- Best: Grilled Chicken
If you’re looking to make your salad more filling without turning to fattening add-ons, grilled chicken gives you the best bang for your buck. Low in fat and high in protein, this hearty salad topping is a great way keep you full and focused all day long.
- Worst: Cheese
Cheese may be tasty, but it’s doing you no favors in terms of your health. Not only are many salads weighed down with enormous portions of cheese that can add hundreds of calories to your meal, as much as 75 percent of the population can’t adequately digest dairy after infancy, making cheese a poor choice for anyone eager to maintain the health of their digestive tract.
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- Best: Hard-Boiled Egg
Add some egg to your salad and get healthier in an instant. A satisfying, low-calorie protein source, eggs — particularly the yolks — are a good source of vitamin D, which has been linked to reduced risk of multiple sclerosis by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health.
- Worst: Croutons
They add so little flavor to your salad that you might assume croutons aren’t particularly bad for you, but that’s far from the truth. In fact, croutons often pack more than 60 calories per half-cup, and are loaded with fat and sodium.
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- Best: Chia Seeds
Give your salad a satisfying crunch and improve your health at the same time by topping those lettuce leaves with some chia seeds. Chia seeds are full of protein, fiber, and omega-3s, making them a great choice for anyone eager to get a stronger heart, more effective digestive system, or boost their immune health.
- Worst: Crispy Noodles
Those crispy noodles in your salad are hardly the innocuous add-on you think they are. A deep-fried combination of egg, water, and white flour, crispy noodles have very little nutritional value for something with so much fat and so many calories — just a quarter-cup can add over 100 calories to your salad.
- Best: Quinoa
Crunchy, nutty, and full of flavor, quinoa is a healthy way to bulk up any salad, making it more filling and more delicious all at once. If you’re making your salad at home, add some olive oil and garlic to your quinoa before adding it to your meal; the anti-inflammatory compounds in both olive oil and garlic make this an even healthier treat for everything from your brain to your belly.
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- Worst: Tortilla Chips
If something has been deep-fried, it has no place in your salad. While tortilla chips can add a pleasantly crunchy element to lackluster greens, they’re highly caloric, often loaded with trans fat, and the salt used to season them is a recipe for bloat. If you’re eager to add some satisfying crunch to your salad without breaking the dietary bank (or your chair, for that matter), try out some cucumbers, bell peppers, or raw, unsalted nuts instead.
- Best: Blueberries
Sweeten that salad in no time by adding a handful of fresh blueberries to your recipe. Blueberries not only make it easier to spear those stray spinach leaves on your fork, they’re also a good source of resveratrol, an antioxidant polyphenol that research suggests may be able to aid in weight loss, reduce belly fat, and fight free radical damage.
Satisfy your sweet tooth the healthy way and discover the 40 Ways Red Fruit Burns Fat!
- Worst: Deli Meat
If you think that those slices of turkey or ham on your salad are doing you any favors health-wise, think again. Not only has the WHO linked processed meats with an increased risk of cancer, many deli meats are drenched in sodium and processed using artificial colors and preservatives that may contribute to everything from weight gain to diabetes.
- Best: Bell Peppers
Getting your immune health in order starts with adding some bell peppers to your favorite salad. Bell peppers are not only flavorful, they also pack more vitamin C than an orange, making them a great way to give your immune system a pick-me-up.
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- Worst: Dried Fruit
While you might think that dried fruit is a decent alternative to high-fat salad toppings, it may not be the healthy choice you think it is. Many types of dried fruit, like cranberries, are loaded with added sugar, injected with artificial colors, and preserved using sulfites, which can cause symptoms ranging from respiratory distress to diarrhea in susceptible individuals.
- Best: Avocado
Go ahead, get guacamole on that salad! Avocado is a good source of heart-healthy fat as well as being loaded with protein and fiber, making it a filling salad topping for vegans and vegetarians.
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- Worst: Fried Chicken
Chicken is a healthy source of protein when baked or grilled, but when you batter it and deep-fry it, it’s anything but. A single 3-ounce fried portion of fried chicken can add more than 250 calories to your salad, as well as an unhealthy helping of white flour and trans fat.
- Best: Black Beans
Pile on the protein by making black beans a staple in your salads today. Unlike many meat-based protein sources, black beans are a great source of fiber, helping you maintain a healthy digestive tract and perk up your immune system.
For more incentive to make black beans a regular part of your menu, discover the 40 Reasons to Eat More Beans!
- Worst: Sesame Sticks
Unless you’re eager to add fat, sugar, and salt to your salad, steer clear of sesame sticks. Sesame sticks are heavily salted, often prepared using sugar or high fructose corn syrup, and are then fried to achieve their crispy texture. If you wouldn’t add potato chips to your salad, don’t add these.
- Best: Grilled Shrimp
Low in calories but high in protein, shrimp is an easy way to make any salad a filling meal. Luckily, shrimp also happens to be a good source of omega-3s, which are linked to improved heart health and weight loss.
- Worst: Candied Walnuts
If something has any permutation of the word “candy” in it, you can probably safely assume it’s not a health food. While walnuts on their own can load your diet with protein, fiber, and anti-inflammatory omega-3s, the process by which they’re candied loads them with sugar, saturated fat, and tons of calories. Just a quarter cup of candied walnuts will add a whopping 200 calories to that salad in an instant.
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- Best: Salsa
Spice up your salad and get healthier in no time by adding some delicious salsa, perhaps even in place of your usual dressing. The tomatoes that comprise the bulk of salsa are good sources of lycopene, an antioxidant that has been linked to reduced rates of cancer and heart disease. The peppers that give salsa its spices are no slouch either; the capsaicin in chili peppers has been linked to weight loss by researchers at Maastricht University.
- Worst: Bacon
Bacon may be the candy of meats, but it’s no treat for your insides and no good on your salad. The WHO confirms that eating processed meats like bacon can increase your risk of heart disease and colorectal cancer, so if you’re eager to stay healthy, give it the boot from your salad.
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- Best: Walnuts
Without a candy shell on, walnuts are a pretty great choice as a salad topper. Not only are they a good source of omega-3s, research published in the Journal of the American Heart Association suggests that adding monounsaturated fats, like those found in walnuts, to your diet, can aid in weight loss.
- Worst: Creamy Dressings
Ditching that creamy ranch or blue cheese dressing in favor of a little oil and vinegar will lighten up your meal with virtually no effort. Not only are creamy dressings packed with inflammation-promoting dairy, a single serving can house upwards of 100 calories. Even worse, preservative EDTA, which is often used to keep these dressings shelf-stable, has been linked to kidney damage and blood clots.
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- Best: Pear Slices
Satisfy your sweet tooth while getting in your greens by topping your salad with some sliced pear. Not only are pears a great source of fiber, researchers at Louisiana State University have found that individuals who regularly consume pears are less likely to be obese than those who abstain.
- Worst: Fried Onions
Whether you’re adding them to a casserole at Thanksgiving or sprinkling a few on your salad, one thing is for sure: fried onions are no favor to your waistline. Just a single ounce of fried onions packs 73 calories, as well as 70 milligrams of sodium, and four grams of fat.
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- Best: Cucumbers
Low in calories, high in water, and an easy way to add crunch to to your salad, cucumbers are one of the best topping choices for a healthier meal. Cucumbers also happen to be a great source of antioxidants, which can help reduce inflammation throughout your body while lowering your risk of certain types of cancer.