When you only eat salad every day, here's what happens to your body

You may think eating salads every day is the best thing you can do for your body. We can see why, as practically all nutrition experts agree that eating fruits and vegetables every day can significantly improve a person's health. In fact, the first two recommendations for a healthy eating pattern in the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans are to eat a variety of vegetables, and to eat fruit (especially whole fruit). These guidelines, which take into account all existing nutrition research and are updated every five years, explain that "vegetables and fruits are associated with a reduced risk of many chronic diseases, including [heart disease], and may be protective against certain types of cancers."

Eating only salad every day would certainly mean getting in plenty of fruits and vegetables at every meal. And, because fruits and vegetables are high in fiber and relatively low in calories, it's reasonable to think that eating only salad might help you eat fewer calories over all. A study published in The New England Journal of Medicine backs this up, finding that high-fiber, low-calorie diets are associated with weight loss and maintaining a lower BMI (via Scientific American). But, is it really a good idea to eat only salad every day?

Eating salad every day will help you get your "five a day"

The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that adults eat five servings of fruits and vegetables per day. (For reference, they measure one serving is one cup of leafy greens, one-half cup of other vegetables, one half-cup of fresh fruit, or one-half cup of dried fruit.) Unfortunately, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that only one in ten American adults actually eat their "five a day." Seung Hee Lee Kwan, a CDC nutrition researcher, said in the report, "As a result, we're missing out on the essential vitamins, minerals, and fiber that fruits and vegetables provide."

Eating only salad every day would almost certainly guarantee you five servings of fruits and vegetables per day. Think about it: Two cups of leafy greens plus half a cup each of tomatoes, cucumbers, and chopped apple would make a reasonable base for a lunchtime salad, and delivers all five of the recommended daily servings of fruits and vegetables. Even if you were to eat a salad half that size at every meal, you'd get more than enough fruits and vegetables in daily.

The fruits and vegetables you put in your salad reduce your risk of chronic disease

Eating only salad every day would boost your vegetable consumption, since salads are inherently rich in vegetables (unless you're only eating things like chicken salad, egg salad, and ambrosia salad, which may contain no vegetables at all and aren't really what we're talking about here). You'd probably be eating more fruit, too, since things like raisins, strawberries, and chopped apples add a little sweetness to salads. In other words, eating only salad means eating tons of fruits and vegetables. And fruits and vegetables are undeniably healthy.

According to the United Kingdom's National Health Service, fruits and veggies are a good source of important vitamins and minerals, and are a good source of dietary fiber. They can also help reduce your risk of heart disease, stroke, and some types of cancer. Harvard Health explains that while "no single fruit or vegetable" will provide all the nutrients you need for good health and reduced disease risk, a variety of different fruits and vegetables each day can do the trick. 

Leafy green vegetables — the base of most salads — are especially good for the body

If you're eating only salad every day you're probably eating loads of leafy green vegetables, since foods like lettuce, spinach, kale, and arugula form the base of most salads. That's great news for your health. A 2016 meta-analysis published in JRSM Cardiovascular Disease found that eating more leafy green vegetables was associated with a significantly lower risk of heart disease across eight previous studies conducted in several different regions of the world.

Leafy greens aren't just good for your heart. A 2018 observational study published in Neurology found that eating more leafy green vegetables was associated with slower cognitive (brain function) decline, and that study subjects who ate the most leafy green vegetables experienced cognitive decline at a rate equivalent to being 11 years younger in cognitive age than those who ate the least leafy greens. This preliminary research warrants further study, but the potential brain benefits of leafy greens should be enough to have you reaching for more of them every day.

Your daily salads are great for your digestion

One of the reasons that fruits and vegetables are so healthy is that they are rich in fiber, a compound found in plant foods that your body can't digest and absorb. There are two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber turns into a gel when mixed with water and can help lower blood cholesterol and blood sugar. Insoluble fiber helps move food through your digestive system, which helps bulk up your stool (yes, poop) and prevent diarrhea (via Mayo Clinic). 

Eating only salad every day means you'll almost certainly get at least the recommended daily amount of fiber, which is 25 grams per day for women and 38 grams per day for men 50 years of age or younger. The insoluble fiber found in vegetables like cauliflower, green beans, potatoes, nuts, and beans will help keep food moving, so that you don't feel too blocked up or bloated during the day.

