I once ate a salad as big as a man.
October 25, 2012 9:59 AM   Subscribe

Can I eat as much salad as I like (assuming the salad doesn't have per se bad stuff in it)?

I love salad--always have. I'm being more mindful of portions these days, though primarily with carbs like pasta and animal products. If I'm still hungry after a picayune piece of chicken, can I eat as much salad as I please?

"Salad" for this purpose is a leafy green or two (romaine, arugula), carrots, celery, radish, tomato, and maybe some sprouts, dressed with some (not a lot) of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. It never has nuts, bacon bits, creamy dressings, or cheese.

Provided I had the will, could I eat a pound of salad? Two pounds of salad? Is there a point at which I should stop eating delicious salad?
posted by Admiral Haddock to Health & Fitness (44 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Well, if you start shitting like a rhinoceros, that might be a sign you have too much fiber. Personally, I *would* put a little bit of fat - bacon, cheese - to help you feel full.
posted by notsnot at 10:05 AM on October 25, 2012 [7 favorites]

Assuming lack of allergies and a healthy digestive system, I think the main notable effect of huge amounts of salad would be highly regular bathroom habits.
posted by elizardbits at 10:05 AM on October 25, 2012

I have often been known to eat an entire bowl of salad in a sitting. It had no ill effects other than I felt really rather full afterwards.
posted by katrielalex at 10:07 AM on October 25, 2012

Arugula and romaine are essentially water with a bit of fiber mixed in (arugula has, for instance, all of 28 calories for a quarter pound). Similar for celery and radish (16 calories each for a quarter pound).

The net result is that if you ate a pound of salad as you describe, you would essentially be consuming entirely fiber, which would, as previous commentators have suggested, ensure that you no longer have any problem with the bathroom.

That said, it would provide essentially no protein, carbohydrates, or fat (except for the "not a lot" of dressing), so you would have the odd condition of starving yourself while eating quite a bit of food. Note that in nature, animals that subsist on green diets like you're suggesting tend to spend the entirety of their days eating to ensure that they get enough nutrition from their food.
posted by saeculorum at 10:07 AM on October 25, 2012 [8 favorites]

Most of the things you mention have almost no calories absorbable by humans:

lettuce: 13 kcal/85 g serving
carrot: 13 kcal/carrot
celery: 6 cal/stalk
radish: 1 kcal/4 g radish
tomato: 21 kcal/117 g tomato
alfalfa sprouts: 7 kcal/30 g serving
Source: Wolfram Alpha

Watch out for the olive oil, which is pure fat (119 kcal/tbsp). Also, if you eat too many carrots, your skin will change color. But other than those reasons (really watch out for the olive oil!), I don't see any reason not to eat as much salad as you want. I love salad.
posted by grouse at 10:08 AM on October 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Wolfram Alpha result for a salad made up of 1 kg each of your ingredients (except only 0.5 kg of mung bean sprouts) and no oil or vinegar is 1180 kcal, broken into: 10 grams of fat, 249 grams of carbohydrates (including 89 grams of fiber) and 59 grams of protein.

So, yes. eat the salad.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:12 AM on October 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

The only thing you would need to pay attention to is the amount of salad dressing, as this can easily negate the benefits of using it up to fill up your tummy. And of course, don't keep eating if you're not hungry -- that will just keep your body used to eating larger portions, and when you don't have salad available you'll end up eating more of the "bad" stuff to reach the same level of satisfaction.
posted by DoubleLune at 10:13 AM on October 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

In my experience, you will be really hungry two to three hours after every such salad. Like, painfully, "get me a freaking extra-large pizza NOW" hungry.

Definitely make sure to do the "eating a sensible amount of proteins and fat and carbs before the salad fest" part.
posted by SMPA at 10:15 AM on October 25, 2012 [3 favorites]

I've started eating salad with little to no dressing. Salad dressing is a real calorie bomb.

If you have a digestive system of steel, this might not be an issue for you, but too much fiber can lead to some pretty unpleasant digestive distress.

Also, add some nuts or chopped-up hard boiled egg. There's no protein in your salad, and you'll get hungry again without protein. It's better to eat a healthy, filling meal than eat like a bird and binge on crap later.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 10:17 AM on October 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

2020 kcal

First, that is 12 pounds of salad, six times the amount discussed, and a rather unlikely amount to eat. Second, half of the calories come from wheat sprouts. Who eats wheat sprouts in their salad? Yes, a pound of wheat generates a lot of calories. Usually "sprouts" means alfalfa.
posted by grouse at 10:17 AM on October 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Wolfram Alpha result for a salad made up of 1 kg each of your ingredients [...]

