As you all know, I love a great salad! An integral part of my Beauty Detox System is having a huge salad at the start of every meal, because salads are superfoods packed with nutrition, essential vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and fiber.

Still, not all salads are created equal. Just because it’s called a salad doesn’t mean it’s healthy. People’s definitions of salads have greatly expanded to now include all kinds of thing. It all depends on the ingredients you put in them. Just for fun, I spent a little while browsing salad recipes and discovered so many unhealthy doozies. The worst, I think, was the Snickers salad, which is made with cream cheese, Cool Whip, powdered sugar, apples, and Snickers bars. Another salad I recall from school potlucks still seems to be around, as well. It contains canned fruit cocktail and Cool Whip.

It’s obvious with the two salads I listed above that they aren’t really healthy, and I doubt including the word salad in the name of the dish is going to actually influence people into believing they are eating a healthful food. Some salad ingredients, however, may be a little subtler and more difficult to spot. Let’s look at common salad ingredients that make a salad unhealthy and discuss ways to increase nutrition. At a salad bar, you can easily make these swaps, and when eating at a restaurant, you can ask the waiter to make these modifications to accommodate you.

Unhealthy Add-Ins

While most salads start out with fresh fruit or vegetables, they can quickly get out of control with some of these unhealthy add ins.

1. Croutons 

Croutons are a processed food. They are usually made from wheat bread, which contains gluten, as well as refined oils. Many also contain artificial colors and flavors, as well as salt, high-fructose corn syrup, and dairy products.

Try this instead: Looking for some nice crunch in your salad? Try a few tablespoons of raw almonds or crumple some gluten-free crackers or kale chips over your salad.

2. Mayonnaise 

Commercial mayonnaise contains eggs, oil (often soybean, a polyunsaturated vegetable oil), salt, vinegar, artificial flavors, and usually some type of sweetener such as high-fructose corn-syrup. According to the Center for Food Safety, 91 percent of the soybeans in the United States are genetically modified. Genetically modified crops may pose real threats to human health – see my previous blog on the topic. Mayo is pure, gloppy fat that makes your body look the same. Not what we want!

Salads such as coleslaw and potato salad often use mayonnaise as a dressing, and many other salad dressings (ranch, bleu cheese, thousand island) are mayonnaise-based.

Try this instead: Use a little extra virgin olive, some raw apple cider vinegar, and chopped fresh herbs to top your salad. Instead of coleslaw, enjoy my healthy probiotic and enzyme salad!

If you’re looking for a creamy salad topping, try using avocado, lemon juice, water, and herbs in the blender or food processor, or make a simple raw tahini-lemon dressing.

3. Cheese

Cheese is high in saturated fat, salt, and calories. Most cheese is made from dairy products, as well. One of the main problems with cow’s milk and products made from it is the main protein found in dairy: casein. In The China Study, researcher T. Coli Campbell Ph.D. found that controlling casein intake by significantly reducing or eliminating it helped prevent cancer.  Casein is also notoriously difficult for humans to digest, and many people have sensitivities to the sugars in milk and cheese.

Try this instead: If you’re making the transition away from dairy, you may try swapping the cow’s milk products with a small amount (just an ounce) of goat cheese. You can also get a great cheesy flavor from sprinkling a little nutritional yeast on your salad, with the added bonus of pumping up your vitamin B12 intake.

4. Meat – bacon, ham, etc.

Meat adds fat and calories to salads. Likewise, processed meats like bacon and ham meats add chemicals, sugar, and salt. Adding bacon bits to a salad is one of the quickest ways to make that salad unhealthy. And the meat adds a heaviness to an otherwise light meal.

Try this instead:  If you’d like a salty, umami flavor you get from bacon, try adding sautéed shiitake mushrooms to your salad instead, or sprinkle it with dulse flakes. If you want your salad to be bulkier, try adding seeds or a nut pate to it. You can even ask the waiter if they can top your salad with a veggie burger- no bun needed.

5. Cool Whip – Whipped Cream (fruit salads)

Cool Whip is a highly processed artificial food made from ingredients such as hydrogenated oil, high-fructose corn syrup, artificial flavors, and other chemicals. Whipped cream is made from cow’s milk dairy (see discussion above). Neither are healthy and both have plenty of saturated fat and calories, turning a fruit salad into a high-fat nightmare.

Try this instead: Squeeze a little lemon on your fruit. If you really want something creamy, you can make whipped cream from full-fat coconut milk. Here’s how:

Coconut Milk Whipped Cream

  • Place full-fat, unsweetened coconut milk in the refrigerator overnight.
  •  Drain off the liquid.
  • Scoop the coconut cream solids into a chilled bowl.
  • Using a chilled whisk or egg beater, whip until the coconut cream is light and fluffy.

Healthy and Delicious Salad Ingredients

So how do you make a healthy salad? Start with fresh, organic produce. Add any of the following ingredients for a healthful, delicious salad.

Greens

  • Kale
  • Romaine lettuce
  • Arugula
  • Spinach
  • Cabbage
  • Butter lettuce
  • Bibb lettuce
  • Microgreens and sprouts
  • Mache
  • Endive
  • Radicchio
  • Watercress
  • Frisee
  • Bok choy
  • Broccoli rabe
  • Pea sprouts
  • Sea vegetables
  • Sorrel
  • Purslane

Chopped and Whole Veggies

  • Bell peppers
  • Avocado
  • Carrots
  • Squash blossoms
  • Pea pods
  • Tomatoes
  • Asparagus
  • Celery
  • Scallions
  • Jicama
  • Radish
  • Turnip
  • Cucumber
  • Zucchini and summer squash
  • Mushrooms
  • Artichoke hearts

Flavorful/crunchy extras 

  • Dulse
  • Nutritional yeast
  • Flaxseed
  • Chia (make sure to hydrate it first into a gel)
  • Raw pumpkin seeds
  • Raw almonds
  • Raw caraway seeds
  • Fennel
  • Fresh herbs
  • Minced garlic
  • Minced shallot

Dressing

New York Times Bestselling Author, Nutritionist, Wellness and Beauty Expert