is in part a testament to the fact that I’ve found other ways of processing pressure. One of them is writing this blog. So thank you all for listening 🙂

2) In all my honest talk about my smoking days, I’ve never once talked about how the habit was tied to my ED. This is because, at the beginning, it wasn’t. That said, you can bet I was petrified of gaining weight when I quit! At the time, I was actually still trying to gain weight from my last relapse, and gaining more slowly than I would have liked. But the idea that quitting smoking might suddenly tip the scale in a way I couldn’t “control” terrified me. I might have quit even sooner had it not been for this fear.

Of course, I did ultimately gain my post-relapse weight, healthily and happily. But I want you all to know that I absolutely did not gain it when or because I quit smoking. I usually don’t like to talk details of my past weight gain or loss on my blog; I find those conversations to be potentially triggering, even when they’re well intentioned and referenced as ancient history, so I leave them be. But this detail is important, because I know that a lot of women out there are scared to quit smoking in part because they fear weight gain.

Yes, the larger point here is that even if you did gain a pound or two, the health benefits of smoking would render it meaningless. Of course that’s true! But fears are irrational, and sometimes they defy self-interest. So I want you all to know that the fear, at least in my experience, was unwarranted. If you’re trying to quit smoking, keep your anxieties about body shape at bay. Quitting is enough of a challenge without these concerns! Focus only on the battle ahead, which is the struggle to kiss an old habit goodbye. You can do this.

In the meantime, a reader asked me recently about foods that contribute to lung health. How apt, given the proximity of my quitiversary! Normally I bake myself a treat or something to celebrate, but this year I thought I’d make my favorite food of all—salad—as a celebration and a response to my reader’s question.

While there are a ton of foods that are known to help aid in cancer prevention on the whole, as well as plenty of foods we know are good for cardiovascular health, we don’t have too much insight into which vegetables in particular are good for lungs. Various studies have shown that beta carotene—the red orange pigment found in sweet potatoes, carrots, and apricots, as well as in spinach—can help in lung cancer prevention. But the story doesn’t end here; when this finding was made public, subsequent studies were done in the mid-90s showing that beta carotene supplementation in high doses actually had no effect—and indeed, may have contributed to—lung cancer related death.

Do not put down your pumpkin; beta carotene is a powerful antioxidant and is an important part of a healthy diet. It’s hard to know why the studies conducted on high levels of supplementation turned out the way they did, but it’s generally true that intense supplementation of a vitamin precursor or a vitamin does not mimic precisely what happens when the vitamin is consumed naturally, through diet. What we do know is that there’s no longer enough conclusive evidence to prove that beta-carotene prevents lung cancer, in spite of some suggestive studies in that direction. Still a good reason to eat apricots and carrots; not enough reason to say with assurance that you’ll never have lung problems because of it.

Some recent studies in the UK have suggested that apples can help contribute to lung health. Great! Apples are delicious, and they’re healthy for many other reasons. We also know that folate, which is found in green, leafy vegetables, may play a large role in cancer prevention generally, though the scenario here is complex, too (recent studies suggest that dosage and timing is important). Finally, walnuts—along with other nut sources of unsaturated fatty acids—may discourage tumor growth in general (NB: most of the data we have on this involved prostate cancer). And ginger—which is famously good for digestion—has been linked to cancer prevention through it’s role in fighting inflammation.

I could go on, and on, and on. There are tons of foods that are being touted as cancer shields nowadays. While plenty of the evidence is positive and sound—yes, antioxidants play a role, as does folate and a diet low in saturated fat—we should always scrutinize the claims carefully and precisely. And then, we should get cooking. Because many of the foods thought to aid in cancer prevention are, if nothing else, packing with micronutrients, positively associated with cardiovascular health, gentle to the planet and kind to animals, and, most of all, very tasty.

Purple Kale Salad with Creamy Apricot Ginger Dressing, Walnuts, and Apples

This smashing salad contains a few of the ingredients discussed above—apricots, green leafy veggies, unsaturated fats, and apples. I can’t promise that it’s a bulletproof vest for your lungs, dear reader, but I can promise you that it’s about as healthy as any dish gets. And as delicious. The apricot dressing alone makes the recipe worthwhile. Try it, and I hope you love it.

Purple Kale Salad with Creamy Apricot Ginger Dressing, Apples, and Walnuts (raw, vegan, gluten free)

Serves 2-4 as a side dish/appetizer

1 head purple kale, destemmed, chopped, washed, and dried (any variety of kale is fine if you don’t have purple)
6 dried apricots, sliced thinly
1/3 cup walnuts, raw
1 honeycrisp or Fuji apple, sliced thinly

For the creamy apricot ginger dressing (makes at least 2 cups–you can half the recipe if you’re not going to use it up in other salads):

Generous 1/2 cup dried apricots, packed
3/4 inch long knob raw ginger (or 1/2 tsp ginger powder)
1/2 cup orange juice
1/2 cup water
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 tbsp tamari or nama shoyu
2 tbsp avocado or olive oil

1. Blend all dressing ingredients together in a high speed blender.

2. Massage dressing into kale; I can’t say precisely how much you’ll need, because it varies depending on your taste, how many greens you have, and so on, but 2/3-3/4 cup is probably about right? Use your kitchen intuition!

3. Add remaining salad ingredients, either by sprinkling onto the salad, or mixing in. Divide into portions, and serve.

Such a beautiful dish.

Purple Kale Salad with Creamy Apricot Ginger Dressing, Walnuts, and Apples

Sweet, crunchy, tangy, and tart, all at once. What more can you ask for?

Oh yeah: healthy, too.

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I’d serve this salad with a raw sandwich: two slices of any of my raw breads, mixed veggies, and some hummus as the filling. Whole grains of any sort would also be nice alongside, as would a hearty lentil soup!

If you’re out there reading this blog and feeling as though no one in the blog world smokes, and you do, and isn’t that kind of shameful: don’t feel that way. I’ve been there. And it took many years for me to be ready to quit. But once I did, I can promise you that I felt infinitely better and more energetic.

Remember: you can do this. If you need to leave a comment venting about your battle to quit, anonymously or not, please do. We’ll all have encouraging things to say!

Oh, and last but certainly not least: Happy Birthday, Mom Smile


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