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14 Healthy and Out-of-the-Ordinary Salad Ingredients

author image Shannon Philpott
Shannon Philpott has been a writer since 1999. She has experience as a newspaper reporter, magazine writer and online copywriter. Philpott has published articles in St. Louis metro newspapers, "Woman's World" magazine, "CollegeBound Teen" magazine and on e-commerce websites, and also teaches college journalism and English. She holds a Master of Arts in English from Southern Illinois University.

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14 Healthy and Out-of-the-Ordinary Salad Ingredients
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If your mixed greens at lunchtime or dinner are beginning to become boring, it may be time to reinvent your favorite meal. Adding fresh veggies, dried fruits, nuts and seeds can offer a healthy punch to your lunch, along with more exciting flavor. “Healthy and interesting ingredients are all about color and texture,” says Sarah LaCasse, executive chef for Earthbound Farm in San Juan Bautista, California. “The happiest salads have variety, combining greens with a protein, something crunchy and something sweet.” Read on to learn about 14 healthy and unusual ingredients you can add to your salad for some diversity in both nutrition and flavor.

1. Diced Pumpkin
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1 Diced Pumpkin

Pumpkin doesn’t have to be reserved for fall and winter. Enjoy this sweet and savory fruit any time of year. For a salad the whole family will love, combine pumpkin, romaine lettuce, organic pears and pine nuts for a little crunch. Diced pumpkin is low in calories and loaded with healthy nutrients, such as the antioxidant beta-carotene. Foods high in antioxidants help reduce inflammation.

Related: See Full Recipe and Nutritional Details in MyPlate

2. Dried Cranberries
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2 Dried Cranberries

Try topping your salad with this sweet, tangy dried fruit to get a variety of health benefits. Incorporating cranberries into your daily diet may aid in the prevention and treatment of oral diseases, urinary tract infections and cardiovascular disease. Enhance your salad by adding dried cranberries to mixed salad greens topped with crumbled feta cheese and walnut pieces for a healthy, filling meal. Top with a dressing made from two parts balsamic vinegar to one part honey and one part Dijon mustard.

Related: See Full Recipe and Nutritional Details in MyPlate

3. Hazelnuts
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3 Hazelnuts

Hazelnuts offer a dose of healthy protein that won’t expand your waistline. A study published in the Journal of Nutrition in August 2013 found that consuming hazelnuts improves diet quality -- they’re loaded with magnesium, copper and thiamin -- without causing any weight changes. An ounce of hazelnuts boasts 4 grams of protein and almost 3 grams of fiber. Add this healthy treat to your salad by mixing romaine lettuce, chopped hazelnuts, raisins, red onion, plain mini shredded-wheat cereal and a ripe avocado. Top with a strawberry balsamic vinaigrette to sweeten the salad.

Related: See Full Recipe and Nutritional Details in MyPlate

4. Farro
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4 Farro

Top your salad with an ingredient that is rich in vitamin B3, zinc and magnesium. “Farro is a wheat-like grain that tastes similar to barley,” says Chad Brown, executive chef at Davio’s Manhattan. This healthy ingredient is high in fiber and protein and low in fat and calories. “Magnesium is a natural muscle relaxer, so it’s great to eat if you tend to have a lot of tension,” Brown says. He recommends creating the perfect salad by mixing a half-cup of cooked farro with steamed lentils, cooked red quinoa, a red wine vinaigrette, cherry tomatoes, diced cucumbers and thinly sliced radishes.

Related: See Full Recipe and Nutritional Details in MyPlate

5. Hemp Seeds
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5 Hemp Seeds

For a healthy dose of iron, phosphorus, magnesium and zinc, sprinkle a couple of tablespoons of hemp seeds on your salad. “Available at health-food stores, these nutrient-dense seeds provide protein and essential fatty acids and also give a delicious nutty taste and crunch to your salad,” says California-based certified nutrition consultant Michelle Dwyer. She suggests a Spring Goddess Salad, which combines 2 cups of pea shoots, five to six stalks of lightly steamed asparagus, half an avocado and 1 to 2 tablespoons of hemp seed.

Related: See Full Recipe and Nutritional Details in MyPlate

6. Dried or Fresh Mango
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6 Dried or Fresh Mango

Sweeten your salad and add color to your meal by incorporating some dried or fresh mango. This tropical fruit offers a dose of strong antioxidants, and research shows it may have anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antiviral and antidiabetic effects. To enjoy in a light and filling salad, mix mango with spinach and slivered almonds and top with a dressing made of red wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, dry mustard and fresh chopped tarragon.

Related: See Full Recipe and Nutritional Details in MyPlate

7. Brussels Sprouts
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7 Brussels Sprouts

For a healthy salad chock-full of vitamins K, C and folate, put Brussels sprouts on your grocery list. This vegetable is also rich in fiber to help fill you and keep you feeling full for longer after a meal. Using half a pound of steamed Brussels sprouts as the base for your salad, add 1 tablespoon of dried blueberries, 2 tablespoons of dried cranberries, 2 tablespoons of smoked almonds and a half ounce of shaved manchego cheese. Top with honey or champagne vinaigrette and enjoy this healthy dish with family and friends.

