23 Healthy Salads Nutrition Experts Eat

 by Jessica Smith

Salads have so much potential -- though that’s not always a good thing. Topped with fresh vegetables, lean proteins, healthy fats, and homemade dressing, they can make the perfect nutrient-packed meal. But when words like “creamy,” “bacon,” and “cheese” are involved, their real potential is for packing on pounds.


Salads have so much potential -- though that's not always a good thing. Topped with fresh vegetables, lean proteins, healthy fats, and homemade dressing, they can make the perfect nutrient-packed meal. But when words like "creamy," "bacon," and "cheese" are involved, their real potential is for packing on pounds. So how do you put together a salad that is delicious and satisfying without tons of calories? We asked top nutrition experts to reveal their favorite recipe for a hearty, healthy salad. Their answers were even more mouthwatering than expected. Check out all 23 expert's meal ideas -- and try not to drool!

1. Red Quinoa Salad with Avocado

There's a reason quinoa is now a kitchen staple, on par with rice and pasta. It's not only a gluten-free source of calcium, iron, vitamin E, and several B vitamins, it's also a complete protein that contains all nine essential amino acids, says Lauren O'Connor, a registered dietitian and owner of Nutri-Savvy in Los Angeles. Packed with whole grains, fruit, and vegetables, this hearty salad will keep you feeling full and energized for hours.


2. Corn, Crab and Tomato Salad

Chock full of lean protein, crunchy sweet corn, and juicy tomatoes, this summer salad is a favorite of New York City-based registered dietitian Sharon Richter. "I love that I can use fresh Jersey corn from the farmers market and basil from my herb garden," she says. "The red tomatoes provide lycopene, which helps protect my skin from sun damage."


3. Ruby Red Beet Salad

Salad for dessert? Why not! "This antioxidant-rich beet salad is the perfect side for dinner but can also be served for dessert," says Rania Batayneh, a nutritionist and owner of Essential Nutrition for You in San Francisco. With ingredients like walnuts, cranberries, pomegranate seeds, and beets, this sweet salad delivers a hefty dose of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin C and iron. Plus, it's easy to make and full of ingredients that promote flawless skin, Batayneh says.


4. French Lentil and Golden Beet Salad

This salad makes a satisfying meal, says Mary Hartley, RD, creator of AskMaryRD.com. "It's a complex blend of bitter and sweet, acid and oil, with contrasting texture and color; and while every ingredient is healthy, the power ingredient is the mighty lentil," she says. "If your diet was made up of only 10 foods, lentils would have to be one -- they are loaded with soluble and insoluble fiber, folic acid, B vitamins, and a host of major and trace minerals. One serving provides 55 percent [of the daily value] for vitamin C and 35 percent of the [daily value] for iron." Hartley loves eating (and sharing) this vegetarian salad, but she gives credit to blogger Leela Cyd of LeelaCyd.com for creating it.


5. Nutty Kale Salad

It was love at first bite for nutritionist Stephanie Pedersen and this powerhouse salad. "I first tasted a version of this at my sister-in-law's home and couldn't stop eating it! It was my first experience with raw kale, and I was hooked," she says. Just one serving delivers about 8 grams of protein, tons of belly-filling fiber, 420 percent of your daily vitamin A, 275 percent of your daily vitamin C and a hit of powerful antioxidants, Pedersen says. Plus, this salad is super-versatile -- add a handful of raisins or pumpkin seeds, change up the nut butter or add some jalapeno for a spicy kick.


6. Fajita Salad

Each serving of this easy-to-make fajita salad contains a full serving of protein, a tasty variety of vegetables and a wonderful mix of healthy fats," says Beth Watt, certified nutritionist, personal trainer, and owner of Fit Body Studio in Stillwater, Okla. If you're eating within two hours after your workout, add some rice or a whole-wheat tortilla for a more complete recovery meal, Watt says.


7. Pesto Kale and Cabbage Salad

Kale and cabbage are among the most nutrient-dense vegetables, but they can be a pain to prepare, says Theresa Albert, registered nutritionist and author of Cook Once a Week, Eat Well Every Day. But not with this quick, easy, and delicious recipe -- there's no cooking required.


8. Roasted Vegetable and Quinoa Salad

"You can't go wrong with this delicious, nutrient-packed salad," says Lauren Schmitt, RD, and certified personal trainer in Studio City, Calif. The assortment of colorful vegetables provide an array of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. One serving contains more than 100 percent of the daily recommended value of vitamin C and vitamin A and 20 percent of your daily iron requirement -- which is pretty impressive for a vegetarian dish, Schmitt says.


9. Wheat Berry Veggie Salad with Citrus Vinaigrette

This light recipe pairs well with any barbecue meats or seafood and can be made into a hearty meal by adding diced chicken, shrimp, tofu or other lean protein, says Lauren Harris-Pincus, RD, co-founder of NutritionBabes.com. "It's also a great source of fiber and a welcome whole grain at summer barbecues, which are typically full of refined carbohydrates."


10. Kick S.A.S.S! Fiesta Salad

"There are so many great things to say about this salad," says Cynthia Sass, RD, author of the New York Times bestseller S.A.S.S! Yourself Slim: Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches. "It provides the perfect balance of veggies, 'good' carbs, lean protein and healthy fat, so I feel both satisfied and energized after eating it," she says. It also delivers a broad spectrum of nutrients, and it's loaded with superfoods like weight loss-promoting beans and metabolism-enhancing, immune-boosting hot peppers.


