A high-protein salad diet is anything but boring. Add your own twist to the classic Caesar salad or experiment with delicious new recipes like shrimp avocado tomato salad or tuna Niçoise salad for a protein punch. You'll not only feel satisfied but also lose weight without giving up flavor.
Eat Salad for Leanness
Packed with fiber, vitamins and antioxidants, salad is a perfect diet food. It's low in calories and can taste amazing — you just have to use the right ingredients. Leafy or iceberg lettuce, cabbage, kale, spinach, corn and tomatoes are all a great choice. Pair them with protein to stay full longer and boost your metabolism.
Going on a salad diet comes with its challenges, though. First of all, it can get boring in the long run. That's why it's important to mix and match ingredients, use herbs and spices and experiment with different recipes.
Second, eating just salad and protein may lead to nutrient deficiencies. Again, variety is the key. It's one thing to eat tuna salad at every meal and another thing to plan your meals ahead and add a twist to your favorite dishes.
For example, you can prepare a delicious tuna salad with cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, avocado, feta cheese, lettuce, red cabbage, onion, peppers, eggs, olive oil and vinegar. Add herbs like basil, oregano and parsley, plus a pinch of black pepper or chili powder. This dish provides more flavor and nutrition compared to classic tuna salad recipes.
Also, make sure you're getting enough protein. This nutrient helps preserve lean mass, increases satiety and raises energy expenditure, according to a review published in the British Journal of Nutrition in August 2012. As the American Council on Exercise points out, protein should account for 15 to 30 percent of your daily calorie intake. The more active you are, the higher your protein requirements.
How Healthy Is Your Salad?
Beware that salad isn't always healthy. Some recipes have just as many calories as pizza. It all comes down to the ingredients used. Mayo, dressings, sour cream and other extras can add hundreds of calories to an otherwise healthy salad.
Furthermore, the salads served at restaurants and fast-food chains are typically higher in calories. Wendy's Southwest Avocado Chicken Salad, for example, boasts 610 calories, 41 grams of fat, 43 grams of protein and 7 grams of fiber. The good news is that you can reduce its calorie content by skipping the dressing.
The truth is that most people underestimate their energy intake, especially when it comes to restaurant meals. While it's true that veggies are low in calories, it's hard to say how much fat and sugar is hiding in the dressing. Here are a few examples, based on USDA data:
- Mayonnaise: 100 calories and 12 grams of fat per tablespoon
- Olive oil: 119 calories and 13.5 grams of fat per tablespoon
- Sunflower oil: 120 calories and 13.6 grams of fat per tablespoon
- Classic ranch dressing: 130 calories, 14 grams of fat and 1 gram of carbs per tablespoon
- Caesar salad dressing: 130 calories, 13 grams of fat, 1 gram of protein and 2 grams of carbs per tablespoon
- Miso and mustard flavored dressing: 80 calories, 4.5 grams of fat, 1 gram of protein and 9 grams of carbs per tablespoon
- Sour cream: 60 calories, 5 grams of fat, 1 gram of protein and 2 grams of carbs per tablespoon
Let's say you add two tablespoons of olive oil and two tablespoons of mayo to your favorite chicken salad. That's an extra 438 calories. Add a half cup of croutons and you'll get another 61 calories and 11 grams of carbs.
When you're dining out, you don't really know what's on your plate. If you're trying to lose weight, make your own salads at home. This way, you'll have more control over the ingredients used. However, if you're going to add nuts, bacon, parmesan, croutons, butter, mayo and other calorie-laden ingredients, you might just as well order mac and cheese or pizza from the nearest fast food, from a calorie-intake perspective.
Choose Diet-Friendly Salad Ingredients
Determine your daily calorie needs and then create a salad meal plan that fits your calorie goals. The general rule is that it takes a 3,500-calorie deficit to lose one pound of fat. If your daily meals provide 2,500 calories and you cut 1,000 calories per day, you'll lose about two pounds in one week.