Evidence shows that insoluble fiber isn't just good for digestive comfort, though. Studies have found that high-fiber diets also lower your risk of colorectal cancer, which could be due to fiber fermenting in your colon having a protective effect, the Mayo Clinic explained.

Eating salad helps with blood sugar control

Eating only salad every day could help improve your blood sugar control. Good blood sugar control can lower your risk of developing the disease. In fact, according to the American College of Cardiology, evidence shows that people who eat the most fiber have an 18 percent lower risk of type 2 diabetes than those who eat the least fiber. If you do have diabetes, the American Diabetes Association recommends getting at least 14 grams of fiber per 1,000 calories to help with blood sugar control and digestion as well as reduce the risk of other chronic diseases.

That said, the best way to ensure good blood sugar control is to eat salads that have more vegetables than fruits. Diabetes UK explained that while fruit can and should absolutely be part of your healthy diet, it's important for those with diabetes, or are at high risk for diabetes, to pay attention to portion sizes, as eating several servings of fruit (which has lots of natural sugar) at once might cause a sharp rise in blood sugar. 

Eating salad is good for your heart health

Honestly, fiber almost has too many benefits to count. The big dose of fiber that you would inevitably get from eating only salad every day would not only help with digestion, blood sugar control, and fullness — it might also help reduce your risk of heart disease. The American Heart Association (AHA) explains that eating plenty of fiber can benefit heart health in two ways. 

First, high-fiber foods like fruits and vegetables can help you lose weight or maintain weight by helping you feel full on fewer calories, thanks to the fact that it takes up space in your digestive system but can't actually be absorbed. Second, the AHA recommends filling at least half your plate with fruits and vegetables at every meal — which is a no-brainer when you're eating salad — because the vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients in these foods may help prevent heart disease and stroke.

They association further recommends eating at least one serving a day from each of the five main color groups: green, white, orange/yellow, red/pink, and blue/purple. This way, you get as many helpful nutrients as possible.

Healthy fats are a must for your daily salads

Eating only salad every day doesn't mean just eating a pile of fruits and vegetables with nothing on it. Healthy fats are a must in every salad — for a variety of reasons. First, fat helps with the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins found in fruits and vegetables (via ScienceDaily). Without any fat on your salad, many of the vitamins would just pass right through you without being absorbed into your bloodstream.

Second, unsaturated fats are health-promoting in and of themselves. According to the American College of Cardiology, unsaturated fats — those that come from plants, with the exception of coconut oil which is saturated — can help lower your risk of heart disease and stroke. Because fat is more calorie-dense than carbs or protein, with 9 calories per gram, it can also help you feel full for longer. Common sources of unsaturated fats are olive oil, avocado, nuts, seeds, and fish, all of which make great salad add-ins.

The nuts and seeds on top of your salad may add years to your life

Eating only salad every day can easily get boring, but adding different nuts and seeds as salad toppers at each meal is one way to keep things interesting. Nuts and seeds are easy to buy in bulk and you can store them in your pantry for months at a time. And as Harvard Health highlighted, "mounting evidence suggests that eating nuts and seeds daily can lower your risk of diabetes and heart disease and may even lengthen your life."

Additionally, a 2017 review published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that nuts can improve satiety and might help you burn more calories overall, although exactly why this happens isn't clear. It's a phenomenon that warrants further research and that scientists still don't totally understand. But in the meantime, it's a great excuse to add nuts to your daily routine.

You may lose some weight initially when eating only salad every day

If you're eating only salad every day because you're hoping to lose weight, here's a fact that cause you to reconsider: It won't necessarily lead to sustained weight loss. In a 2018 review published in Medical Clinics of North America, researchers found that although eating fewer calories (which will likely happen if you eat only salad) will definitely lead to short-term weight loss, not everyone is able to maintain that weight loss in the long term.

Let's dive into that a little bit. The review explains that after you lose weight, your body burns fewer calories. So, losing more weight or even maintaining your weight loss means you have to keep eating less and less. Second, the evidence shows that no one diet is inherently better for losing weight than any other. Across all studies, subjects are much more likely to lose weight and keep it off if their diet is sustainable long term. For most people, eating only salad every day probably isn't very sustainable at all.

Eating only salad every day could backfire

As nutritious as salads may be, eating only salad day in, day out might not be that great for your overall health. Restrictive diets can lead to yo-yo dieting, which "leads to weight cycling, which may contribute to chronic inflammation, insulin resistance, and cardiovascular disease," registered dietitian Wendy Lopez wrote in an article for Self. "In my experience working with clients, restrictive dieting also leads to stress, increased risk for disordered eating, and feelings of poor willpower when the dieting goals are not met." She added, "In other words, dieting probably isn't great for your health, physical or mental."

