When you're trying to drop some extra pounds, it's important to fill your plate with nutrient-dense, low-calorie foods. As part of a balanced meal plan, eating salad everyday to lose weight can be a sensible and healthy way to incorporate fruits and vegetables into your diet.
According to the USDA Dietary Guidelines, half of what you eat should consist of fruits and vegetables. Upping your intake can be as easy as including a fruit salad for breakfast, a green salad for lunch or filling your dinner plate with a veggie salad.
Why Is Nutrient Density Important?
Nutrient-dense foods are packed with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, complex carbohydrates, fiber and phytochemicals, such as beta-carotene, lutein and lycopene. To be considered nutrient-dense, your food must also be relatively low in calories, fats, sodium and cholesterol.
Salads that contain powerhouse fruits and vegetables (PFV) fall into this category and are associated with lower rates of chronic diseases. According to a June 2014 study published in the journal Preventing Chronic Disease classified and defined PFV foods as those that provide 10 percent or more daily value per 100 calories of 17 qualifying nutrients — potassium, fiber, protein, calcium, iron, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, folate, zinc and vitamins A, B6, B12, C, D, E and K.
The study, aiming to provide ranking clarity on the nutrient quality of the various foods within the powerhouse group, found that 41 of the 47 vegetables tested satisfied the PFV criteria. Consider choosing foods for your salad diet that scored the highest in the results, such as green leafy vegetables (chard, beet greens, spinach, chicory, leaf lettuce) and cruciferous foods (watercress, Chinese cabbage, collard greens, kale, arugula).
Following those foods on the rating scale were fruits and vegetables belonging to yellow/orange (carrot, tomato, winter squash, sweet potato), allium (scallion, leek), citrus (lemon, orange, lime, grapefruit) and berry (strawberry, blackberry) groups.
Fiber Promotes Weight Loss
When managing your weight, it's important to restrict your calorie intake. You should strive to create a calorie deficit, or eat fewer calories than you burn. Reducing your daily energy intake by 500 calories can help you reach a healthy weight, suggests the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.
One of the best ways to achieve this is by eating salad every day for weight loss. This is partly due to the multiple benefits of fiber in fruits and vegetables, such as its satiating effect.
Your body cannot digest fiber, so it does not contribute to your overall calorie count. It passes relatively intact through your digestive system, where it acts as a bulking agent, slowing digestion and making you feel full longer. This may help prevent overeating and facilitate weight loss.
Read more: 19 High-Fiber Foods — Some May Surprise You!
In addition to curbing your appetite, fiber contributes to good digestive health by normalizing bowel movements. Furthermore, it may lower your risk of developing hemorrhoids and diseases of the colon, states the Mayo Clinic. A high-fiber diet may also help reduce cholesterol levels and protect against diabetes and some types of cancer.
Foods for Fat-Burning Salads
A February 2015 clinical trial published in the Annals of Internal Medicine assessed the benefits of higher fiber intakes for fat loss, in addition to helping lower blood pressure and improve insulin response. Researchers have found that diets rich in this nutrient were comparable to a more complicated diet (designed by the American Heart Association) in terms of weight loss in 240 overweight participants after 12 months.
The Mayo Clinic suggests that women should eat at least 21 to 25 grams of fiber a day and men should consume 30 to 38 grams daily. The USDA lists some examples of high-fiber, low-calorie fruits and vegetables best suited for your fat burning salads. These include:
- Beet greens — 8 calories and 1.4 grams of fiber per cup, shredded
- Celery — 16 calories and 1.6 grams of fiber per cup, chopped
- Starfruit — 33 calories and 3 grams of fiber per cup, sliced
- Cabbage — 35 calories and 4.1 grams of fiber per cup, shredded
- Broccoli — 27 calories and 2.6 grams of fiber per half-cup, chopped
- Carrots — 27 calories and 2.3 grams of fiber per half-cup, sliced
- Turnip greens — 29 calories and 5 grams of fiber per cup, chopped
- Spinach — 7 calories and 0.7 grams of fiber per cup
- Kale — 7.4 calories and 0.9 grams of fiber per cup
A good way to add more fiber to your salad is by sprinkling chopped nuts, quinoa, hemp hearts or chickpeas onto your greens.
Eat Your Salad Before Meals
If losing weight is your goal, filling up on a low-calorie veggie or fruit salad prior to eating lunch or dinner may enhance satiety and reduce your food intake. A small study published in the February 2014 edition of the journal Obesity has found that participants who ate salads before a meal of pasta consumed fewer calories. Researchers suggest that dieters may benefit from consuming satiety-enhancing foods throughout the day to moderate their energy intake.
