The Best Salad Ingredients for Weight Loss

Dieters should eat salad to lose weight, right? Wrong! Many people eat salad for weight loss and gain weight instead. Why? Because many of the salad ingredients they add are full of fat and calories.

And worse, the weight loss salad they create isn’t big enough or satisfying enough to keep them full. So they eat again soon after and they don’t lose weight. Replacing a high-calorie, heavy meal with a healthy salad is a great way to slim down.

But you have to use diet-friendly salad ingredients. Those are salad toppings that are packed with nutrients, full of flavor, naturally lower in fat, and properly portioned. Use this list to choose your favorite salad ingredients, then experiment at your next meal.1

Choose the Best Salad Greens

Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

The base of your diet-friendly salad should be leafy greens. Salads made with pasta and potatoes tend to be higher in calories and fat. Beans can make a great salad base as well and they are packed with protein and fiber.

But most dieters will choose different types of lettuce as a salad base because they are so low in calories. So which salad greens are best?

There are so many to choose from and everyone prefers a different style. My recommendation is to choose a few fresh spring greens for flavor and then bulk up your salad with mild, crispy greens to add crunch and volume.

  • Spring greens:Arugula, spinach, chard, watercress, mustard greens, and beet greens are soft, flavorful spring greens.
  • Low-calorie greens:Iceberg, bibb, romaine, radicchio, escarole, endive, leaf lettuce, and frisée are all crisp, low-calorie greens. You can also save time and throw a handful of pre-mixed cabbage into your salad bowl to add crunch without calories.

Healthy Salad Hint #1

Don’t be afraid to experiment with the way that you chop your salad greens and other ingredients. Don’t like eating large leaves? Make a chopped salad instead and cut each ingredient into easy-to-eat 1/4 inch squares. Some chefs even cut herbs and other ingredients into elegant ribbons for a more sophisticated look.2

Select Colorful Vegetables

Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

In addition to greens, vegetables should be the most abundant ingredient in your diet-friendly salad. The best vegetables for a healthy salad will come in a wide range of colors.

To get a variety of flavors and healthy nutrients, add roasted or raw vegetables from each color category.

  • Red: Chopped or sliced tomato, shredded or sliced radishes, chopped red onion, sliced red peppers, cubed beets, cold sliced red potato
  • Orange: Shredded or thinly sliced carrots, slivered orange peppers, cold cubed squash, heirloom orange tomato, cold diced sweet potato.
  • Yellow and white: Diced sweet onion, cooked fresh corn kernels, quartered yellow tomato, sliced yellow beets, cubed jicama, quartered or sliced mushrooms, finely chopped shallots, cauliflower, white asparagus,
  • Blue or purple:Diced purple potatoes, shredded purple cabbage, slivered purple peppers, eggplant
  • Green: Thinly sliced green onion, chopped green tomato, quartered artichoke hearts, chilled peas, broccoli, seeded and sliced cucumber (skin removed), Brussels sprouts, diced celery.

Healthy Salad Hint #2

Venture outside of your comfort zone when you choose vegetables. Sometimes combinations you never think will taste good turn out to be your favorites. Don’t worry too much about calories when you add veggies.

Most veggies are low in calories and high in nutrients. If you are concerned about the sugar or starch content of some veggies (like beets or potatoes) simply add them in moderation.3

Choose Healthy Fats

Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

Your salad probably won’t be satisfying unless you add a source of healthy fat. Of course, adding fat to your diet-friendly salad will boost the calorie count. Remember that even healthy fats are a significant source of calories. So smart dieters add them in moderation.

Listed below are reasonable serving sizes of popular healthy fat sources for salads:

  • Avocado: 1–2 tablespoons
  • Olives: 5–10 olives
  • Olive oil: 1–2 tablespoons
  • Nuts (almonds, pine nuts, walnuts, etc.): 10-15 nuts depending on size
  • Seeds (sunflower seeds, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds): 1–2 tablespoons

Healthy Salad Hint #3

Measure your fat source before you throw it in the bowl! It’s easy to mindlessly add calories to your salad bowl when you add food right from the bottle or the box. Keep a digital scale and some measuring spoons handy to get the best measurements.4

Add Protein

Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

If salad is the main course of your meal, you should add a lean source of protein to get the important muscle-building benefits that it provides. You’ll also find that salads with protein keep you satisfied for a longer period of time after you eat. 

Many smart eaters chop deli meats and add them to their salads. But be advised that some deli meats are healthier than others as they can be high in sodium and saturated fat. Stick to turkey, lean roast beef, or chicken when you visit the deli counter. You can also choose from these protein sources

  • Meat: Leftover lean steak, grilled chicken (such as in Asian chopped salad with garlic-ginger chicken) or turkey, shredded roast pork, seasoned extra lean ground turkey, sliced deli roast beef
  • Seafood: Salmon, tuna (fresh or canned), shrimp, sardines, anchovies,
  • Grains: Quinoa, wild rice, brown rice, barley

Healthy Salad Hint #4

A single serving of protein is usually about 3 to 4 ounces. If you add a large 6 to 8 ounce piece of chicken breast you’ll need to account for the extra (albeit nutritious) calories that you add. Adding more protein typically means adding more salad dressing, which will also boost the calorie and fat content of your salad.5

Mix in Herbs

Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

One of the best ways to add flavor to your salad is to add chopped herbs. Of course, you can toss dried herbs onto your salad, but chopped fresh herbs are a flavorful and healthy addition to any diet-friendly meal. Try any of these herbs that you’ll find in your grocer’s produce section:

  • Basil
  • Chervil
  • Chives
  • Cilantro
  • Dill
  • Parsley
  • Tarragon
  • Thyme

Healthy Salad Hint #5

Most salad dressings are made from herbs and some kind of oil. You may find adding fresh herbs to your salad eliminates the need for salad dressing, reducing the calorie and fat count of your salad.6

Skip the Salad Dressing

olive oil
Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

If you’ve filled your bowl with delicious and healthy ingredients, the last step is to add salad dressing. Unfortunately, most dressings are full of fat and calories. Some store-bought products (often the ones that claim to be diet-friendly) are also full of sugar. So what’s a dieter to do?

You may find that you don’t even need salad dressing when you fill your bowl with flavorful and savory ingredients. In fact, I generally just sprinkle a little bit of salt and pepper and measure just a tablespoon of olive oil then toss my salad without any other topping. Some dieters add a spritz of citrus, which adds just a handful of calories.

If you absolutely love salad dressing, consider making your own. You can find many recipes for healthy salad dressings online.

Whatever salad dressing you choose, be sure to measure it carefully. Even if you have a salad bowl full of healthy ingredients, adding too much dressing can quickly turn it into a fat- and calorie-dense meal that may hinder weight loss and weight management.

By Malia Frey Reviewed by Mia Syn, MS, RDN Updated on February 18, 2020

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