Salads have long been singled out as the stereotypical diet food, and there’s sound logic behind this label. With light dressing and an abundance of vegetables, salads tend to be filling and satisfying with far fewer calories than heavier meals. Add a glass of calorie-free water and you have a meal that’s ideal for weight loss, as long as you balance it with other low-calorie foods throughout the day.
It’s not always true that a salad will have fewer calories or less fat than another meal option. Although the USDA reports that a typical side salad without dressing has only about 35 calories, no fat and 6.5 grams carbohydrates, a salad that is served with ranch dressing and bacon has closer to 375 calories, 21.5 grams fat, 21 grams carbohydrates and 5 grams sugar. Thus, if your goal is weight loss, it’s wise to skip the creamy dressings and high-calorie additions to the veggies, which serve as the main attraction.
Foods with low energy densities are among the best for weight loss because they tend to have high fiber and water contents and low calorie counts, making them filling enough to satisfy you but not heavy enough to ruin your diet. A veggie salad with no dressing is about 95 percent water, which can have a filling effect despite the absence of calories. More energy-dense foods, such as a burger, are only about 40 percent water or less.
In a 2010 research trial, Virginia Tech nutrition professor Brenda Davy discovered that participants who drank two glasses of water prior to eating meals lost more weight than subjects who went without the water and just followed a low-calorie diet. On average, the people who drank the water ate between 75 and 90 fewer calories at each meal and lost a total of about 15.5 pounds, nearly 30 percent more weight than the other subjects over 12 weeks. Water is “a simple way to facilitate weight management,” says Davy.
To consistently lose weight and keep it off, you must burn more calories than you consume. Drinking plenty of water and eating salads can help you reach that goal, but it’s not a guarantee, especially if you have trouble controlling your appetite or you are not physically active. However, if you replace one regular meal per day of about 600 calories with a tall glass of water and a salad that features vegetables, chicken and a light dressing, you can cut 300 calories daily and post monthly weight loss of about 2.5 pounds. Before changing your diet or starting any new plan to slim down, speak with your doctor.