With so much conflicting information on what foods are good for us and which ones we should avoid, most health experts do agree that eating a salad is one of the best things we can do to attain good health. However, what you decide to put on top of that healthy salad might actually cause weight gain, inflammation, and even promote disease! One of the worst offenders is the salad dressing. What you pour on your salad can cancel out all its healthful benefits. Creamy salad dressings, like ranch, contain more calories and fat per tablespoon than a chocolate chip cookie! A 2-tablespoon serving of a typical blue cheese dressing packs on 150 calories and more than 15 grams of fat! Many people believe that Italian dressing is a healthy option but most of the brands contain more sodium than a small bag of potato chips! If you absolutely must have your fattening Caesar, blue cheese, ranch, or thousand island dressing, instead of pouring it on top of your salad, dip the tip of your fork into the dressing before diving in. This technique helps you still enjoy the flavor of these dressings while consuming considerably less. For a healthy salad dressing alternative, opt for a balsamic vinaigrette or try squeezing some lemon and spices on top. My favorite is apple cider vinegar salad dressing. Here’s the recipe:
Add all ingredients into a blender and blend. This is a delicious and healthy addition to any salad.
I will now rank the most common toppers by how healthy they are — from salad-enhancer to salad-destroyer.
Avocados are a great addition to any salad. This fruit — yes, avocado is a fruit — is one of the best sources of potassium, an essential mineral that helps regulate muscle contractions, maintain healthy nerve function, and regulate fluid balance. Approximately 98 percent of Americans don’t consume the recommended potassium intake.
Furthermore, while you may have heard avocados are loaded with fat, it’s actually the healthy kind of fat, called oleic acid — a monounsaturated fatty acid that’s also a major component of olive oil. Oleic acid has been shown to help in the prevention of cancer. Avocados are also great sources of soluble fiber, which benefits the friendly gut bacteria in the intestines. Plus, avocados contain compounds that support cardiovascular health, blood glucose regulation, and have anti-inflammatory benefits.
In addition, avocados help with weight loss, because they keep you fuller for longer, which means eating fewer calories.
2) Hard-Boiled Eggs
Hard-boiled eggs are the perfect nutritional powerhouse! They’re low in calories and loaded with a plethora of vital vitamins, minerals, and nutrients. In addition to eggs being high in protein, they contain all nine essential amino acids, which are involved in important processes, such as energy production, tissue growth, immune function, and nutrient absorption.
So many people avoid eggs because they “increase cholesterol levels.” I completely debunk this myth in my international award-winning, #1 bestselling book, Food Sanity, How to Eat in a World of Fads and Fiction. Research shows that dietary cholesterol from eggs doesn’t have a negative effect on blood cholesterol. In fact, egg consumption may improve ‘good’ HDL cholesterol. As a result, eggs even help in the prevention of metabolic syndrome, the risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.
In addition to aiding in heart health, eggs may also help in the prevention of metabolic syndrome, the risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes. One study published in 2016 analyzed participants over 40 years of age for 3.5 years, evaluating how egg consumption impacted metabolic syndrome. The study found that egg consumption reduces the risk of metabolic syndrome and makes a significant impact on blood sugar and triglyceride levels.
Similar to avocados, eggs can also help with weight loss, because the protein in eggs has been shown to increase a person’s metabolic rate by 15 to 30 percent. Eating an egg can also help keep you from consuming extra calories throughout the day. EGGcellent!
3) Beans: Chickpeas, kidney beans, black beans
Chances are, you might run into at least one of these at the end of your salad bar. They are all good for you! Load them on top of your salad! Beans are one of the most healthful foods on the planet. They’re chock-full of fiber, protein, complex carbs, antioxidants, and vitamins. Beans help with weight loss, increase our lifespan, lower our risk of heart attack, diabetes, and cancer.
When it comes to gut health, beans help aid in preventing constipation and provide fuel for the healthy bacteria in the colon. The high fiber content of black beans also helps reduce cholesterol levels. Plus, beans are a great option if you want to lose weight and reduce your waist circumference.
But the most impressive health benefit for adding beans to your salad is, they help to reduce the development of cancer thanks to powerful flavonoids. In fact, research published in 2015 analyzed antioxidant properties in various foods that can help fight intestinal cancer, and beans were shown to have the most potent antioxidant properties. Beans also contain alpha-linolenic acid, which is necessary for a healthy brain.
4) Nuts: Walnuts, Almonds, Cashews
Nuts are a great addition to a salad. Nuts are loaded with antioxidants, fiber, protein, vitamins, minerals, and unsaturated fats. The health benefits of eating nuts include lowering cholesterol, weight control, and reducing the risk of cancer.
The most common nuts found at most salad bars are almonds and pecans. Almonds contain more fiber than any other nut — about three grams per ounce — and are also the highest in Vitamin E. In the body, vitamin E acts as an antioxidant, protecting cells from damage caused by free radicals. Almonds can also help regulate blood sugar, making them great for diabetics, too.
Pecans, meanwhile, contain monounsaturated fats, which may help improve cholesterol levels. Pecans give you more flavonoids than any other nut, too: Flavonoids are among the most anti-inflammatory of all antioxidants, helping to combat cardiovascular disease and the negative effects of aging.
Another healthy salad topper, olives are low in cholesterol and good sources of dietary fiber, which the body needs for good gut health. They’re also rich in antioxidants, including oleuropein (anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer), hydroxytyrosol (anti-bacterial, anti-fungal), tyrosol (combats heart disease), oleanolic acid (improves liver function), and quercetin (lowers blood pressure).
