Chickpeas through radishes
If you’re trying to eat healthily, there’s a good chance salad is on your list of go-to meals — and if you’ve been eating a lot of salad, there’s a good chance it’s starting to feel a bit monotonous. After all, lettuce can only take an adventurous eater so far. But don’t give up just yet! With the wide variety of salad toppings available, you’ll find that salads can be just as delicious and exciting as any other part of your diet.
Also known as garbanzo beans, chickpeas are a versatile food packed with protein, minerals, and vitamins like riboflavin, thiamine, and niacin:
If you’re working with canned chickpeas, drain and rinse them before adding them to your salad. If you’re feeling fancy, you can buy roasted chickpeas at the store or make them at home. Roasting deepens their flavor and adds a lovely crunch that will liven up your average salad.
Mushrooms are fungi full of special plant chemicals with anti-inflammatory, anticancer, and antioxidant properties. Another great thing about mushrooms is that there are so many varieties to choose from. A few great options for salads include:
- White (or button)
All of the above mushrooms are safe to eat raw, which makes prepping easy — all you need to do is gently clean and chop them.
Table olives are a fermented fruit high in fiber, vitamin E, and monounsaturated fats like oleic acid. Oleic acid can protect against diabetes and cardiovascular disease, and your brain uses it to regulate your mood. Olives also contain squalene, which may lower your risk of skin cancer.
Canned olives will do, but they’re often much higher in salt than fresher forms, which can negate their nutritional value. Next time you’re at the grocery store, check out the olive bar and reach for kalamata olives if you can — they’re considered the healthiest type of olive, with five kalamatas containing 3 grams of monounsaturated fats and 2% of your daily value (DV) of fiber.
Cheese is an excellent salad topping for those with no issues digesting dairy. Cheese is a fantastic source of calcium, phosphorus, protein, and vitamins. There are two main types of cheese:
- Hard cheeses like parmesan, Romano, and asiago. One thumb-sized slice of hard cheese contains 120 calories, 180 milligrams of calcium, 8 grams of protein, and 6 grams of saturated fat.
- Soft or semi-soft cheeses like feta, goat, and mozzarella. Half a cup of soft cheese has 120 calories, 80 milligrams of calcium, 14 grams of protein, and 3 grams of saturated fat.
It’s best to avoid eating a lot of cheese due to its high saturated fat and sodium content. Sprinkling a modest amount atop your salad is a great way to get the benefits of cheese while avoiding the drawbacks.
Nuts can be a fun addition to your salad and have many health benefits. Studies have shown that eating five servings of nuts per week can significantly lower your risk of coronary artery disease and death.
Walnuts are rich in omega-3 fatty acids that protect your heart; almonds contain high levels of immune system-boosting vitamin E; and hazelnuts boast a higher folate content than any other nut, which means they promote healthy cell growth.
Radishes are capable of easing digestion, fighting bacteria, and serving as a solid salad topping. Not only are they filling, despite a low-calorie count and zero fat content, but they’re also high in detoxifying vitamin C, with 14% of your DV in half a cup.
Carrots through orzo
Shredded or diced, carrots add a lovely splash of color to your salad (especially if you use multicolored carrots). Whichever variety you choose, one medium-sized carrot can decrease your risk of chronic disease while providing 6% of the DV of vitamin C, 1.7 grams of fiber, and 5.6% of the DV of potassium.
For a dinner-worthy salad, place a piece of baked, smoked, or poached salmon on a bed of lightly seasoned greens. One serving of salmon contains 2 grams of omega-3 fatty acids, immune system-enhancing selenium, vitamin D, and bioactive peptides that support tissue and cartilage health.
If you’re searching for a filling salad topping, look no further than this gluten-free grain. A little quinoa goes a long way — one cup contains 222 calories, 8 grams of protein, 39 grams of carbs, 5 grams of fiber, more than half the DV for manganese, and 20% of your daily folate requirement.
10. Bell peppers
Bell peppers have powerful antioxidant properties and the potential to lower your risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer. One red bell pepper contains 169% of your DV of vitamin C. Bonus: Bell peppers are healthiest when eaten raw, which makes your life much easier!
Yes, technically, orzo is pasta — but pasta’s reputation as an unhealthy food is largely unearned and mainly stems from people eating too much of it. The fact that pasta is made from semolina (durum wheat) means it’s higher in protein than its fellow refined-grain foods.