It should probably be noted that's about 12.1 lb of food. The average American consumes something like 5.5 lb of food in a day if this infographic is to be believed. In other words, to subsist on the salad described, the OP would have to eat a lot of food.
posted by saeculorum at 10:20 AM on October 25, 2012

Some of the ingredients are effectively negative calorie foods - the "average" human body will burn up more calories in breaking down and extracting the nutrients than it gains from the particular vegetable. This includes onions and celery. I did have a healthy weekend of eating back in 2004, and the salads made me unbearably hungry shortly afterwards, possibly because of this.

Look into deep frying the salad for balance? (I don't really know how many extra calories or fats that will add)
posted by Wordshore at 10:21 AM on October 25, 2012 [4 favorites]

Veggies are good for you, think about adding other veggies to your regular mix:

Purple Cabbage
Green Onions
Green Beans (parboiled)
Artichoke Hearts
Hearts of Palm
Asperagus (parboiled)
Peas (somewhat starchy, but still yummy)
Pea shoots

Try new veggies, either cooked or raw in salad.

You do need a balance, so certainly enjoy your olive oil and some protein with the salad.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:27 AM on October 25, 2012 [5 favorites]

>>can I eat as much salad as I please?

I can't imagine how much salad you'd have to eat to do yourself harm unless what pleases you is kiddie-pool sized salads.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 10:29 AM on October 25, 2012 [6 favorites]

Assuming that you get a decent amount of other things, I don't see why not. (IANAD, IANA Nutritionist.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:35 AM on October 25, 2012

Mmmm... kiddie-pool sized salads....

But this page says that eating too much lettuce risks gassyness, bloating, diarrhea, and pesticide overload. So.
posted by mochapickle at 10:37 AM on October 25, 2012

I would replace the lettuce with kale or spinach.
posted by dfriedman at 10:49 AM on October 25, 2012 [3 favorites]

Get your greens and peppers organic and rinse them well to avoid pesticides and fungicides. Then pig the fuck out on salad, it is one of the best things you can do for yourself! The thing that no one is considering here yet are all the micronutrients in a salad - vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals - that are the things our bodies need to repair themselves and to be healthy. We tend to focus on the calorie-containing macronutrients - carbs, proteins, and fats - and the standard American diet is pitifully low in micronutrients because of all the high-calorie low-value foods we eat.

The gas and bloating mochapickle mention are caused by not enough chewing, and therefore swallowing a lot of air.

You are not physically capable of eating enough salad to harm you. If you make your own dressing in a high-powered blender using nuts and seeds as the fat source, you can do away with the oil and make it much healthier!
posted by kitarra at 10:54 AM on October 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

Get your greens and peppers organic and rinse them well to avoid pesticides and fungicides.

Organic produce is often treated with organic pesticides which can be even more harmful to human health than conventional pesticides. Obviously the organic marketing machine doesn't engender widespread knowledge of this fact, but just buying organic produce does not reduce your pesticide exposure risk.
posted by grouse at 11:04 AM on October 25, 2012

I've totally polished off a whole bag of carrots (mmm, om nom nom) and the gastrointestinal results are unpleasant. That said, you're probably OK if you slowly and consistently change your fiber intake, giving your body time to adjust to the new conditions, rather than randomly pig out like I do.
posted by anaelith at 11:04 AM on October 25, 2012

Be sure to chew THOROUGHLY. That will really help with any gastro issues, and is how I am able to eat tons of carrots.
posted by thatone at 11:07 AM on October 25, 2012

You're making this salad yourself, not getting it from a restaurant, right? CPK has a salad, their Field Greens salad, that has no meat or cheese, yet a full order has 810 calories. 518 of those calories are from fat, so presumably most of the calories are coming from the dressing.
posted by Anne Neville at 11:07 AM on October 25, 2012

People commenting that leafy greens have no protein have obviously failed Nutrition 101. For example, a cup of spinach has about 5 grams. If you're eating a huge salad, that's going to be a good amount of protein. I say eat it to your heart's content unless you experience stomach upset. Also just some high quality balsamic vinegar on salad is a healthier alternative to oil based dressings.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 11:09 AM on October 25, 2012

I also forgot to mention that vegetables also contain protein.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 11:10 AM on October 25, 2012

Maybe add a can of tuna to your salad?
posted by goethean at 11:10 AM on October 25, 2012

I once watched a show about competitive eating (so NOT Nutrition 101), and one of their training tools is lettuce. Because it will train their stomach to feel full without adding calories.

