5 Best and 5 Worst Salad Toppings

Dos and don'ts for topping those greens.

Green crunchy goodness! There’s so much about the humble salad that shouts good health and weight loss…until it comes to toppings. Salad toppings can make or break your journey to shed pounds. Learn the 5 best and 5 worst salad toppings so you can stay on track to a slimmer, healthier you.

Salads have long been a go-to food on healthy meal plans. While fresh greens and vegetables are smart food choices for anyone who wants to lose or maintain weight, many women end up adding unnecessary fat and calories by choosing the wrong toppings. Even toppings labeled healthy can be hidden sodium or sugar traps that will wreck your weight loss journey. Find out which salad toppings are dos and which are don’ts.

5 Best Salad Toppings

1. Homemade Salad Dressings
DIY dressing recipes give you complete control over taste and ingredients. By using clean eating ingredients like extra virgin olive oil, lemon, honey, and more, you benefit from all the flavor and none of the ingredients that add bulk to your waistline. Try our DIY Healthy Salad Dressings to find a no-guilt recipe you’ll feel fab about.

2. Seeds
From chia to flax to pumpkin, seeds punch up the nutritional factor–and the crunch factor!–in any salad. Chia and flax seeds are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are good for the heart. Pumpkin seeds contain zinc, magnesium, and tryptophan (the “sleep” amino acid found in turkey), plus they offer anti-inflammatory benefits. You can’t say that about bacon! Sprinkle seeds onto this delicious Strawberry and Spinach Salad or Hearty Kale Salad.

3. Greek Yogurt-Based Dressings
Non-fat Greek yogurt is a healthier alternative to calorie-bomb creamy dressings. It delivers protein and a heaping helping of probiotics, which boost gut health. Try this homemade Roasted Shrimp Salad with Buttermilk Cilantro Dressing or Fruit Salad with Poppy Seed Dressing.

4. Legumes & Other Plant-Based Proteins
Get a meaty fix by using chickpeas, beans, or tempeh (a cake-like food made from soybeans). These ingredients provide a plant-based protein source that will recharge your mind and body, making them a smart choice for refueling at lunchtime. Add Barley Salad with Chickpeas, Fava Beans, and Peas or Wilted Chard, Chickpea, and Pomegranate Salad to your lunch menu this week.

5. Eggs
Boost protein power the healthy way by adding one hard-boiled egg to your salad. Recent research suggests that adding an egg to your salad improves the body’s ability to absorb inflammation-fighting nutrients from the vegetables [1]. Many women can safely consume one egg each day, but if heart health is a concern, stick to a hard-boiled egg white. Find eggs in this Protein Cobb Salad with Quinoa or add one to a simple Garden Salad.

5 Worst Salad Toppings

1. Creamy dressings
Processed cream-based dressings are easily among the worst salad toppings. Creamy dressings labeled light aren’t necessarily healthy either. What you lose in fat or calories you gain in sodium, sugar, or artificial sweeteners. Fat-free creamy dressings are also notorious for incorporating high fructose corn syrup.

2. Whole Cheese
Some fats, like those found in olive oil, can be healthy additions to the menu; however, consuming too many fat-rich, whole dairy products, like cheese, can weigh down your weight loss efforts. Limit cheese toppings for salads to a light sprinkling of low-fat feta or shredded mozzarella. If you’re eating takeout or dining at a restaurant, ask the server to put the cheese on the side so you can control how much you consume.

3. Processed Meats
From bits of salami to slices of bacon, processed meats are a go-to salad topping for some. Research has linked processed meats, including bacon, to an increased risk of cancer. Some experts argue that regularly eating processed meats is in the same cancer-risk category as smoking. Do your body a favor and pass on these worst salad toppings!

4. Fried Chicken or Shrimp
Salads can be a way to boost healthy protein intake – unless you’re mixing in fried chicken or shrimp. The excess fat and calories will virtually negate any of the good stuff found in your greens.

5. Dried Cranberries
I know—they’re tasty. And they make a salad look pretty too! The problem is that dried cranberries are high in calories—up to 123 in a ⅓ cup serving. That same serving size contains…wait for it…a whopping 26 grams of sugar, or the equivalent of half a can of soda. Yikes!


[1] Purdue University

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Amy Wagner

Amy is a writer specializing in health & wellness, business, and entrepreneurship. She's a long-time martial arts teacher who has earned a 4th degree black belt in tae kwon do. When Amy's not writing or kicking, she's wrangling sons, reading fiction, or crushing on BBC actors.

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