Related: See Full Recipe and Nutritional Details in MyPlate

8. Almonds
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8 Almonds

For the perfect crunch and a dose of protein, incorporate sliced almonds into your favorite salad mix. For a sweet yet salty salad, combine slivered almonds, mixed greens, tart chopped apples, raisins, sliced onion and crumbled feta cheese and top with raspberry vinaigrette. A one-ounce serving of almonds provides 3.5 grams of fiber and 6 grams of protein. Almonds are also a rich source of antioxidants like vitamin E and help reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes. They’ve also been shown to help manage waistlines.

Related: See Full Recipe and Nutritional Details in MyPlate

9. Radishes
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9 Radishes

This colorful and delicious salad staple will add flavor and healthy nutrients. Radishes are low in calories and keep you hydrated -- they are approximately 95 percent water, according to Christie Naze, registered dietitian with The Heart’s Kitchen, a food and nutrition consulting group in Portland, Oregon. Radishes also boast essential nutrients, including potassium, vitamin C and folate. Make radishes the heart of your salad by trimming 12 ounces into wedges and adding in 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar, orange juice, fresh lime juice, olive oil, 1 teaspoon of sugar, 1/4 cup of fresh cilantro leaves and 1/4 cup of finely chopped red onion.

Related: See Full Recipe and Nutritional Details in MyPlate

10. Flaxseeds
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10 Flaxseeds

If you’re seeking a simple salad that is filled with a healthy dose of omega-3 fatty acids, consider adding ground flaxseeds to the recipe. Flaxseed is one of the richest sources of omega-3s, which can aid in the prevention of cardiovascular disease, according to Manhattan-based nutritionist Amie Valpone. They must be ground (not whole) to access all the beneficial nutrients. Valpone recommends adding ground flaxseeds to a classic chicken blackberry salad. Simply combine 4 ounces of poached chicken breast with a 1/2 cup of fresh blackberries, 2 cups of mixed greens, 1 teaspoon of flax oil, 1 teaspoon of lemon juice, 1 teaspoon of ground flaxseeds, 1/4 teaspoon of fresh lemon zest, 1/4 teaspoon of sea salt and ground black pepper to taste.

Related: See Full Recipe and Nutritional Details in MyPlate

11. Celery
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11 Celery

Celery offers a nonfat, low-calorie option if you’re watching the scale. In fact, just half a cup of chopped celery will only add 8 calories to your daily diet. It’s also a healthy crunch alternative to other calorie-laden options like croutons. For a salad with a creamy texture, mix sliced celery, dried sweet cherries, frozen peas, chopped fresh parsley, chopped pecans, mayonnaise, plain low-fat yogurt and fresh lemon juice. Top with a pinch of salt and pepper to taste.

Related: See Full Recipe and Nutritional Details in MyPlate

12. Lentils
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12 Lentils

For a protein-rich addition to your salad, try lentils. Pulses (which includes lentils) improve long-term blood sugar control, thanks in part to their high-quality sources of fiber and protein, according to a paper published in Diabetologia in 2009 that reviewed 41 studies. Chad Brown, executive chef at Davio’s Manhattan, recommends mixing 1 1/2 cups of cooked lentils in a white or red wine vinaigrette dressing. Pour the dressing and coated lentils over one bunch of arugula, and top with 1 ounce of crumbled feta cheese.

Related: See Full Recipe and Nutritional Details in MyPlate

13. Cabbage
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13 Cabbage

For a new take on leafy greens, try adding fresh cabbage to your salad. This vegetable boasts powerful antioxidants as well as vitamins A, C, B6 and K, potassium and calcium while providing a low-calorie package that also includes fiber to help with digestive health, according to Rene Ficek, a registered dietitian and nutrition expert with Seattle Sutton’s Healthy Eating. Ficek recommends combining Napa cabbage with green onions and slivered almonds topped with an apple cider vinegar dressing for a healthy salad concoction.

Related: See Full Recipe and Nutritional Details in MyPlate

14. Kale
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14 Kale

Kale seems to be having its moment of popularity, with kale salads popping up on menus from coast to coast. And it makes sense: Kale is low-calorie ingredient that’s loaded with vitamins C, A, K and folate as well as carotenoids and flavonoids, two types of antioxidants that have been shown to help protect your body from cancer. Kale is a cruciferous vegetable in the same family as cabbage and broccoli and is also a source of iron, phosphorus and potassium. Eaten raw, it’s a healthy addition to your lunch or dinner salad. For a savory salad, combine kale, avocado, radishes, coconut oil, yellow or orange bell pepper and crumbled feta cheese.

Related: See Full Recipe and Nutritional Details in MyPlate

What Do YOU Think?
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What Do YOU Think?

Are you a fan or foe of salads? Do you enjoy them for lunch, dinner or both? What are your favorite ingredients mixed in a salad? Have a sweet, tangy or tart fruit, veggie or spice to add to our list? Share your suggestions by leaving a comment below.

Related: 16 Foods Dietitians Won’t Touch

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