The word “salad” brings to mind “healthy,” “diet,” and “what I wish I craved instead of deep dish pizza.” One word not on that list? “Filling.” Sure, we love the tangy crunch of a crisp kale salad or the light, buttery taste of romaine, but more often than not, salad is usually eaten as 1) a somewhat forced attempt at trying to be “healthy” or 2) an appetizer. Salad as a meal sounds good in theory, but usually leaves our stomachs growling a few hours afterwards (also like, immediately).
But we often see girls happily munching on greens for lunch and dinner, without even a pained look on their faces or a longing glance at the bread basket. What’s their secret? How can we become one of those people who actually enjoys eating salad? Will a salad ever truly satisfy us? (In life, probably not, but meal-wise, yes.) We brought these questions to Derek Johnson, who was more than happy to share his tricks to making a salad more filling. Turns out, we were making a lot of mistakes—from toppings, to dressings, to even how we eat our salads.
Meet the Expert
Derek Johnson is a nutritionist and the founder of New Metabolism. He has over 20 years of experience in integrative and holistic nutrition and is based in L.A.
When it comes to picking your salad base, Johnson recommends fiber-rich, dark, leafy greens—spinach, kale, and the like. After all, fiber is what makes us feel full. If those veggies aren’t up your alley, you can still stick with iceberg lettuce; just embellish your salad with clean, lean sources of protein, like chicken and fish, or fiber and carb-rich beans, like garbanzo. “If you think of a pie chart, you want your good fats, your good carbohydrates, and your good proteins in that salad,” Johnson explains.
Another little trick Johnson swears by? Chia seeds. “Sprinkle some over your salad next time,” he says. “They’re a great source of protein!” (A bag of chia seeds is a great investment because they have a plethora of uses. You can use them in your beauty routine too.)
When you try to eat a healthy meal, you probably reach for low-fat options—but Johnson says that’s a mistake. “We tend to look for fat-free dressing, which is higher in sugar, which makes you more hungry,” Johnson says. “It’s the fat in food that makes you feel full—when something is processed, it has more ingredients and usually more sugar.”
Instead, he says to try olive oil or a modest amount of butter, like they do in Italy and France. “You can never go wrong with a homemade balsamic vinaigrette, like lemon pepper or raspberry,” Johnson says. “Just stay away from things that say ‘fat-free’ or are white and creamy, at least during the week. If you’re trying to keep it clean during the week, save the fun stuff for the weekend.”
Here’s another tip: Skip the diet soda you usually order with your salad, for the same reason Johnson mentioned before. “There are studies that show these drinks mess with your insulin levels,” Johnson says. “You can’t trick the body long-term—fake sugars cause you to have an increased appetite and to store fat.”
But don’t go guzzling water just yet, either. “One of the top things I can’t stand that people say is to drink a lot before you eat, so you feel fuller before your meal,” Johnson tells us. “This dilutes your digestive enzymes—it might make you think you’re more full, but you’ll overload later.” He paints the not-so-pretty picture of food just floating around in our stomachs, buoyed in water. In other words, it’s not digesting. Instead, Johnson recommends taking sips of water throughout your meal.
One more thing—if you tend to eat at a superhuman speed, it’s time to learn to take a deep breath and chew. “We don’t sit down long enough to chew our food and let it digest,” Johnson says. “Every five minutes matters. You need to sit down and relax, and eat like your body is designed to, like its meant to. Enjoy, laugh, talk.”
Sure, doing this will be good for your state of mind, but it’ll also help you feel full. “Your digestive tract works optimally when you’re seated,” Johnson tells us. “If you get up and run around with a bunch of food in your body, your body’s going to be like, ‘What are you doing? Where are we going?’” So next time you order your salad to go, consider eating in instead. Your stomach (and body) will thank you.