Eat Smart

Best & Worst: Salad Topper Edition

You’re in line at the make-your-own salad station at Wegmans, and after filling your container with dark leafy greens you’re faced with the choice between the vast array of salad toppers. What do you choose? Craisins, walnuts, or crispy fried onions? Here’s a list of the five best and worst salad toppers to help you design your healthiest, tastiest salad yet!

LOAD UP on these toppings:

Walnuts – Nuts add crunch, a dose of protein, and micronutrients to your salad. Specifically, walnuts are rich in vitamin E—an antioxidant—and magnesium, a mineral that helps regulate blood pressure. Walnuts are also high in omega-3 fatty acids, which have anti-inflammatory properties.

Quinoa – This ancient grain provides fiber and protein, which will help you feel fuller for longer, reducing the chance you’ll grab an unhealthy snack a few hours after you eat.

Hardboiled eggEggs are a great source of vegetarian protein, and they also contain 50% of your daily requirement of vitamin B12. Eggs are also rich in choline and vitamins A, D, and E. The healthy fat in eggs will also aid in absorption of the fat-soluble vitamins found in all the veggies in your salad.

Feta cheese – Choose a cheese with a stronger flavor, such as feta, which will pack a larger flavor punch than milder cheeses like cheddar. Per ½ cup of cheese, you’ll be getting about 10 grams of protein and 37% of the daily value of calcium.

Avocado – Avocado is chock-full of monounsaturated fat (the healthy kind) and fiber, which will boost the filling power of your salad. Avocado is also rich in antioxidants, such as carotenoids and vitamins E and C, which help to fight free-radical damage in the body.

PASS on these toppings:

Dried cranberries – These tangy treats seem like a smart choice, but you may want to reconsider after learning only 1/3 of a cup contains a whopping 26 grams of sugar! A one-ounce portion of dark chocolate contains almost half this amount of sugar.

Candied nuts – Avoid any nut labeled with the words “glazed” or “candied.” These words disguise this topping as being healthy, when in reality they are loaded with added sugars that offers no nutritive value. Stick with the raw versions.

Croutons – One cup of croutons contains 122 calories, the majority coming from refined carbohydrates. You’re better off getting your crunch from raw veggies, nuts, or seeds.

Crispy fried onions – This crunchy topping provides you with little to no nutritive value while adding empty calories and saturated fat to your meal. Pass!

Creamy dressings – Creamy dressings not only up the caloric value of your salad, but manufacturers also often sneak in added sugars to their dressings. Opt for a mix of balsamic vinegar and olive oil to dress your salad for fewer calories.

Now that you’re armed with a few techniques for building healthier salads, go ahead and experiment with different flavor combinations to find what pleases your palate. When all else fails, opt for real, whole foods to spice up your salad over processed items.

By Julie Kameisha