Breakfast Salad, The Healthier Way To Start Your Day

Not only can it boost your mood, it can also fight a hangover.

Eating salad in the morning is a rarity in the United States ― a country fanatical about bacon, eggs and doughnuts. But today, more and more people are making a case for breakfast salads: crunchy, sprout-y, satisfying salads that start the day with a dose of vegetables in lieu of pork fat and maple syrup.

Eating salad for breakfast isn’t so rare in other countries, such as Turkey or Israel, where vegetable-based dips and salads are part of a typical breakfast spread. And it seems like Americans are finally catching on: Kat Kinsman, senior editor at Extra Crispy, wrote about the health benefits of breakfast salads back in 2017, and Alison Roman has a hangover-busting breakfast salad recipe in her wildly popular cookbook, Dining In.

A breakfast salad can be pretty much anything you want it to be, as long as it contains a good mix of vegetables. It’s the breakfast-hater’s breakfast, the health-conscious, cool-kid cousin of the Denny’s Grand Slam.

Research agrees: A low-sugar, vegetable-heavy breakfast provides a good proportion of nutrients that can fuel the brain, boost our mood and increase productivity at work.

What we eat in the morning has a profound effect on our mood.

“If you have a simple, carbohydrate-heavy breakfast like pastries or sugary cereals, your body needs to work harder to metabolize the nutrients, which can slow you down physically and mentally,” said Cassie Pisano, a registered dietitian in Denver, Colorado. “Foods like eggs, whole grains and vegetables provide many more useful nutrients than carbs, stabilize your blood sugar, increase the duration of your satiety, and give you sustained energy to help you stay focused.”

High-sugar foods, such as pastries or sugary cereals, are linked to bad mood and poorer performance because of blood sugar spikes and lows.

The protein and fiber found in vegetables keep us full and focused and stabilize our mood. The addition of a little Greek yogurt or a boiled egg adds some extra protein, and a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil adds brain-healthy fat.

Including asparagus in your morning salad may help kick a hangover.
Including asparagus in your morning salad may help kick a hangover.

A breakfast salad can also contain “mood-boosting” nutrients like folate and vitamin B12, found in leafy greens, which can make us feel happier, eliminate brain fog, and improve mental agility and performance.

“Beyond the calories a food provides, the micronutrients can be just as important to cognitive function, including the mood centers of the brain,” Pisano told HuffPost. “Foods that have a high nutrient density, like brightly colored fruits and vegetables, provide vitamins and minerals that can impact your stress responses.”

Keep in mind that many of these vitamins and minerals are fat-soluble, meaning your salad needs a little fat to help you absorb it. And that comes in the form of dressing.

In even better news, studies say a salad in the morning can help kick a hangover.

Roman’s “Morning After Salad” is a mix of leafy greens, leftover roasted vegetables and a runny egg.

“I promise your body will thank you for this crisp, green reset,” Roman wrote in Dining In. And she’s right: Vegetables are much better at curing a hangover than a greasy breakfast.

Here’s why: Alcohol damages our stomach lining, slowing our digestion, and a heavy breakfast just makes the problem worse. The idea of “absorbing” the alcohol the day after we drink is a debunked myth, and studies say we’re better off eating greasy food the night before.

By the morning after, it’s more about replenishing lost nutrients. And the best way to do that? Vegetables.

Vegetables are antioxidant powerhouses, and contain multitudes of the vitamins and minerals that we lose when we overindulge, including magnesium, potassium and Vitamins A, B, C, D, E and K. Some studies also show that the hangover response is due in part to a depletion of beta carotene/vitamin A, and vegetables can replenish our stores and speed our recovery. A serving of spinach, for example, contains around 71 percent of our recommended daily intake of vitamin A, and sweet potatoes and carrots contain over 100 percent.

Other vegetables, such as asparagus, are particularly helpful: A 2009 study found that the enzymes in asparagus can aid in alcohol metabolism and liver detoxification, and can actually alleviate hangover symptoms. Plus, vegetables like cucumbers, radishes and cauliflower contain up to 90 percent water, so they literally hydrate us as we eat them ― versus sodium-heavy foods that can dehydrate us further.

But listen, breakfast salads aren’t just healthy. They’re delicious.

Breakfast salad can take almost any form that you desire, whether that means a lettuce-based salad like Roman’s or a yogurt-based salad like this recipe ― which a good friend turned me onto years ago.

A heaping spoonful of Greek yogurt with a little olive oil is extremely satisfying and goes well with crunchy vegetables like cucumbers, radishes and sprouts that up the fresh factor and keep you feeling light and nimble.

If you can’t imagine breakfast without an egg on top, fear not: You can add a poached, boiled or fried egg to this recipe or to any good breakfast salad. (Roman argues that it’s necessary.) A little runny egg yolk will coat the greens and make a super satisfying dressing. Try this recipe from Free The Picnic below.

Greek Yogurt Breakfast Salad

Serves: 1 (easily doubles)

  • 1 cup thinly sliced mixed greens (kale, lettuces, radicchio)

  • 1 handful sprouts (any type)

  • 1 small cucumber, sliced or chopped

  • 2-3 radishes, sliced or chopped

  • 1/2 avocado, peeled and sliced

  • 1 small handful herbs like cilantro, mint, basil or parsley

  • 1/4 cup cherry tomatoes (if in season)

  • 1/4 - 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt

  • 1/2 tbsp olive oil

  • 1/2 lemon, for juicing

  • Salt and pepper

  • Sunflower, hemp or sesame seeds (optional)

  • Leftover roasted vegetables like sweet potatoes or beets (optional)

  • Soft-boiled or poached egg (optional)

In a bowl, combine the vegetables. Make it pretty; you’ll enjoy eating it more! Top with a heaping spoonful of Greek yogurt, a squeeze of lemon juice and a drizzle of olive oil. Season generously with salt and a few grinds of black pepper.

Place the optional seeds, cooked vegetables or eggs on top if using.