- Fresh Herbs
Herbs are the leaves, seeds or flowers of plants that can add flavor or fragrance to your dishes.
Popular fresh herbs to add to salads or salad dressings include basil, mint, rosemary, parsley, sage and cilantro.
Herbs not only add flavor but may also provide various health benefits.
For example, research shows that a compound in rosemary and sage may have anticancer properties, while cilantro may help fight inflammation (9Trusted Source, 10Trusted Source).
- Leftover Meat
Leftover meats — such as baked or grilled chicken, pork or beef — can be repurposed as salad toppings.
Meats are loaded with vitamins and minerals, as well as high-quality protein that can help you feel full and satisfied (11Trusted Source).
For example, 3 ounces (84 grams) of baked chicken breast has 26 grams of protein for less than 140 calories.
Pre-cooked meats are available at grocery stores for convenient, quick salad toppings, but be aware that they may contain additional and potentially unhealthy ingredients.
You can also prepare your own by cooking meats in a skillet, on the grill or in your oven with olive oil and seasonings at 350°F (176°C) until they reach a safe internal temperature.
Adding seafood to your salad can boost its nutrition and flavor.
Salmon, cod, halibut, shrimp, lobster and even sardines are incredibly healthy sources of protein, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins and minerals. Studies show that eating fish can boost heart health and brain function (12Trusted Source, 13Trusted Source).
The most nutritious ways to prepare seafood for salads are baking, broiling or grilling. Deep-fried or breaded seafood with added oils and salt are not as healthy.
To prepare fish at home, brush the fillets with olive oil and seasonings and bake in a lined dish for 15–20 minutes at 400°F (204°C).
Avocados are a versatile food and a great addition to salads.
They’re loaded with nutrients that can improve heart health and support healthy aging, such as monounsaturated fat, fiber, potassium, vitamin C, vitamin K and folate (14Trusted Source).
In fact, one avocado provides over 50% of the DV for vitamin K and 41% of the DV for folate.
You can add sliced avocado to almost any salad or use guacamole as a topping. To make guacamole, mash avocado with onion, garlic and lime juice. Optionally, add some fresh cilantro for an extra zing.
- Soft Cheeses
Soft cheeses, including fresh mozzarella, feta, ricotta, goat, bleu and burrata, make excellent salad toppings.
They provide a creamy texture and delicious flavor, along with protein, calcium and other micronutrients. What’s more, soft goat and feta cheeses made from goat’s or sheep’s milk are lactose-free and good options for those who cannot tolerate cow’s milk (15, 16, 17Trusted Source).
Soft cheeses are widely available at grocery stores and specialty markets. When searching for mozzarella, burrata or feta cheeses, look for those packed in brine that inhibits bacterial growth and maintains the creamy texture.
- Pomegranate Arils
The red seeds of pomegranates — known as arils — make for a decorative and nutritious salad topping.
They not only make for a pretty salad but may also provide impressive health benefits. Studies have found that pomegranate arils are rich in compounds called anthocyanins that can have antioxidant properties (18, 19).
Packaged pomegranate arils are available at most grocery stores. To get arils out of a whole pomegranate, slice off the top, use a knife to make a few evenly spaced scores on the sides of the fruit and then crack it open with your hands.
- Corn and Salsa
Using corn and salsa as a salad topping is an easy way to create a flavorful and nutritious Tex-Mex salad.
A 1/2-cup (128-gram) serving of corn kernels has over 9% of the DV for fiber and is rich in vitamin C and folate. What’s more, research suggests that eating tomato-based products like salsa that contain lycopene may help prevent heart disease and cancer (20Trusted Source, 21Trusted Source).
When shopping for corn and salsa, look for varieties that contain mostly whole-food ingredients. You can also make homemade salsa with diced tomatoes, peppers, onions, cilantro and seasonings.
- Tofu and Edamame
Tofu and soybeans, known as edamame, are excellent sources of plant protein to add to your salad.
One cup (155 grams) of cooked edamame has close to 17 grams of protein, while 1/2 cup (126 grams) of tofu provides close to 20 grams. Both foods are loaded with folate, vitamin K and several other micronutrients.
Additionally, eating tofu, edamame and other soy-based foods may help prevent heart disease and some cancers (22Trusted Source).
When choosing soy foods for your salad, look for whole soybeans and tofu without many additives. Keep in mind that most soy is genetically modified unless marked with an organic or GMO-free label.
Olives are a nutrient-rich and flavorful salad topping.
They’re loaded with healthy fats — packing over 2 grams of monounsaturated fat in 1 ounce (28 grams). Research has linked monounsaturated fat consumption to a reduced risk of heart disease and lower cholesterol levels (23Trusted Source, 24Trusted Source).
Since olives are cured in brine, they can be high in salt. If you’re watching your salt intake, look for varieties with reduced sodium.
- Oil-and-Vinegar Dressings
A salad is not complete without a dressing.
In fact, one small study found that participants who ate salads with full-fat dressings absorbed more nutrients from the vegetables than those who used reduced-fat or non-fat dressings (25Trusted Source).
Since oils are a good source of fat, you can make your own full-fat salad dressing using oil and vinegar. Combine 2 tablespoons (30 ml) of healthy oils — such as olive oil or avocado oil — with 1 tablespoon (15 ml) of vinegar for a quick and tasty dressing.
Refine your mix with herbs and spices that suit your taste buds.
The Bottom Line
Adding healthy toppings to your salad can boost nutrition and flavor.
The above suggestions make it easy to put together a healthy mix that will help you feel fuller and more satisfied.
What’s more, these nutritious toppings can add flavor and texture to a balanced diet and may provide a variety of health benefits.
ious toppings can add flavor and texture to a balanced diet and may provide a variety of health benefits.