If your go-to is salad, you might have a problem where you aren't consuming enough calories to actually fuel your body. But I think you would be aware that you're still run down despite being so full. That might mean adding nuts, whole grains, fish, eggs or dressing.
posted by politikitty at 11:20 AM on October 25, 2012

Organic produce is often treated with organic pesticides which can be even more harmful to human health than conventional pesticides. Obviously the organic marketing machine doesn't engender widespread knowledge of this fact, but just buying organic produce does not reduce your pesticide exposure risk.

Quoted for semi-truth. There are tons of pesticides approved by the USDA for use in organic farming. You can look at the list here: list

The main focus of the regulations are to prevent the use of persistent pesticides - i.e. pesticides that cannot be washed away - from being used in organic food production. I 100% agree that the current state of gov't run organics is pretty sad and watered down, but it's still far from useless or actively harmful to chose certified organic produce over conventional, which has far fewer checks and balances on how it's produced.
posted by kitarra at 11:23 AM on October 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Wonderful! I shall munch away! Thanks for the confirmation!

For good measure, I can easily put away a salad in one of our 2.5 quart bowls. I'm pretty sure I could go to 3 quarts, but the 4 quart bowl looks indulgent, even for salad. I think I'd get a bad case of the salad shakes and pass out.

This is in conjunction with other nutritious eating--so I'm not looking for the ultimate super salad--just how much of my favorite salad I can eat. And it's all homemade, so I'm not worried about hidden calories in the dressing or preparation or anything. All lovingly washed, chopped, and measured by me! Point taken on the pesticides, though.

Mmmm--twelve pounds of salad! Kiddie pools of salad! MUST EAT ALL THE SALADS!
posted by Admiral Haddock at 11:24 AM on October 25, 2012 [4 favorites]

Dfriedman actually had a good suggestion here - changing up the greens more. Instead of just romaine and arugula, try spinach or kale as he suggests, or a mesclun mix, or Boston or Bibb or....
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:27 AM on October 25, 2012

Actually fat helps you absorb more of the vitamins you get from salads since many vitamins are fat-soluble. So there's nutritional sense in a dressing with some fat. So don't shy away from the fats in your dressings!
posted by peacheater at 11:37 AM on October 25, 2012 [3 favorites]

I'm in the "go for it!" camp for reasons given above, but would also add that on many diet plans, like Weight Watchers, which use a point system to limit portions across the day, vegetables of the kind you're putting in your salad are often considered "free" - so low-caloric that they aren't going to have a major impact on your overall caloric intake, and so high in fiber and micronutrients that they are a great idea to eat a lot of. So programs like that absolutely support your strategy.

Some veggies are higher in calories but they don't seem to be on your regular list, so munch away.
posted by Miko at 12:29 PM on October 25, 2012

I agree with everyone that has thoroughly given salad the thumbs up.

But your question called to mind one of those small bits of narrative that sticks around in your brain. I was watching a TV show, this was possibly 10 years ago, about an inpatient obesity clinic and the struggles of the doctors and patients there. These are patients that are basically on the verge of dying from their weight, some having lived in this hospital for years. Very depressing.

Anywho. One of the doctors was talking about a patient of his who loved oranges. Doctor said "Great! Oranges are great for you! Eat oranges!" The patient thought this gave him the green light to eat 3 bags full of oranges a day. He didn't seem to understand that he could gain weight from eating *healthy* things, and thought that if he was still hungry he could eat as much *healthy* food as he wanted.

But, that said an orange is not a salad. It's pretty freaking unlikely that you could pack away enough salad to rack up a huge amount of calories, but that magic word of *healthy* can really mess with your head sometimes.

