8 healthy salad toppings you've never tried

By Mara Betsch

A heavy hand with the salad dressing ladle or one too many trips to the crouton bowl can turn a healthy salad into a diet disaster. You already know that the trick to a light salad is loading up on fresh, vitamin-rich veggies and lean protein while limiting cheeses, nuts, and full-fat dressing. But let's be honest: That can get boring.

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Swap your ho-hum grilled-chicken salad for something more tempting. Garnish your greens with these healthy (and often ignored) toppings.

Fennel
This often overlooked veggie (sometimes referred to in supermarkets as anise) is related to dill, coriander, and parsley. It adds vitamin C, fiber, and folate to your salad, plus a cool, subtle licorice flavor. It also blends well with citrus fruits and tomatoes.

Health.com: Secret natural ingredient: Fennel

Salsa
Add an extra serving of fruits or veggies-and tons of flavor-by spooning up to a half cup of savory tomato salsa over a bed of mixed greens. With around 200 mg per serving, it's lower in sodium than other dressings, and most jarred varieties don't contain added fat.

Whole grains
Whole-wheat couscous, barley, or quinoa are high-fiber toppings that also add some protein to your salad. Toss them over greens with a sprinkle of lemon or lime juice; it's a great way to use up that leftover side dish from last night's dinner.

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Artichokes
These low-cal and low-carb veggies make a filling addition to salads-and they placed fourth in a 2006 study ranking the top 50 antioxidant-rich foods. Just be wary of jarred artichokes, which are often marinated in oil.

Beans
When it comes to beans, you get a lot of nutritional bang for your buck. One half cup will cost you between 100 and 150 calories but will bring in 6 to 7 grams of fiber and protein. And not only will beans fill you up, but their mild taste will also complement almost any type of salad.

Edamame
These legumes (baby soybeans sold in the pod) pack as much protein as most animal products, without the unwanted saturated fat. They're filling and refreshing, and studies indicate that when soy consumption goes up, weight goes down. Buy edamame frozen to save on costs and keep it from going bad too quickly.

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Seeds
If you love the savory taste of nuts, seeds are a great alternative. Though both nuts and seeds contain a similar amount of fat and calories, you get more seeds in a two-tablespoon serving-and that means more satisfying crunch in every bite. Plus they have higher levels of zinc, and pumpkin seeds contain more than 4 grams of iron per serving.

Citrus fruit
Oranges and grapefruit make tangy salad toppings. Not only do they bring a burst of citrusy flavor, but they are also low calorie and packed with vitamin C. Or opt for kiwi: Though not technically a citrus fruit, this little powerhouse has more vitamin C than an equivalent amount of an orange, and research suggests that its antioxidant capacity helps protect DNA from damaging free radicals.

Health.com: Easy ways to add a splash of citrus

Dressings
Sick of oil and vinegar? Though the traditional combo is full of good fat and free from preservatives, there's no reason you can't branch out and still stay healthy. Yogurt and honey, for example, add flavor and texture to homemade dressings without unwanted chemicals. And the antioxidants in honey can protect the quality of salad dressing for up to nine months, according to a 2008 study.

Health.com: Make your own salad dressing