Telling yourself that you're only allowed to eat salad will likely increase your desire for less-nutritious foods, like sweets or fast food. And when you do give in and eat these other foods, you'll likely eat more of them than you would have if you hadn't made them off-limits, according to the expert. This is backed up by years of research, and a 2017 review in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences confirms that restricting what foods you eat and how much is a significant risk factor for binge eating. 

If you are struggling with an eating disorder, or know someone who is, help is available. Visit the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) website or contact NEDA's Live Helpline at 1-800-931-2237. You can also receive 24/7 Crisis Support via text (text NEDA to 741741).

Eating only salad every day may mean missing out on nutrient variety

Fruits and vegetables are great for your health, but they aren't the only foods that are important. Eating only salad every day is generally a form of a low-carb diet, because salads are typically low in carbohydrates. Unless, of course, you're tossing several handfuls of croutons or pasta noodles into your salad bowl every day. While research shows that low-carb diets are more effective for weight loss and metabolic health in the short-term, the evidence also suggests that these diets aren't very sustainable in the long term.

Imagine waking up every morning and eating a salad for breakfast, then a salad for lunch and a salad for dinner. Maybe you throw in a mini salad or two for snacks midday. Does that sound like something you could do for a whole month? What about for a whole year? Would you really want to give up tacos, pasta, pizza, and dessert forever? Likely not. And, you don't have to. Research shows that whole grains, dairy, and other non-salad foods can and should be part of a healthy overall diet (via Harvard Health). 

Eating only salad every day is too expensive for many people

Unless you have an unlimited food budget, eating a massive bowl of fruits and vegetables at every single meal just might not be realistic. A 2018 review in Healthcare (Basel) stated that the optimal diet must be safe, healthy, culturally acceptable, and economically affordable, to name a few. Unfortunately, fruits and vegetables can get expensive. As Vox reported in 2018, fresh fruits and vegetables are more expensive to grow and harvest than crops that will be processed, like soy and corn. 

Cost is just one of many barriers people face when it comes to eating enough fruits and vegetables. A 2018 review in Family and Consumer Sciences found that fruits and vegetables are less convenient than packaged or fast food because they take longer to prepare. They also have shorter shelf lives than processed or packaged alternatives, which is a major barrier for people who may only be able to get to the grocery store once a month due to schedule limitations or lack of access to transportation. For people facing these kinds of challenges, eating only salad every day simply isn't an option.

If you only eat salad, your body might miss out on the benefits of complex carbs

Carbohydrates sometimes get a bad rap, but the truth is that carbs are an important nutrient. In fact, carbs like those found in plant foods (including fruits and vegetables) and dairy are your body's preferred source of energy. That energy comes from two types of carbs: simple carbs and complex carbs. Simple carbs are just sugars, and are found in all types of sugar (raw sugar, brown sugar, corn syrup, honey, etc.), fruit juice, and soda. Complex carbs, on the other hand, are made of several sugar molecules strung together to make starch molecules. Complex carbs — like whole grains, beans, and starchy vegetables — also contain fiber (via Healthline). 

Because of their more complex structure, complex carbs take longer to digest and give you sustained energy. Sugars, on the other hand, digest quickly and can lead to sugar spikes and crashes, which can actually make you feel more tired, according to Healthline. Instead of eating only salad every day, make sure you're including complex carbs (aka healthy carbs) in your diet to help keep you energized and satisfied.

Eating salad once a day is better for your body than eating only salad

Vowing to eat only salad every day is quite extreme. A better approach? Commit to eating salad once a day to boost your fruit and vegetable intake and improve your health. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), "the benefits of eating a wide variety of foods are also emotional." In other words, food isn't just about physical health and nutrition; it's a way to come together, share, and celebrate.

"Healthy eating is a good opportunity to enrich life by experimenting with different foods from different cultures, origins and with different ways to prepare food," according to the WHO. While salads can be a great way to experiment with new ingredients — you can pick up a new-to-you vegetable, nut, or other mix-in and just toss it into your salad bowl — it's not the only way. Leaving room for other types of meals and flavors in your diet will not only help you eat a variety of nutrients, but will also make you feel more satisfied.