Add These 12 Amazing Plant-Based Ingredients to Your Salad for Weight Loss
Ready to toss up a healthy salad? “When it comes to eating for weight loss, many people think less is more. That mentality often backfires. When it comes to building a healthy salad, it has to do with what you add,” says Nicole Stefanow, MS, RDN, a garden-to-table culinary nutritionist from the greater New York City area. “Starting a salad with a leafy green base is a great start, but it doesn’t have to be boring. Add foods to fill your belly, satisfy your taste buds, and provide you with the nutrition your body needs for health, and weight loss can be a happy side effect.” Below, 12 such ingredients to supercharge your salads.
1. Pickled Vegetables
“Besides adding beautiful bright colors to your plate, topping your salad with pickled vegetables can aid in weight loss. Fermented foods help create a healthy gut environment by introducing good bacteria to your system,” says Stefanow. “A study from last year suggests that a probiotic strain of Lactobacillus fermentum extracted from naturally fermented vegetables reduced abnormal weight gain, prevented the accumulation of visceral fat, improved cholesterol levels, and decreased inflammation markers in subjects.”
Lauren Slayton, MS, RD, author, and podcast host, is a fan of kimchi, a traditional Korean dish typically made with fermented cabbage, in particular. She suggests that clients add a tablespoon of kimchi to salads whenever they can. “Just one tablespoon of these have billions of probiotics, which are great for gut health and digestion,” says Slayton. “If you’re not a kimchi lover, there are fermented carrots, beets, and pickles. They can be found in the refrigerated section of grocery stores.”
One of our go-to's in the pickled vegetables' arena? These delightful, Indian-inspired pickled carrots and cauliflower.
2. Hemp Seeds
“One vegan food that may help with weight loss is hemp seeds. These nuts pack a lot of nutrition in a small serving. They contain a good source of fiber, healthy fat, and protein, all the things needed for weight management,” shares Jeanette Kimszal, RDN, NLC, of Root Nutrition & Education. “Eating salads topped with hemp seeds make your salad not only tasty but will satisfy your hunger. This means keeping you full longer thanks to the high protein content,” she continues, noting that two to three tablespoons provide about 11 grams of protein and that they are a complete protein, meaning they contain all nine essential amino acids.
Another super-seed to sprinkle into your salad, dear readers. “Whole flaxseeds are a great food to add to your salad for weight loss. Several studies have linked flaxseed consumption with decreases in weight and waist circumference,” shares Sarah Williams, MS, RD, a registered dietitian and weight loss expert who owns and operates a virtual private practice called Sweet Balance, pointing to this review article analyzed findings of 45 randomized controlled trials on flaxseeds and weight loss.
Bring on the legumes. Stefanow comments that these are a great plant-based protein, and particularly enjoys them when marinated in herbs and spices to add a pop of flavor and texture to a salad (to make: add some EVOO and a splash of vinegar along with whatever fresh herbs you have on hand and your favorite spices). “A 2017 study suggests that chickpeas and other pulses may help prevent visceral fat from gathering around the abdomen,” says Stefanow. “Visceral fat is the fat that accumulates around your organs, and it's of particular concern because it increases inflammation in the body and is linked to chronic diseases, like heart disease, diabetes, and stroke. Adding pulses like chickpeas to your diet may help prevent this type of fat from sticking around.”
Yes, we’re all about our namesake root veggie. “They have been linked to many benefits to the body such as reduced inflammation, which can help the body shed weight,” offers Jana Mowrer, MPH, RDN, CDCES, founder and owner of HealthWins Coaching and Consulting, who specializes in helping women break the vicious cycle of chronic dieting. “Beets also contain fiber, and a diet with at least 25 grams per day has been linked to weight loss,” she adds, backing up her claim with this study.
“This fruit is a power food and not talked about enough! It has a higher level of potassium than a banana,” says Mowrer, elaborating that potassium helps the body excrete sodium which can help with fluid balance and weight loss. Bonus: Kiwis are amazing for your immune system, too.
Yep, the number one food you should be eating but probably aren’t belongs in your next salad. Clara Lawson, RDN, of USA Hemp, calls lentils the best plant-based protein you can add to a range of different salads to help promote weight loss. “Lentils have almost no fat and are packed with fiber and protein that keeps you fuller for a long period and helps you to avoid unhealthy snacking. As well, lentils have slow-digesting carbs that maintain your satiety for a longer period of time than other foods.,” says Lawson. “In addition, lentils come under the category of pulses, which makes losing weight more effective due to their high fiber and protein content, as confirmed by this 2016 study. The study has highlighted that participants who included pulses such as lentils in their diet lost weight significantly more than those who didn’t. “
Every salad deserves a crunch. Make that crunch factor hail from nutrient-dense nuts, and your waistline will thank you. “Nuts are a high fiber salad topper that provides a good source of heart-healthy fats, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. Adding a sprinkle of nuts to salads can help keep you feeling full and satisfied long after eating, says Holly Klamer, MS, RDN, Writer at MyCrohnsAndColitisTeam. “Pistachios, in particular, may help you lose weight when added to a salad. A 2010 study found pistachios, as part of a weight-loss diet, did not cause weight gain. Additionally, researchers found pistachios may help lower triglycerides when used in place of refined carb foods,” she continues, highlighting that using pistachios in place of croutons, for example, may benefit your health.
9. Olive Oil
“This healthy fat is rich in Omega 3s which provide an anti-inflammatory property for the body,” says Mowrer.” This healthy fat also helps with absorbing fat-soluble vitamins such as Vitamin A, D, E, and K.” FYI: Extra Virgin Olive Oil is best for salads, and not used as a cooking oil. Hoping to cook something in oil? Check out our article on the healthiest oils to cook with here.
These are a healthy, low-calorie addition to salads, and especially welcome ingredient in the summer months, says Stefanow. “They give a sweet brightness that only fruit can without a ton of sugar. Blueberries may even keep belly fat at bay,” she comments. “A recent animal study found that when given blueberry peel extract on a high-fat diet the subjects showed ‘reduced body weight gain and inhibited fat accumulation.’ Although more research is needed, this is a promising added benefit to any food that has already proven to be a nutrition powerhouse.”
11. Whole grains
“Another item to add to your salad to aid in weight loss is a whole grain, like whole-grain farro or quinoa. Research shows diets rich in whole grains are linked with decreases in weight and lower inflammatory markers in the body,” says Williams. For more on the nutritious food group, check out our complete guide to whole grains on a plant-based diet.
Sesame seed paste is where it’s at, y’all. “Not only is it delicious, but also nutritious and filling because it’s a plant-based protein, fat, and fiber all in one. Tahini contains iron, zinc, and selenium which has been shown to reduce body fat,” says Slayton, whose favorite tahini brand is The Tahini Goddess because of its purity and the variety of flavors such as Pesto, Caesar, Za’atar, and Spicy Chili.
For more great content about how to live your healthiest, check out the Health & Nutrition stories on The Beet.