While good-for-you food fads may come and go (remember unicorn toasts and lattes?), a big bowl of greens is definitely a healthy mainstay. Plenty of people even have one every single day. (Shout out to everyone who would fight to the death defending the honor of their chopped salad locale.) Like adding adaptogens to your morning smoothie or religiously going to Sunday yoga, salads are often part of an engrained healthy routine. But is it possible to OD on the one healthy habit that seems the most like a no-brainer?
The short answer is: Yep. According to Food Fix founder Heather Bauer, RD, CND, all those raw veggies can seriously stress out your GI tract. “I hear over and over again from clients that they start eating salads to be healthier and end up feeling bloated,” Bauer says. “Too much roughage and raw foods can be hard to digest.”
Here, Bauer along with Ayurvedic and raw foods expert Poornima Sharma, PhD, share how to keep your salad game strong without overloading your body.
Watch the volume
Bauer explains that some people can eat big salads and have no digestive problems whatsoever, but if you do—which is especially common if you are just starting to make salads part of your everyday life—she suggests you watch how much you’re eating. “I’d start with between a cup-and-a-half to two cups of salad,” she says.
Dr. Sharma, who teaches an Ayurvedic cooking class at the Art of Living Retreat Center in North Carolina, echoes the sentiment, saying that, while the exact number varies for each person, she recommends beginning with raw veggies comprising no more than 10 to 25 percent of your daily diet.
For the other 75 to 90 percent, round out your meal with protein and healthy fats not tucked inside an extra helping of greens. Or, you could vary your plate with cooked veggies—which leads to our experts’ next big tip.
Cook your vegetables
“Cooked vegetables are easier for people to digest than raw veggies,” Bauer says. While it’s true that the cooking process does dim some of the nutrient density, Bauer says the difference isn’t great enough to lose sleep over. “And besides, it’s better than the alternative, which is feeling super gassy,” she says. Agreed.
From an Ayurvedic perspective, Dr. Sharma says, “ancient wisdom on food indicates that cooked foods are easier and more gentle on the body, and then adding in some easily digestive raw foods as part of the daily meal is a good combination to have.” The takeaway here: Salads don’t have to be the only way to get your veggie fix. Some cooked vegetables that she says are particularly easy on the tummy are sweet potatoes, spinach, steamed string beans, and steamed asparagus.
Choose your ingredients wisely
When it comes to building your salad, Bauer points out that some ingredients are easier to digest than others. “For some people, the more cruciferous vegetables, like broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussel sprouts, tend to be more gassy and are a little bit harder to digest than veggies like cucumber, carrots, and zucchini,” she says. Her tip: Go easy on the aforementioned ones and also limit your salad to three different vegetables as to not overwhelm the digestive tract. Also important to know is that raw veggies aren’t the only salad ingredient that can cause digestive stress. She adds that for some, chickpeas and beans can muck things up, too.
Dr. Sharma says to be conscious of lectins, a protein in certain fruits and vegetables that the plant creates to defend themselves against animals looking for a snack. (Grains, legumes, and nightshades have them in the highest concentrations; low on the lectin scale are leafy greens, squash, cauliflower, sweet potato, citrus, berries, and apples.) She says some people just aren’t able to digest foods with lectins well. You might have no problem with them; it’s just something to pay attention to and notice how they make you feel.
Both experts agree that the key to keeping this healthy habit an enjoyable part of your routine—and not a pain point for your body—is to avoid overwhelming your gut. We promise your fave salad chopper will still remember your order if you take a few days off.
If you’re looking for simple ways to cut down on raw foods while still eating healthy, check out these 8 lettuce-free salad recipes. Plus, avoid salad fatigue by checking out all the different ways wellness influencers like to eat their greens.
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