How to Scarf Down a Salad and *Not* Make Your Sensitive Stomach Upset

Photo: Stocksy/ Nadine Greeff
While many good-for-you food fads may come and go (remember cowboy caviar?), a big bowl of greens is typically considered a healthy mainstay. In fact, plenty of people have one every single day and would fight to the death defending the honor of their chopped salad locale of choice. And while reaching for a salad for lunch day-in-and-day-out may seem like a no-brainer, we've wondered if you could have too much of a good thing. Isn't everything moderation best, fam?

The short answer is that it depends on your gut and regular eating habits. According to Food Fix founder Heather Bauer, RD, CND, eating more salad than you're used to can cause slight digestive side effects due to the high fiber content. According to Bauer, "eating a lot of fiber from raw foods can be hard to digest," especially if you're not accustomed to eating large amounts of roughage in one sitting and/or you have a sensitive stomach.

Experts In This Article

Of course, what most important is eating fresh produce when and how you love it most—and listening (!) to (!) your (!) body (!). But if salad is your ride-or-die for roughage and you're wondering if there's such a thing as too much salad, we're here with a few raw truths. Ahead, Bauer along with Ayurvedic and raw foods expert Poornima Sharma, PhD share how to keep your salad game strong *without* negative stomach-related side effects.

Tips for eating high-fiber salads without stomach side-effects

As a rule of thumb, registered dietitians say the daily fiber intake goal for women is around 21 to 35 grams of fiber per day; 30 to 38 grams for men. And while there are many delicious fiber-rich ingredients available to us, most Americans still aren't getting enough daily.

We know that salads are excellent way to up your daily fiber intake; we also know that consuming too much fiber can cause digestive issues. Alas, it's about listening to your own body and how much fiber it likes, and then increasing that amount slowly. But for quick reference, in most cases, RDs recommend eating at least six grams of fiber per meal.

How much salad is too much salad? Asking for a fart-y friend

(I am that friend.)

While Bauer explains that some folks can eat big salads and have zero digestive problems whatsoever, it may not be the case for everyone. That's why she recommends starting low and slow when it comes to upping your daily salad intake. "I'd start with between a cup-and-a-half to two cups of salad," Bauer says.

What's more important? The ingredients used to make your salad.

4 tips for building a delicious, stomach-friendly salad

1. Consider: What types of produce does your body love? Then build salads around those

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 Brussels sprouts, tend to be more gas-inducing veggies and are a little bit harder to digest than those like cucumber, carrots, and zucchini," she says.

Bauer's pro tip: Go easy on the aforementioned ingredients and also limit your salad to three different vegetables as to not overwhelm the digestive tract. It's also important to keep in mind that raw veggies aren't the only salad ingredient that can cause digestive stress. Beans and legumes, like black beans and chickpeas can muck things up for some folks, too. Fiber and gas-producing sugars found in these small, but mighty ingredients are typically to blame.

2. Keep an eye out for diet culture and misinformation

Dr. Sharma, who teaches an Ayurvedic cooking class at the Art of Living Retreat Center in North Carolina, notes that some folks note being worried about lectins, a natural protein found in certain fruits and vegetables (especially nightshade vegetables) when eating a lot of salad. Rest assured that most nutrition experts agree that this doesn't impact that vast majority of the population.

“While the internet is drowning in claims that nightshades trigger an inflammatory response, the medical literature doesn't offer the same advice. It would be a shame to live without nightshade foods without any true clinical reason, especially since so many of these foods are packed with nutrients,” Lauren Manaker, MS, RDN, LD, CLEC, CPT, a registered dietitian based in Charleston, says. All in all, the best you can do is simply pay attention to and notice how they make you feel, and seek the advice of a medical professional when in doubt.

3. Watch the volume of raw roughage

If you tend to experience salad-related stomach issues—which is especially common if you are just starting to make salads a part of your everyday life—Bauer suggests looking at the amount of raw roughage you're taking in. Remember: too much roughage (albeit delicious and nutrient-dense) can lead to constipation and be difficult to digest for some.

Dr. Sharma 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. A tasty raw carrot salad is a great place to start.

For the other 75 to 90 percent of your daily diet, Dr. Sharma recommends rounding out your meals with protein and healthy fats—salmon, nuts, seeds, eggs, and tinned fish are all favorites. Or, you could vary your plate with cooked veggies—which leads to our experts' next big tip.

4. Cook your vegetables before tossing them into a salad

Cooked veggies can help give your digestive system a break. "Cooked vegetables are easier for people to digest than raw veggies," Bauer says. Although the cooking process can potentially dim some of the nutrient density of more volatile nutrients, she adds that the difference isn't great enough to lose sleep over.

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."

Salad is always an excellent idea—as long as you enjoy eating it

The big takeaway here: Salads don't have to be the only way to get your veggie fix. After all, you don't need a big ol' bowl of lettuce to help meet the recommended vegetable intake per day, which ranges between six cups per day to a serving of vegetables with each meal and snack when possible, depending on who you ask. With that in mind, some cooked vegetables Dr. Sharma says are particularly easy on the tummy are sweet potatoes, spinach, steamed string beans, and steamed asparagus, to name a few.

In the meantime, if you're looking for simple ways to cut down on your high-fiber intake, while still eating enjoying salads daily, check out these eight lettuce-free salad recipes that pair perfectly with a tasty golden goddess salad dressing. And if you're experiencing salad fatigue altogether, discover different ways wellness influencers like to eat their greens for a fresh (pun intended) spin on this staple.

Discover how to make an easy kale salad with a tasty, tangy dressing:

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