One cup of cooked pasta has about 6 grams of protein and 2 grams of fiber. Pasta’s low glycemic index causes your body to digest it more slowly, which can keep you feeling full for longer.
Pro tip: Don’t overcook your orzo. Not just because al dente is the Italian way, but because al dente pasta has a lower glycemic index.
Rice through onions
Although white rice is often enriched with nutrients, brown rice is technically the healthiest choice. In one cup of cooked long-grain brown rice, you’ll find 3 grams of fiber as opposed to 1 gram in the same amount of white rice. Brown rice also boasts more B vitamins and magnesium.
13. Artichoke hearts
Artichoke hearts pack a tasty punch (especially when marinated in garlic, herbs, and olive oil) and are a great source of health-boosting phytonutrients. Artichokes have been shown to reduce cholesterol and contain chemicals that can reduce stomach problems like gas and nausea.
Seeds are a simple way to supplement your salad’s nutritional value. For example, chia seeds are the best plant source of omega-3 fatty acids, and two tablespoons contain 4 grams of protein, 11 grams of fiber, and 18% of your recommended DV of calcium.
15. Dried or fresh fruit
Not everyone enjoys the combination of sweet and savory, but those who do will love the unexpected sweetness of fruit on a salad. Strawberries, pomegranate, and dried cranberries are all classic choices rich in antioxidants.
Plain tomatoes also make a good salad topping, but why stop there? Salsa adds a festive kick to salads while maintaining the many benefits of tomatoes, which include a decreased risk of certain cancers and chronic disease-causing inflammation.
Raw onions are a fan favorite, but pickled and caramelized onions contain many of the same health benefits. The sulfur compounds in onions may help lower blood sugar, prevent cancer, and decrease the risk of stroke.
Corn through homemade dressing
In addition to its mildly sweet flavor, corn provides a healthy helping of vitamins and dietary fiber and can potentially lower your risk of obesity and diabetes.
Low in calories and high in protein, edamame is a type of soybean often served alongside Japanese cuisine. Edamame has been shown to reduce cholesterol as well as lessen the risk of breast cancer.
Shrimp can take any salad from drab to fab. They’re low in calories — you’d have to eat 15 shrimp to hit 100 calories — and brimming with more than 20 vitamins and minerals. Plus, one serving provides more than 70% of your DV of selenium.
Cucumber may be mostly water, but it supplements all that H2O with vitamin K, the mineral molybdenum, and phytonutrients with antioxidant properties. Cucumbers also contain an anti-inflammatory compound called fisetin that can improve memory and protect your brain health.
22. Homemade dressing
Store-bought bottled salad dressing can be high in saturated fat, calories, and sodium and include many unhealthy ingredients. All you need to make your own basic salad dressing is vinegar (like balsamic or champagne), olive oil, salt, and pepper.
Fun salad toppings for a balanced diet
Once you start experimenting with the salad toppings above, you might make greens your main course more often than not.
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
American Heart Association: "Rounding up healthy rice choices."
Antioxidants & Redox Signaling: "Fisetin: A Dietary Antioxidant for Health Promotion."
British Journal of Nutrition: "Nutritional quality and health benefits of chickpea (Cicer arietinum L.): A review."
Consumer Reports: "Are Shrimp Good for You?", "Everything You Need to Know About Quinoa," "How to Make Pasta Healthy."
Food Science and Human Wellness: "Corn phytochemicals and their health benefits."
Harvard Health Publishing: "Is your salad dressing hurting your healthy diet?"
Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: "Cheese," "Chia Seeds," "Mushrooms."
International Food Information Service: "Health Benefits of Salmon: Pt. 1."
Journal of Nutritional Science: "Table olives and health: a review."
NC State University Cooperative Extension: "Root for Radishes."
PennState Extension: "Health Benefits of Tomatoes."
Samaritan Health Services: "Enjoy the Health Benefits of Eating Nuts & Seeds."
Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter: "Are Raw Onions More Nutritious Than Cooked Onions?", "Are You Seeing All the Health Benefits of Carrots?"
The University of Vermont Health Network: "6 Reasons Why We Love Bell Peppers."
University of Wyoming Appetite for Knowledge: "Artichoke Hearts," "Cool As A Cucumber."
U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Data Central: "Kalamata Olives."
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