The Best Salad Ingredients

Big Salad with Protein

Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

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Salads are the perfect opportunity to combine delicious, fresh flavors and nutrient-dense ingredients. Building the best salad for you means thinking about crafting a filling, balanced meal that appeals to your tastes.

Sometimes salads aren't big enough or satisfying enough to keep you full, so you soon become hungry. This occurs because salads can lack sufficient protein, fat, or carb to create a balanced meal that provides enough energy and substance to keep you fueled through the day.

Choose flavorful salad toppings that are packed with nutrients, include healthy fats, and are appropriately portioned. Use this list to choose your favorite salad ingredients, then experiment with your next meal.

Choose the Best Salad Greens


Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

The base of your salad can be leafy greens. Beans and grains can make a great salad base as well, and they are packed with protein and fiber. Adding greens to a bean or grain-based salad is still wise because they are filling and nutritious.

One recommendation is to choose a few fresh spring greens for flavor and then bulk up your salad with mild, crispy greens to add crunch and volume.

  • Spring greens: Arugula, spinach, chard, watercress, mustard greens, and beet greens are soft, flavorful spring greens.
  • Crunchy greens: Iceberg, bibb, romaine, radicchio, escarole, endive, leaf lettuce, and frisée are all crisp, low-calorie greens. You can also save time and throw a handful of pre-mixed cabbage into your salad bowl to add even more crunch.

Healthy Salad Hint #1

Don't be afraid to experiment with how you chop your salad greens and other ingredients. Don't like eating large leaves? Make a chopped salad instead and cut each ingredient into easy-to-eat 1/4 inch squares. Some chefs cut herbs and other ingredients into elegant ribbons for a more sophisticated look.

Select Colorful Vegetables


Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

In addition to greens, vegetables can be abundant ingredients in your salad. The best vegetables for a healthy salad will come in a wide range of colors.

To get a variety of flavors and healthy nutrients, add roasted or raw vegetables from each color category.

  • Red: Chopped or sliced tomato, shredded or sliced radishes, chopped red onion, sliced red peppers, cubed beets, cold sliced red potato.
  • Orange: Shredded or thinly sliced carrots, slivered orange peppers, cold cubed squash, heirloom orange tomato, cold diced sweet potato.
  • Yellow and white: Diced sweet onion, cooked fresh corn kernels, quartered yellow tomato, sliced yellow beets, cubed jicama, quartered or sliced mushrooms, finely chopped shallots, cauliflower, white asparagus.
  • Blue or purple: Diced purple potatoes, shredded purple cabbage, slivered purple peppers, eggplant.
  • Green: Thinly sliced green onion, chopped green tomato, quartered artichoke hearts, chilled peas, broccoli, seeded and sliced cucumber (skin removed), Brussels sprouts, and diced celery.

Healthy Salad Hint #2

Venture outside of your comfort zone when you choose vegetables. Sometimes combinations you never think will taste good turn out to be your favorites.

Choose Healthy Fats


Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

Your salad probably won't be satisfying unless you add a source of healthy fat. Adding fat to your salad will boost the satisfaction of your meal while helping you absorb fat-soluble vitamins.

Healthy fats can come in the form of oils or whole foods such as the ones listed below, which are high in unsaturated fats.

  • Avocado: Contains heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, magnesium, potassium, vitamin C, vitamin E, and vitamin K.
  • Olives: Contain monounsaturated fats and trace amounts of vitamin E and copper, B vitaminscalcium, and iron.
  • Olive oil: Contains monounsaturated fats and is a good source of vitamins E and K and trace amounts of potassium.
  • Nuts and seeds (almonds, pine nuts, walnuts, sunflower seeds, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds): Contain polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fat, protein, and fiber. Nuts and seeds' specific vitamins and minerals vary by type but contain nutrients like vitamin E, thiamin, magnesium, potassium, and several B vitamins. 

Healthy Salad Hint #3

Measure your fat source before you throw it in the bowl! It's easy to mindlessly add calories to your salad bowl when you add food right from the bottle or the box. Keep a digital scale and some measuring spoons handy to get the best measurements.

Add Protein


Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

If salad is the main course of your meal, you should add a lean source of protein to get the important satiating and health benefits that it provides. You'll also find that salads with protein keep you satisfied for a longer period after you eat. 

Many savvy eaters chop deli meats and add them to their salads. But be advised that some deli meats are healthier than others as they can be high in sodium and saturated fat. Stick to turkey, lean roast beef, or chicken when visiting the deli counter. You can also choose from these protein sources.

  • Meat: Leftover lean steak, grilled chicken (such as in Asian chopped salad with garlic-ginger chicken) or turkey, shredded roast pork, seasoned extra lean ground turkey, sliced deli roast beef
  • Seafood: Salmon, tuna (fresh or canned), shrimp, sardines, anchovies,
  • Grains: Quinoa, wild rice, brown rice, barley

Healthy Salad Hint #4

A single serving of protein is usually about 3 to 4 ounces. You can also estimate the correct portion by using your palm. For many sources of protein, this will equate to about 25 to 30 grams of protein.

Mix in Herbs


Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

One of the best ways to add flavor to your salad is to add chopped herbs. Of course, you can toss dried herbs onto your salad, but chopped fresh herbs are a flavorful and healthy addition to any diet-friendly meal. Try any of these herbs that you'll find in your grocer's produce section, such as basil, chervil, chives, cilantro, dill, parsley, tarragon, or thyme.

Herbs contain a lot of antioxidants and phytochemicals that help protect you from free radicals. They are also packed with vitamins and minerals, adding even more nutrition to your salad.

Healthy Salad Hint #5

Most salad dressings are made from herbs and some kind of oil. Adding some fresh herbs into pre-made or homemade salad dressing can boost the flavor and nutrition of your salad.

Complex Carbohydrates

Adding a source of high-fiber complex carbohydrates will boost flavor and texture and increase energy levels, regulate blood sugar, and increase nutrient content. Vegetables provide some complex carbohydrates, of course, but consider also adding sources of starches. Potatoes, beans, grainsricecornsquash, quinoa, and peas are all excellent sources.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest that carbohydrates account for about 45-65% of your daily calories. Adding carbs to your salad will help you reach this recommendation.

Healthy Salad Hint #6

Consider making and saving extra carbs at dinner time such as roasted sweet potatoes, squash, cooked rice and beans, or even day old bread torn up and turned into croutons or Panzanella.

Salad Dressing

olive oil

Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

If you've filled your bowl with delicious and healthy ingredients, the last step is to add salad dressing. Some store-bought products (often the ones that claim to be diet-friendly) are full of sugar. Check the labels for dressings that use healthy fats like olive or avocado oil.

You may find that you don't even need salad dressing when you fill your bowl with flavorful and savory ingredients. You sprinkle a little bit of salt and pepper, lemon juice, and some olive oil, then toss your salad.

If you absolutely love salad dressing, consider making your own. You can find many recipes for healthy salad dressings online.

10 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Malia Frey, M.A., ACE-CHC, CPT
 Malia Frey is a weight loss expert, certified health coach, weight management specialist, personal trainer​, and fitness nutrition specialist.