Like this one time I came home from the grocery store with 3 boxes of mac and cheese. But they were organic, whole-wheat with an antibiotic free natural cheese sauce... and the box had a picture of trees and sunshine...
posted by fontophilic at 1:03 PM on October 25, 2012

Oranges average about 50 calories each.
posted by Miko at 1:43 PM on October 25, 2012

I love a big salad too!

one of my favourite work dinners is a huge tupperware filled with a tomato, half a cucumber and a whole romaine heart chopped up. then, the magical dressing, tzatziki - it's pretty low calorie so you can glop it on fairly liberally. Try it! I eat this all the time, it's great
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 1:56 PM on October 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Could you recommend a particular tzatziki recipe, or are they pretty consistent?
posted by mr. digits at 2:49 PM on October 25, 2012

I have always eaten big salads. For the sake of my reputation, I won't say how big, but I will admit to getting through a carton of tomatoes a fortnight (as a child, when such things were plentiful and cheap). When I say carton, I'm not talking like eggs, but say, around 50 lb. I ate them with lettuce, onion, radish, cucumber. I didn't get fat and I didn't have diarrhea.
posted by b33j at 3:07 PM on October 25, 2012

Tzatziki varies by recipe, from about 20-80 calories a tablespoon. Check the info on the kind you buy, or use MyFitnessPal to analyze the recipe for calorie content. It's one of those things where one serving is awesome, but too large a serving is 250 calories before you know it.
posted by Miko at 3:17 PM on October 25, 2012

I don't know how big they are in measurements, but I regularly eat salads overflowing out of some pho-sized bowls I picked up at the Asian grocery store. Like an entire head of romaine's worth (if it's the bagged kind of "romaine hearts," if it's the gigantic ones from the loose produce section maybe a half). Plus a whole tomato, an avocado, whatever else I have in the fridge. I notice nothing but the deliciousness. I'm not sure what kind of permission you're looking for, here. Yes, eat your veggies?
posted by ruby.aftermath at 3:55 PM on October 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

the tzatziki I like best is President's Choice low fat, and has (I think) 30 caloires for 2 tbsp, and 4 tbsp on a big salad is plenty, especially if there are juicy tomatoes in it. this is probably not helpful if you're not canadian.

another awesome dressing - hummus!

and a shake of montreal steak spice is divine
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 4:28 PM on October 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Make sure you drink a lot of water. Too much fiber will actually lead to constipation and uncomfortable bloating if no water is there push it through. Vegetables are not going to make you gain weight. The salad dressing will, however. Just go easy on it and try to make your own vinaigrette. It's healthier.
posted by Summer Fall at 7:08 PM on October 25, 2012

yes, you will be fine...however, keep in mind that this whole "NO CARBS EVER" nonsense is just that...a food fad...PARTICULARLY when they recommend replacing them with protein...adults just don't need that much protein (unless you're trying to build muscle)...carbs may not have as much 'nutrition' in them (vitamins, minerals etc), comparatively speaking, but they do supply the ENERGY you need to, y'know, stay alive...it's like sugar, but time-release (and your mitochondria need sugar to make ATP). But you're def. on the right track...in decending order (for adults) (i.e. eat more of the first stuff) veggies/roughage, carbs, fruit/juices/natural sugars, protein, junk food (fats and processed sugars)...the usda food pyramid looks a lot different (much more carbs and protein) because it's mostly for children...and also dairy lobbyists.
also, (most) nuts are actually really good for you, and what fats they have are usually the 'good' kinds...I like sunflower seeds on my salad :-9
and OMG i love(!) hearts of palm...for some reason i always see them at the 99-cent store, and then for like 8 bucks a can at the grocery...go figure...
posted by sexyrobot at 7:49 PM on October 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'd like to second the point that you need to include some healthy fat (olive oil, coconut, or animal) in your meals so that your body can actually make use of the nutrients you'll be consuming. Also so that it tastes good!

Aside from that, I agree with everyone else who says your body will tell you when you're eating too much salad, and the worst that can happen is not that bad.
posted by sudama at 8:44 PM on October 25, 2012

I'm assuming that you are a healthy adult. So, yes, eating as much salad as you want is just fine.

It's not always fine for everyone though.

When my mom was on Coumadin (a blood thinner used to treat/prevent blood clots), she was told to avoid leafy greens and other green veggies as well.

Many green veggies contain a lot of Vitamin K which helps with platelet production, which keeps your blood clotting and keeps you from bleeding to death from a paper cut. But some people's blood is already too prone to clotting and they need to avoid Vitamin K.

This article says it's okay to eat small amounts of green veggies when you're on a Coumadin/Warfarin diet, but I'm pretty sure, my mom's doctor told her to avoid salads completely.
posted by marsha56 at 9:20 PM on October 25, 2012

Yay, salad!

There's a study which says eating at least 7 servings of veges a day, is correlated with people being more cheerful.

(And seriously, there is a strangely high number of warnings here about essentially, eating more vegetables. Eat all the salad you want.)
posted by Elysum at 9:44 PM on October 25, 2012

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