11. Orange-Scented Beet Salad

"I love this salad not only because it tastes, and looks, great, but because it uses the natural sweetness of beets paired with the incredible antioxidant, anti-cancer properties of orange zest," says Jill Nussinow, RD, also known as "The Veggie Queen." "These beets, which offer up a good dose of iron, served atop the nutrient-rich greens make for a wonderful flavor contrast."


12. Strawberry Greens Salad

The powerful combination of watercress and strawberries in this salad helps your body absorb the iron found in the spinach, says Laura Cipullos, RD, certified diabetes educator in New York City. "In addition, watercress is a cruciferous vegetable that is not only cancer protective, but high in calcium." Crunchy red onions contain the antioxidant quercetin, which has been found to have anti-inflammatory properties.


13. Mediterranean Quinoa Salad

This Mediterranean mix is not only delicious, it's also full of energizing B vitamins, muscle-relaxing magnesium, and filling fiber, says Peggy Kotsopoulos, author of Must Have Been Something I Ate. Top the salad with feta cheese, which is lower in calories than many other cheese varieties.


14. Asian Pear and Blue Cheese Salad

This salad is more than just a crowd-pleaser, it's loaded with immune-boosting antioxidants from the pecans, contains calcium and vitamin A from the blue cheese, and is a good source of fiber, says Kara Ellis, a clinical dietitian and nutrition expert in Hartford, Conn. The red leaf lettuce is packed with vitamins C and K, folate, iron and potassium. Plus, it's a delicious blend of sweet and savory flavors.


15. Strawberry-Spinach Salad with Champagne Dressing

Class up your salad with a little bubbly. "The combination of canola oil and almonds provide just enough of the 'right' fat to leave you satisfied and full without offering too many calories from fat," says Allison Stowell, registered dietitian for Guiding Stars, an objective food rating system for consumers. "And this salad gets high marks from me for the nutrient-rich spinach and strawberries."


16. Mexican Avocado Salad

Love guacamole? Then you'll love this low-carb Mexican salad. Serve it as-is for a satisfying side or main dish. Or leave out the lettuce and mix the avocado into the tomato mixture to serve as a salsa over grilled chicken breast or fish, recommends Colette Heimowitz, M.Sc., who created this salad for The New Atkins for a New You Cookbook.


17. Strawberry Chicken Salad with Hoisin-Sesame Dressing

"I love this salad because it's a wonderful source of vitamin C and protein," says Tina Ruggiero, RD, nutritional consultant for Driscoll's Berries. "It's also quick to prepare and pretty to look at!" This recipe makes about 11/3 cups of the flavorful hoisin-sesame dressing (more than the 1/2 cup you'll need for the chicken salad), so Ruggerio recommends refrigerating the rest and using it during the week to flavor other salads or drizzle over grilled meats or fish.


18. Cranberry Quinoa Salad

Not only is this salad colorful and full of flavor, it's also a protein powerhouse and a good source of iron and magnesium, says Kati Mora, RD, founder of Around the Plate, an online blogging community focused on nutrition. Antioxidants and vitamin C from the cranberries help protect the body from damaging free radicals and may have anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties as well, she says.


19. Blink of an Eye Green Salad

Having no time is no excuse for not eating healthy. You can make this salad in three minutes or less, says Jennifer K. Reilly, RD, who created this recipe for the Cooking with Trader Joe's Cookbook - Skinny Dish! Even though it's quick, it's still full of nutrition, packing in 75 percent of your daily recommended dose of vitamin A.


20. All You Ever Wanted in a Couscous Salad

Besides being full of fiber and healthy fats, this creative couscous salad also very tasty, says Amy S. Margulies, RD for Retrofitme.com. The hearty dish packs 15 grams of protein per serving, thanks to crunchy toasted almonds and juicy chicken breast.


21. Marinated Thai Steak Salad

This salad ups its nutritional power by swapping out lettuce for cabbage. "Cabbage is probably one of the most important vegetables we can add to our diet," says Stephanie Leach, an Institute for Integrative Nutrition® Health Coach in Longmont, Colo. Red cabbage's purple color is caused by powerful antioxidants called anthocyanins -- the same type of pigment that makes blueberries blue, Leach explains. "Anthocyanins are also known to have anti-inflammatory properties, which protect connective tissue and blood vessel walls from damage," she says. "Cabbage is also a good source of fiber, making it one of the healthiest, low-calorie vegetables you can eat."


22. Strawberry Spinach Salad

"This is one of my favorite go-to salads, especially in the summer when strawberries are juicy and in-season," says Shana Hussin, RD, certified health coach, and creator of Go Meals Go! "With only five ingredients, this salad is simple to assemble and packed with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. One serving provides 60 percent of your daily recommended value of vitamin A, 70 percent of vitamin C, 15 percent of calcium and 20 percent iron."


23. Fruity Shrimp Salad

"You can't find a prettier salad than this combination of bright fruit and tender shrimp," says Diane Kress, RD, author of The Metabolism Miracle. "Packed with healthful antioxidants and omega-3 fats, it will help to keep your cardiovascular system young."


What Do YOU Think?

Which of these salads would you most like to try? Do you have a great salad recipe to share? Let us know -- we always love trying your suggestions.


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