For those who want to stay healthy and slim this summer, salads are the perfect meal to keep you energized and sustained. Not only are they nutrient-rich and full of satiating fiber, mixed greens are easy to throw together and take on the go. However, in my opinion, adding processed meat, dressing and cheese can require extra time, spoil in heat and leave you feeling sluggish while sabotaging your summer diet.
Vegan bias aside, animal products increase your risk of heart disease, diabetes and some cancers, so I believe it’s best to limit them from your diet. At first, a meatless and dairy-free salad may seem lackluster, however, I can assure you that there are many ways to spice up your salad without the health risks, bloat and extra prep time that accompany salads containing meat and dairy.
Here are a few additions to make your vegan salad outshine any chicken-caesar medley.
1. Leafy Greens
Instead of iceberg lettuce as a base, use dark leafy greens to get more nutrients and flavor from your salad. While light green iceberg consists of mostly water, darker-hued spinach, kale and arugula will give you more phytonutrients, calcium, iron, etc. with crisper flavors.
2. Nuts & Seeds
Nuts and seeds add a decadent crunch to your greenery while giving you a dose of healthy fats. Unsaturated fat is necessary to absorb fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K, so foods like chia seeds, sunflower seeds and almonds will help you get the most out of your nutrient-dense kale and spinach. Beware of roasted, salted or candied nuts as these often are higher in calories due to extra sodium, sugar and processing.
Lean meatless protein such as edamame, black beans and chickpeas offers satiating fiber, magnesium and many other nutrients without the unhealthy fat in meat and dairy. With 13-17 grams of protein per cup, beans really are a magical fruit and a great addition to any salad.
Create a bit of sweetness to balance the slightly bitter taste of greens by adding colorful fruits. Fresh berries, oranges and apples are full of vitamin C which enhances the absorption of iron in kale and spinach. Be cautious of dried fruits as these are usually preserved with extra sugar.
Sprouts are raw germinated seeds that are more nutritious and easier to digest than fully developed nuts, grains and legumes. Experts estimate that there can be up to 100 times more enzymes in sprouts than mature fruits and vegetables. These enzymes act as catalysts for all of your body’s functions. Adding sprouts to your salads will add a healthy crunch and ensure that every bodily process works efficiently.
This nutrient-dense superfood is a gluten-free, grain-like seed that makes a fluffy and filling addition to a crunchy salad. As a complete protein, meaning it contains all 9 essential amino acids, quinoa is a perfect meat replacement for vegans, vegetarians and healthy eaters alike.
Avocados are a creamy and nutritious addition to any meal. They’re high in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats which help lower blood pressure and unhealthy LDL cholesterol levels. Avocadoes are also loaded with energizing vitamins such as C, E, K and B6. These green machines are fiber-rich, making you feel full and less likely to overindulge or snack later.
8. Veggie Burgers
Veggie burgers can offer the hearty sustenance you crave without thick dairy and fatty meat. They contain concentrated vegetables in a dense patty with lots of fiber and nutrients. Look for brands with fewer than 300 mg of sodium, no cheese and limited preservatives as some varieties may prioritize taste over health. Beware of Morningstar because their veggie burgers aren’t vegan. Check out this guide to Spoon NYU’s favorite veggie burgers to save time, money and your tastebuds from unsatisfying burger-wannabes.
Cherry tomatoes add a zesty pop of flavor to your bed of greens. Tomatoes are rich in lycopene, an antioxidant that notably decreases your risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer. Cooking makes lycopene more bioavailable, so top your salad with sauteed tomatoes to boost your disease-fighting antioxidant consumption.