Cutting calories doesn't have to be difficult. Lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini and other salad ingredients fill you up quickly due to their high fiber content.
The protein in tuna, chicken breast, lean beef, eggs and cheese suppresses appetite too. High-protein diets may increase satiety and improve postprandial glycemic control, as reported in a March 2014 review in the European Journal of Nutrition.
Salad doesn't directly cause weight loss. However, its ingredients are low in calories and rich in fiber and protein, leading to greater satiety. As a result, you'll eat less without feeling hungry or deprived. Choose diet-friendly salad ingredients like:
- Iceberg salad
- Romaine lettuce
- Chinese cabbage
- Swiss chard
- Bell peppers
- Chicken or turkey breast
- Boiled eggs
- Lean beef
- Cheddar cheese
- Low-fat cottage cheese
- Fish and seafood
Radishes, garlic, onion, jalapenos and arugula are all a healthy addition to any salad. You can even add sunflower seeds, walnuts, avocado or dried cranberries as long as they fit into your calorie budget. If you're a vegan, use beans, legumes and tofu instead of meat and fish.
Red kidney beans, for example, provide 100 calories, 8 grams of protein, 22 grams of carbs, 7 grams of fiber and less than one gram of fat per serving (half a cup). Silken tofu has 40 calories, 4 grams of protein, 2 grams of fat and 1 gram of carbs per serving (3.1 ounces). Most veggies have approximately 50 calories per cup.
Read more: 23 Healthy Salads Nutrition Experts Eat
Use olive oil and salad dressings in moderation or replace them with balsamic vinegar, fresh lemon juice or Greek yogurt. This simple swap can help you "save" a few hundred calories per day. Another good choice is yellow mustard, which has only 3 calories per teaspoon.
Chili peppers, hot peppers and other spices can make it easier to cut down on salt. High-sodium diets increase fluid retention, so you can lose a few pounds just by reducing your salt intake. On top of that, red peppers and other spicy foods contain capsaicin, a natural compound that increases metabolism and fat burning, according to a February 2013 review published in the journal Current Opinion in Lipidology.
Need one more reason to eat salad? Most salad recipes are low in carbs (as long as you don't add croutons and dressings). Carbs are converted to glucose for immediate energy. The excess is stored as glycogen in your liver and muscles. Each gram of glycogen holds about 3 grams of water, meaning that a low-carb diet can deplete your glycogen stores and help you lose water weight.
- British Journal of Nutrition: "Dietary Protein – Its Role in Satiety, Energetics, Weight Loss and Health"
- ACE Fitness: "9 Things to Know About How the Body Uses Protein to Repair Muscle Tissue"
- Wendy's: "Southwest Avocado Chicken Salad"
- FDA: "How Many Calories? Keep an Eye on the Menu"
- USDA: "Mayonnaise"
- USDA: "Olive Oil"
- USDA: "Sunflower Oil"
- USDA: "Classic Ranch Dressing"
- USDA: "Caesar Salad Dressing"
- USDA: "Miso and Mustard Flavored Dressing"
- USDA: "Sour Cream"
- USDA: "Croutons"
- Mayo Clinic: "Counting Calories: Get Back to Weight-Loss Basics"
- Joslin Diabetes Center: "How Does Fiber Affect Blood Glucose Levels?"
- European Journal of Nutrition: "Acute Effects of High-Protein Versus Normal-Protein Isocaloric Meals on Satiety and Ghrelin"
- USDA: "Red Kidney Beans"
- USDA: "Silken Tofu"
- USDA: "Yellow Mustard"
- AJKD: "An Increasingly Complex Relationship Between Salt and Water"
- Current Opinion in Lipidology: "Capsinoids and Related Food Ingredients Activating Brown Fat Thermogenesis and Reducing Body Fat in Humans"
- European Journal of Applied Physiology: "The Availability of Water Associated With Glycogen During Dehydration: A Reservoir or Raindrop?"