Olives are an integral part of the Mediterranean diet, which is consistently ranked as the #1 healthiest diet in the world. Research shows people following a Mediterranean diet could cut the risk of developing cardiovascular disease by up to 28% compared with a control diet.
Olives can help your body deal with all the pandemic stress you’ve been feeling. The powerful polyphenols in olives can protect against oxidative stress and chronic inflammation, a key initiating factor of heart disease.
6) Shredded Carrots
Adding shredded carrots to your salad can help you with weight loss because carrots help to increase fullness and decrease caloric intake during subsequent meals. The soluble fiber in carrots may curb belly fat, too. Half a cup of shredded carrots contains just 25 calories.
Besides helping with weight loss, carrots also contain a decent amount of good stuff for your body like carotenoids, powerful antioxidants that have been shown to improve immune function and reduce the risk of many illnesses, including colon, prostate, breast, and stomach cancer.
Carrots can help improve your vision. Individuals with lower levels of vitamin A experience night blindness, a condition that can be helped by simply eating carrots! In addition, the carotenoids in carrots have also been shown to combat the risk of age-related macular degeneration. While carrots may have a sweet flavor, they can actually help lower blood sugar and are great for diabetics. They have a very low glycemic index (GI). This is how quickly a food raises blood sugar levels. Shredded carrots have a low GI score of around 39. In addition, carrots contain vitamin K and small amounts of calcium and phosphorus, which support bone health
We finally enter the realm of not-so-great salad toppers. Cheese is a calorie-dense food that’s loaded with sodium, which makes it easy to overeat and can also be an issue for people with high blood pressure.
One of the reasons cheese falls so low on my list of salad toppers is because it contains lactose, a sugar that 70 percent of the population can’t break down. This can cause symptoms of lactose intolerance, like sinus issues, abdominal pain, bloating, flatulence, diarrhea, and general malaise.
In addition, most cheeses contain casein, a protein found in milk that creates a histamine inflammatory reaction inside the body, which can lead to arthritis, gut dysfunction, coughing, itchy skin, and hives. Casein is also considered a potentially dangerous carcinogen.
There’s a lot of controversies when it comes to soy, so much so that in my book, Food Sanity, I devote an entire chapter to the topic. Soy is the number one genetically modified (GMO) crop in the world. Research published in the New England Journal of Medicine shows that eating GMO soy causes an increase in nut allergies. But there are still health experts that praise soy as being healthy. Edamame does offer some healthful fiber, vitamins, and minerals; however, after carefully reviewing over a thousand studies published on soy, I strongly believe that the risks of consuming unfermented soy products far outweigh any benefits. Only fermented soy is good for us. That includes the likes of natto, tempeh, and even soy sauce.
This starchy grain contains high sugar content. If you’re concerned about your weight, you may want to leave corn off your salad. Consider this: When factory farms want to fatten up cows and pigs quickly, they feed them corn.
Moreover, corn is second to soy as being the most genetically modified crops in the world, and that research has linked the consumption of genetically modified corn with toxic effects on the liver and kidneys.
A Harvard study analyzed 133,468 adults and found, for each serving of corn consumed, it caused a 2-pound weight gain. Potatoes, peas, and other starchy vegetables did not contribute to this type of weight gain. If you’re on the “avoid gluten” bandwagon, you may want to include corn. This grain can cause inflammation and lead to a condition called leaky gut, which may lead to an array of symptoms including autoimmune disease, trouble with focus and memory, to joint pain, headaches to rashes, and fatigue.
I bet you saw this one coming. Made from white bread, croutons are cooked with oil or butter, which adds saturated fat and calories to your salad. In fact, just 12 croutons can add up to 70 calories to your salad.
These crunchy toppings can also have high sodium levels, depending on how they’re prepared. Plus, while croutons may provide a satisfying crunch, they’re basically empty calories with no nutritional value or health benefit. Instead of using croutons, if you crave a bit of crunch on your salad, try adding a tablespoon of Grape-Nuts cereal or granola. This gives you the crunch texture and healthful benefits of whole-grain fiber. Or toast a piece of 100-percent whole-grain bread, crumble it into small pieces and add it to your salad for a crunchy, toasty, fiber-rich option.
11) Bacon Bits (so bad, it wasn’t worthy of being included in the top 10!)
Americans love their bacon, so much so, the average American eats 18 pounds of it per year! Bacon bits contain harmful preservatives called sodium nitrates, which research shows are linked to colon cancer, heart disease, and Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma. The World Health Organization also classifies bacon as a group-1 carcinogen, meaning scientists are certain that there is ‘sufficient’ evidence that consuming it causes cancer.
As good as it tastes, 68 percent of bacon is fat — the bad kind. Just one ounce of bacon contains 30 milligrams of cholesterol. When you combine saturated fat with high dietary cholesterol, this can increase your risk of heart disease and stroke tenfold. So it’s probably best to stay clear of bacon bits at the salad bar, unless you want to hear your doctor shout, “CLEAR!”
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About the Author
Dr. David Friedman is the author of the award-winning, #1 national best-selling book Food Sanity, How to Eat in a World of Fads and Fiction. He's a Doctor of Naturopathy, Chiropractic Neurologist, Clinical Nutritionist, Board Certified Alternative Medical Practitioner, and Board Certified in Integrative Medicine. Dr. Friedman is a syndicated television health expert and host of To Your Good Health Radio, which has changed the face of talk radio by incorporating entertainment, shock value, and solutions to everyday health and wellness issues.Read more here