Top This! Five Surprising Toppings for a Healthier Salad
Reviewed by Sharon Denny, MS, RD
Do you build a healthy salad and then top it with lots of croutons, bacon, and cheese? What you sprinkle over your greens can make or break a salad. Here we give you the scoop on five unexpected toppings that will boost the flavor and healthfulness of your salad.
Salads in Bloom
Your salad has greens, veggies, even fruits — so why not go further into the garden and add flowers too? Edible flowers, which include marigolds, violets, roses, and pansies, can add color and flavor to your salad. Just be sure to use flowers that are labeled as edible, because other blooms may be toxic or may have been grown with dangerous pesticides.
While research hasn't been done on the health effects of flowers, Academy Spokesperson Lona Sandon, RD, says it's likely that antioxidants give flowers their beautiful colors. But more important, giving your salad more eye-appeal may make you want to eat more of it, so you aren't craving a brownie an hour later. "When food looks appetizing as well as tastes good, we are just generally more satisfied with the meal," Sandon says.
Avocados get a bad rap. Sure, they're a high-fat food — but most of that is heart-healthy monounsaturated fat. Avocados also contain hard-to-get vitamin E. And there's more: Avocados are a good source of fiber, according to Academy Spokesperson Dawn Jackson Blatner, RD. One-quarter of an avocado — a typical serving — boasts 3.5 grams of fiber. (The Dietary Reference Intakes or DRI for fiber is 25 grams for women and 38 for men.)
In addition, a study by researchers at Ohio State University found that the fat from avocados helps people better absorb carotenoids, which are a type of antioxidant found in many salad veggies, from carrots to spinach.
Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme
We often think of herbs as nutritional nothings, but according to Sandon, they can have more antioxidants than typical salad veggies. Also, "Various herbs have been associated with different things like lowering blood pressure and helping to control blood cholesterol levels," she says.
Blatner says that both fresh and dried herbs taste great, so experiment with parsley, garlic, oregano, basil, chives, rosemary, thyme, and others; sprinkle them on your salad or add them to a simple vinaigrette made with olive oil.
Dressing It Up
We've been conditioned to avoid full-fat salad dressings, but a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition revealed that, like avocados, the oils in salad dressings help us absorb the carotenoids in our salad veggies. In addition, fat, whether it's from a salad dressing or an avocado, helps us absorb the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K, says Sandon. Finally, adding a little fat — one or two tablespoons of dressing — to your salad can help you feel fuller and more satisfied.
Not Your Mama's Fruit
We all know that berries, apples, oranges, and pears taste great on salads. And who hasn't added a few dried cherries, dried apricots, or raisins to their greens? But according to Blatner, non-traditional fruits can add excitement to a salad: Try watermelon, pomegranate seeds, nectarines, or peaches, all of which pack different types of vitamins and antioxidants, not to mention fiber. Also, try the non-dried versions of dried favorites — like fresh cherries, grapes, and apricots, which can have several times fewer calories than their dried counterparts.
Courtesy Dawn Jackson Blatner RD, LDN
3/4 cup water
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 clove garlic
1/4 teaspoon dried dill
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh chives
Salt/pepper to taste
Blend everything in a blender. Store in a plastic squeeze bottle in the fridge.
Nutrition Information (per 2 tablespoon serving):
45 calories, 3.5g total fat, 0.5g saturated fat, 0 cholesterol, 80mg sodium, 3g carbohydrates, 2g fiber, 0 sugars, 1g protein.
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Reviewed January 2013