By Amy Gorin, MS, RDN
Looking for the best salad toppings? Here you go! Also find the top salad bar toppings for when you're eating out.
I love a good salad. In college, I was that weirdo who bought bagged lettuce as a snack–and offered it to my friends when they visited!
Of course, back then I didn't know that a well-balanced salad should have protein such as a hardboiled egg or tofu, healthy fat like avocado or almonds, and plenty of other veggies such as mushrooms, celery, and red onions. And the key: not too many other high-calorie toppings like cheese.
Why Eat Salad?
Simply put, salad puts vegetables on your plate. And having an eating pattern rich in fruits and veggies has been linked with health benefits and reduced disease risk, including a lowered risk of heart disease! Vegetables are also a great way to get lots of taste for very few calories.
Adults should aim for 2 to 3 cups of vegetables daily. However, half of the American population eats less than 1 ½ cups daily, and 87% doesn’t meet minimum requirements for veggie intake, per research from the National Cancer Institute.
That’s why I compiled tips from my dietitian colleagues to help you more easily get the best Fall-inspired produce into your salad. Hello, delicious, healthy salad toppings!
The Best Salad Toppings
I love any type of onion on my salad, whether diced or sliced. And if you’re like me, you’re often in a hurry to get dinner on the table. So if I’m cutting up a half an onion for a recipe, I’ll dice up the other half, too—and freeze it in a zip-top plastic bag for future use.
“I like to use fresh wild mushrooms or dried mushrooms, lightly sautéed in a pan with some parsley,” says Denine Marie, MPH, RDN, owner of Healthy Out of Habit. “Then I add those to salads, pasta dishes, and more. Anything from button mushrooms to shiitake to maitake work well for adding flavor.” Saute mushrooms in a small amount of fat-free vegetable broth or water.
A sweet potato is an excellent source of fiber, which helps to keep you fuller for longer. Dice up cooked sweet potato and add to a salad. Butternut squash is a great sub-in for sweet potatoes.
You can add fruit to salad, too! I’m a huge fan of berries and add them to so many dishes. In addition to all the health-helping antioxidants that berries boast, they can help lower your LDL "bad" cholesterol. In fact, in one review study in Scientific Reports, people regularly eating berries had lower LDL cholesterol levels, versus people not regularly eating berries.
Prunes, raisins, and other dried fruit make fantastic salad toppers. As for prunes, they boast many bone-helping nutrients. These include the minerals potassium and magnesium, as well as vitamin
K. Research in Osteoporosis International shows that eating five to six prunes daily may help prevent bone loss.
“These add tons of flavor to any dish,” says Chelsey Amer, MS, RDN, author of The 28-Day Pescatarian Meal Plan & Cookbook. “Sauerkraut, pickles, pickled beets, and pickled carrots are some of my favorites to throw in salads or Buddha bowls." Choose a pickled recipe with no added sugar to keep the calories lower. And pickled veggies tend to be higher in sodium, so do use in moderation.
As a pescatarian, canned chickpeas, white beans, black beans, and pinto beans are a staple in my kitchen. I shop for the no-salt-added version. I love that after I drain and rinse the beans, I can quickly add them to a salad. They also offer many vitamins and minerals.
Eggs supply many important nutrients, including brain-helping choline and eye-helping lutein and zeaxanthin. Plus, you get several grams of protein per hardboiled egg. They taste great in regular salads and chicken salads!
Fatty fish such as salmon, sardines, and herring are an important part of the Mediterranean diet. This is because they offer the omega-3s EPA and DHA, which can help you lower risk of heart disease and also benefit brain health. Smoked salmon, tuna, sardines, and anchovies work particularly well in salads.
This protein source is a staple of the Mediterranean diet, and one reason is that they supply healthy fats to the diet. Pistachios, almonds, peanuts, and other nuts offer satiating plant-based protein and fiber!
The combo of nuts and seeds in a salad is great. Try chia seeds, hemp seeds, flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, and sunflower seeds. They are a good source of protein and an excellent source of fiber—and these two nutrients work together to help keep you satiated.
Salad Dressing Toppings
“Pick up some infused vinegars, or make your own to add incredible flavor to your salads, roasted vegetables, or whole-grain salads,” suggests Christy Brissette, MS, RD, author of Everyday Low Carb.
“To make your own infused vinegars, put some rice vinegar, apple cider vinegar, or white balsamic vinegar in a glass bottle or mason jar. Add flavoring agents such as rosemary sprigs, sundried tomatoes, slices of jalapeno peppers, some berries, or finely chopped fruit. Let it infuse for 10 hours, and then taste to see if the flavor is strong enough for you. If it's too strong, strain out the flavoring ingredients and add more vinegar.”
You can use grape juice and just a few other ingredients–hello, olive oil!–to whip up a delicious and good-for-you grape juice salad dressing.
"I love adding pumpkin to my recipes in unique ways,” says Lauren Harris-Pincus, MS, RDN, author of The Protein-Packed Breakfast Club. “One is in my pumpkin vinaigrette salad dressing. It adds a lovely creaminess, plus an extra veggie for picky eaters.”
“Lemons, limes, grapefruit, and oranges bring a freshness to salad dressings, veggies, and more,” says Robin Plotkin, RDN, culinary nutritionist at Robins Bite. “It’s the zest that gives the bright, acidic flavor.”
This blog post was updated in September 2020. A version of this content originally appeared on WeightWatchers.com.
- Adults Meeting Fruit and Vegetable Intake Recommendations—United States, 2013,
- Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR)
- Denine Marie, MPH, RDN, owner of Healthy Out of Habit
- Effects of Berries Consumption on Cardiovascular Risk Factors: A Meta-analysis with Trial Sequential Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials, Scientific Reports
- The Effect of Two Doses of Dried Plum on Bone Density and Bone Biomarkers in Osteopenic Postmenopausal Women: A Randomized, Controlled Trial, Osteoporosis International
- Chelsey Amer, MS, RDN, author of The 28-Day Pescatarian Meal Plan & Cookbook
- Christy Brissette, MS, RD, author of Everyday Low Carb
- Lauren Harris-Pincus, MS, RDN, author of The Protein-Packed Breakfast Club
- Robin Plotkin, RDN, culinary nutritionist at Robins Bite
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I'd love to hear from you! What are your favorite tips for eating a healthy salad?
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