The BEST Salad Toppings For Major Nutrition

Illustrated by ELLIOT SALAZAR.
Tackling your local salad bar is daunting, we know. The typical $8.99-per-pound payment scheme can be tricky, and we’ve previously guided you through the potential economic pitfalls to avoid. Still, if you can resist the pricey add-ons, you can get a healthy meal that's also budget-friendly. 

We chatted with nutritionist and founder of Primal Blonde Nutrition, Grace McCalmon, to figure out the healthiest items at the salad bar. She suggests you start with a bed of kale, which is packed with vitamins A, C, and K. “We know that nutrients in vegetables degrade days after harvesting, so unless you grow your own food, the amount of nutrients will be depleted,” McCalmon says. “Kale, since it has so much, is one of the better bets.”

Next up: Toppings. McCalmon chose 11 favorites that will give you energy to make it through your work day. You don’t have to add all of these to your salad — mix and match using whatever combination you like. Lunch just got that much easier.
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Illustrated by ELLIOT SALAZAR.
There’s a reason that salmon has become the poster child for healthy fish — it’s protein-rich and packed with vitamins B6, B12, and omega-3 fatty acids (sort of the magic ingredient in fish). “Omega-3 fatty acids are super-important because they can be anti-inflammatory,” McCalmon says. Omega-3s have also been shown to have a positive effect on cognitive development and heart health. And, the healthy fat in salmon helps your body to absorb more vitamins. Salmon also has astaxanthin, a super-nutrient that's linked to an improvement in eye health.

Salmon is pricey at the fish counter (it can go for some $11.99 a pound), which makes it a steal at the salad bar.
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Illustrated by ELLIOT SALAZAR.
Eating nuts lowers your risk of major chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes, and can even help you live longer. Nibbling on almonds in particular can help reduce belly fat, according to a recent study.

And, nuts like almonds are great sources of protein and healthy fat, which is necessary to absorb vitamins that you’re getting in the salad. “Vitamins A, D, E, and K are fat-soluble,” McCalmon says. So are carotenoids like beta carotene. That means they're much better absorbed when eaten along with some fat. “Plus, the more fat you have, the fuller you’re going to feel.”
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Sunflower seeds pack major nutrition and add extra crunch. “Sunflower seeds are super high in zinc, which is great for your immune system and helps digestion,” McCalmon says. In fact, most seeds are great as salad toppers — flax and chia seeds have plenty of omega-3 fatty acids and also add fiber to your diet.
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Olives are a great source of monounsaturated fats, which past studies have shown can help lower blood pressure and reduce your risk of heart disease. “Plus, they’re rich in vitamin E, which may be anti-aging and could help with wrinkle prevention,” McCalmon says.
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“You really can’t go wrong with eating avocado; it’s a healthy powerhouse,” McCalmon says. These creamy fruits — because they are fruits — are a great source of vitamin C, E, and K, plus vitamin B6, which studies have shown helps prevent vision loss. “Avocado is one of the more low-sugar options of fruit,” McCalmon says. And, as you might expect, it’s a great source of healthy fats, which help you absorb the nutrients you need.
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“The star quality of cherry tomatoes is their antioxidant content,” McCalmon says. Tomatoes are rich in lycopene, an antioxidant that may help decrease your risk of stroke and heart disease. (Cooked tomatoes have the most lycopene, but raw ones contain it, too.) Past studies have also shown that people who eat more tomatoes tend to have a lower risk of developing prostate, lung, and breast cancer.
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“Carrots are full of antioxidants,” McCalmon says, and those compounds may help fight aging. Plus, a mere 1/2 cup of carrots packs more than a day’s worth of vitamin A, which is essential for good vision. Carrots also contain fiber, vitamin K, potassium, and folate.
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“Bell peppers are one of the best food sources of vitamin C — more than oranges,” McCalmon says. Vitamin C, she says, helps support the immune system and collagen production. The different colors of bell peppers have slightly different nutritional profiles: According to the National Institute of Health, 1/2 cup of sliced green bell pepper has 100% of your daily value of vitamin C, while an equal amount of red peppers has 158%. Peppers are also high in vitamin A, which helps keep your skin, teeth, and bones healthy.
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Not a fan of bell peppers? Snap peas are also a great source of vitamin C: A three-ounce serving provides more than half of the recommended daily intake. “People think they need to drink a gallon of orange juice to get vitamin C, but if you get it from vegetables, you can cut down on sugar,” McCalmon says. Plus, sugar snap peas are packed with B-complex vitamins, niacin, and vitamin K — the latter helps support bone health.
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Broccoli has vitamins K, A, and C, plus a healthy amount of fiber, potassium, folate, and lutein. If you see broccoli sprouts at the salad bar, even better: These baby broccoli plants have more sulforaphane, a powerful antioxidant, than the adult version. Sulforaphane is linked to a lower risk of gastric cancer and heart disease.
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Beets have gained a sort of cult status in the health world. They're packed with nutrients that can boost your health; one interesting study found that eating beets can even help improve your running performance. “They do have a little bit of sugar, but they’re high in vitamin C and help support liver function,” McCalmon says.
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