Although fruits are normally eaten after a meal, usually as a dessert, a small study published in November 2019 in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health associated fruit intake before a meal to improved appetite control due to its low-energy density, low-fat, high-water content and dietary fiber.
Subjects who ate fruit before a meal experienced reduced hunger, improved blood glucose and a significant 18.5 percent reduction in subsequent energy intake. As the scientists note, fruit consumption of fruit before a meal may suppress appetite and potentially aid in weight loss.
Reap the Benefits of Greens
With so many delicious vegetables and fruits to choose from, eating salad every day to lose weight provides numerous nutrients to keep you healthy. A salad consisting of leafy green vegetables supplies vitamins A, C and K, beta-carotene, calcium, folate and phytonutrients. Many of these compounds boast antioxidant properties and may help your immune system ward off disease and infection.
To get the maximum benefits from these nutrients, mix them up and include a variety of ingredients in your salad. The USDA Dietary Guidelines recommend skipping the iceberg lettuce and choosing darker-colored greens and brightly colored vegetables for the most nutrition.
For example, of the common types of lettuce you could use to form the base of your salad — iceberg, green leaf, red leaf, romaine and butterhead — romaine offers the most vitamin A, folic acid, potassium, beta-carotene and lutein, according to Colorado State University.
Butterhead lettuce contains the most iron per 100 grams. Red leaf lettuce is the winner for vitamin B6 and K, while green leaf lettuce has the most vitamin C, niacin and riboflavin. Red and dark leafy greens typically contain more antioxidants compared to lighter-colored greens.
Lettuce is not typically a stand-alone vegetable. You can add many other veggies and fruits to a salad for extra flavor and variety. Blueberries and apples, for instance, will increase the fiber, potassium and vitamin C content.
Be creative and turn over a new leaf by using more unusual greens for a flavorful punch to your salad. Some ideas are watercress, arugula, dandelion or mustard greens, endive and mixed fresh herbs.
Read more: Edamame and Mushroom Salad
Don't Sabotage Your Weight Loss
It's easy to turn your healthy salad into a high-fat, calorie-laden dish by smothering it with the wrong dressing. Use caution with store-bought salad dressings or dressings on salads from restaurants, which contain excessive fat and sodium. Avoid creamy dressings like ranch, thousand island, green goddess and blue cheese, which can add as many as 140 extra calories per 2 tablespoons, according to the USDA.
Fat-free dressings may not be any better, as some have added sugar to compensate for the removed fat. When eating out, order your dressing on the side and dip your fork into it before each bite of salad. That way, you can still enjoy the dressing, but in smaller amounts.
If you love to eat salad for weight loss at home, and you like dressing, homemade vinaigrettes are your best choice. Mix up some extra-virgin olive oil, sesame or avocado oil with vinegar and your favorite herbs and spices. Or opt for a homemade creamy dressing, such as our Superfood Tahini Salad Dressing, which is loaded with a healthy combination of tahini, green tea, extra-virgin olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and turmeric. The latter possesses strong anti-inflammatory effects.
Avoid toppings like fatty cheeses, honey-crusted nuts, bacon or fried croutons. Instead, use grapes, nuts or whole grains, such as cooked brown rice, quinoa, farro or barley, to add texture and crunch to your salad. Seeds are also a healthy choice that won't tip the scales for added calories. For instance, sesame seeds contain only 5 calories per quarter teaspoon, according to the USDA.
- Dietary Guidelines: "MyPlate Messages"
- HealthSD.gov: "Choosing Nutrient Dense Foods"
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Defining Powerhouse Fruits and Vegetables: A Nutrient Density Approach"
- National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute: "Why Is a Healthy Weight Important?"
- Mayo Clinic: "Dietary Fiber: Essential For a Healthy Diet"
- Annals of Internal Medicine: "Single-Component Versus Multicomponent Dietary Goals for the Metabolic Syndrome: A Randomized Trial"
- Mayo Clinic: "Chart of High-Fiber Foods"
- USDA: "High-Fiber Low-Calorie Foods for Your Weight Loss Diet"
- USDA: "Spinach"
- Obesity: "Assessment of Satiety Depends on the Energy Density and Portion Size of the Test Meal"
- International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health: "Effect of Sequence of Fruit Intake in a Meal on Satiety"
- Dietary Guidelines: "Food Groups: Vegetables"
- Colorado State University Extension: "Health Benefits and Safe Handling of Salad Greens"
- USDA: "Sesame Seeds"