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Don’t Order The Salad

A couple of weeks ago I was out of town on business and needed to grab a bite to eat. I spotted a health food restaurant that offered a giant buffet, including a salad bar where you could pay by plate size instead of by weight. Perfect!

They had two different salad prices: small and large. Of course I went for the “large” plate, but even that could have been bigger!

Whenever the deal is “fit as much as you can on your plate for this price,” my caveman instincts kick in, just like everybody else. So I started to pile crazy amounts of salad on that plate, filled with all kinds of veggies, some slices of avocado and other good things.

When I made it to the counter to pay, I thought I had a pretty big salad, but I still felt I could have piled even more on top of it all.

When the cashier saw my salad, he started laughing like a mad man.

The guy actually started to laugh uncontrollably! He just could not contain himself and started laughing and laughing while making comments about my salad between gasps for breath.

“Wow, that’s a really big umm….wow that’s a salad…..”

You get the idea.

I wasn’t quite sure whether to take it as a compliment or if I should feel slightly insulted.

But as he kept laughing more and more, I ended his party by looking at him straight in the eye, and with the most serious Poker face I could muster I asked him, “How much do I owe you?” trying to sound like I was a high-paid CEO talking to a low-class subordinate.

At first, I was wondering if he was laughing so hard simply because I was taking advantage of their $7.99 plate of salad by piling more than most people would fit onto such a plate.

But then I kept thinking of other buffets where you pay by the plate, and all over the world I’ve seen people do the same thing: pack as much as they can onto the tiniest, cheapest plate possible.

There’s a restaurant in my city called the “Mongolian Grill” where you can get a pretty good vegetarian stir-fry. You take a bowl and pile as many vegetables as you can onto it, and a guy will cook it in front of you on a giant hot plate.

At all of those restaurants, I’ve always witnessed people pack in as much meat as possible, and if they’re vegetarian, as much veggies as they can possibly fit onto that plate, so much that sometimes stuff starts falling off it as they bring it to the counter.

So after this health food store employee laughed uncontrollably at my salad, I came to the conclusion that he was actually laughing because I was going to EAT such a big salad, not because he though I was ripping off his store.

In his mind, eating such a giant salad would be the equivalent of someone else eating a three-foot sub sandwich! It’s all relative.

A local Montreal newspaper that was doing a feature on raw food diets once interviewed me. When I told the reporter that I was often eating 8 to 10 bananas for lunch, he also started to laugh uncontrollably, as did the filming crew. It seemed so odd to them that a single person would eat so many bananas in a sitting!

The Importance of Caloric Density

Caloric density is one of the most important concepts in health and weight loss.

It’s simply a value of how many calories are in a certain weight of food, either by pound or kilo.

If you eat foods with a low caloric density, you get full much faster because you have more volume to deal with, and more fiber to keep you full.

If you eat foods of high-caloric density, you tend to find it easier to consume more calories, and for some people this causes some issues for their waistline.

Study after study has shown that caloric density is the most important factor in making a diet work long-term.


Because if you eat foods of low caloric density, you get full much faster, and it’s incredibly difficult to overeat and gain unwanted weight.

For example, lettuce has a caloric density of only 100 calories per pound, while olive oil has 4000 calories per pound.

Now you’ll say… yeah, but nobody just eats olive oil!

Of course. But whenever you add olive oil to a food, you increase the overall caloric density significantly.

One famous study showed that when they fed a group of people the same food but without the added fat, people ate the same amount of food, but consumed fewer calories, and lost weight. But, the other group being fed the same food but with extra oil sneaked in gained weight. They were taking in extra calories without realizing it!

At the same time, if you add lettuce to any meal, you lower the caloric density.

That’s why they’ve found that when people had a large fat free salad or a big apple before their meal, they ate less at the meal and were able to lose weight. All because of applying the concepts of caloric density.

Let’s take a look at the average caloric density of different food, in terms of number of calories by pound.

Food Caloric Density Per Pound
Fresh raw or cooked veggies 100
Fresh raw fruit 250-300
Cooked Starchy Vegetables, Intact Whole Grains 450-500
Legumes and Beans 550-600
Meat Products 900-1000
Dried Fruit 1200
Processed grains and Flours (even if made from whole grains) 1200-1500
Cheese 1800
Nuts and Seeds 2800
Cheese 1800
Oil 4000


Keep in mind that this is an average across a category. For example, we know that bananas contain more calories per weight than apples, but overall fruits have a similar caloric density.

Looking at this table, you’d be tempted to only eat vegetables if you were interested in losing weight, as they contain only 100 calories per pound.

It’s important to note that nobody can live on just vegetables, and that you’d get so hungry on a diet of just vegetables that you’d eventually break down and eat something else!

However, you do want your diet to contain plenty of raw vegetables, by weight.
The concept of caloric density applied to your overall system of eating is to look at the overall caloric density of your meals.

What have been your experiences with eating since being aware of caloric density? Let us know in the comments below!


Frederic Patenaude has been an important influence in the raw food and natural health movement since he started writing and publishing in 1998, first by being the editor of Just Eat an Apple magazine. He is the author of over 20 books, including The Raw Secrets, the Sunfood Cuisine and Raw Food Controversies. Since 2013 he’s been the Editor-in-Chief of Renegade Health.

Frederic loves to relentlessly debunk nutritional myths. He advocates a low-fat, plant-based diet and has had over 10 years of experience with raw vegan diets.