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On Salad, Soup, and Success

Updated October 11, 2018


By Jeff Novick, MS, RDN

A concern I often hear is that people can’t follow my dietary recommendations because they think large quantities of salad are required as a way to successfully incorporate the principles of calorie density, which are important for both weight loss and weight maintenance.  They say consuming such large amounts of salad takes too much time, too much money, and/or may cause digestive issues. Too often, this leads them to conclude that the principles of calorie density cannot be helpful to them.

Setting the Record Straight on Salad

Salads are not required for success. They can be very time consuming and expensive, which are often key issues for many. All of the time, energy and money spent on salads is not only unnecessary, it may not the best way to incorporate veggies into your daily diet. (The same applies equally to raw vegetables.)

While adding vegetables to a meal lowers the overall calorie density and is an important part of my recommendations, salad is not required. In fact, when we look at the research on this, the form of vegetables that lowered overall calorie density the most and was the most filling was not salads, but vegetable soup. (See references 1-9 below.)

Practical Tips on Soup

Soups can work in many ways, the same as you may be using raw veggies and/or salads in applying the principles of calorie density. Here are 3 simple tips:

1 – Soups can be an effective pre-load to a meal:

Soups filled (mostly or entirely) with non-starchy vegetables can reduce the overall calorie density of a meal if consumed before the meal as a “pre-load.”  Studies have shown that salad pre-loads reduced the overall calorie density for the meal by 7% for a smaller salad and 12% for a larger one (5), while soup preloads lowered the overall calorie density of the meal by 20% (4).

2 – Soups can lower overall calorie density of the meal:

To help lower the calorie density of a meal, I recommend that up to 50% of your meal (by visual volume) be non-starchy vegetables. Soups can be effectively used for this strategy.  For example, have a bowl of vegetable soup with a plate of rice and beans.

3 – Soups can be the main meal:

Soups can also be the main meal. If they are main meals, make sure you make them hearty and also include plenty of starches (legumes, pulses, intact whole grains, starchy vegetables) in the soup.


After I posted this on the McDougall 10-Day Program FB page, someone added, “One of the big advantages I see to taking this route, is that it totally bypasses the excuse of ‘I can’t find a salad dressing I like.’ Or in my personal case, ‘I cannot tolerate the items often recommended, such as lemon juice and vinegar.’”

With fall coming, this is a perfect time to incorporate warm, satiating soups into your lifestyle. They can be inexpensive, quick to prepare and soothing. So, if you are struggling with the time or the expense it would take to include large amounts of salads and raw vegetables, try a big bowl of vegetable soup instead.


Soup consumption is associated with a lower dietary energy density and a better diet quality in US adults. Br J Nutr. 2014 Apr 28;111(8):1474-80. doi: 10.1017/S0007114513003954. Epub 2014 Jan 2.

Soup consumption is associated with a reduced risk of overweight and obesity but not metabolic syndrome in US adults: NHANES 2003-2006. PLoS One. 2013 Sep 30;8(9):e75630. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0075630. eCollection 2013.

Serving large portions of vegetable soup at the start of a meal affected children’s energy and vegetable intake.Appetite. 2011 Aug;57(1):213-9. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2011.04.024. Epub 2011 May 8.

Soup preloads in a variety of forms reduce meal energy intake Appetite. 2007 Nov; 49(3): 626–634.

Salad and satiety: energy density and portion size of a first-course salad affect energy intake at lunch. Randomized controlled trial. Rolls BJ, et al. J Am Diet Assoc. 2004.

Water incorporated into a food but not served with a food decreases energy intake in lean women. Am J Clin Nutr. 1999 Oct;70(4):448-55. Rolls BJ1, Bell EA, Thorwart ML.

The effect of soup on satiation.Appetite. 1998 Apr;30(2):199-210.

Foods with different satiating effects in humans. Appetite. 1990 Oct;15(2):115-26.

The satiating efficiency of foods. Physiol Behav. 1984 Feb;32(2):319-32.