You can combine many anti-inflammatory foods to build a nutrition-packed salad.
I created a free, detailed, printable anti-inflammatory food list with a great starting point for foods to incorporate into your weekly diet.
You can add salads to any meal. They can be fussy or simple. I opt for simple anti-inflammatory salads most of the time.
Keep reading to learn more about the impact one salad can have on your diet, a comparison of a homemade salad and two salad kits, ingredients to use for anti-inflammatory salads, and tips on choosing or making a salad dressing.
Prevalence of Chronic Inflammation
Research has shown that diets rich in antioxidants reduce inflammation. Chronic inflammatory diseases are the most common cause of death in the world.
In 2014, the Rand Corporation (a large research group) estimated that almost 60% of Americans had one chronic condition, 42% had more than one, and 12% of American adults had five or more chronic conditions.
The most prevalent chronic inflammatory conditions are diabetes, heart disease, arthritis and joint diseases, allergies and asthma, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Even if you do not have one of these conditions, research proves that diet can help improve most chronic conditions and their effect on the whole body.
Impact of Anti-Inflammatory Salads on Diet
So, how can one salad make a difference?
Salad ingredients contain many nutrients that are beneficial for health, such as:
- Calories (energy)
- Macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates, and fat)
- Micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals)
Micronutrients have anti-inflammatory components or antioxidants like vitamin C, vitamin E, Vitamin A (beta-carotene specifically), lycopene, flavonoids, polyphenols, selenium, and zinc.
Getting large amounts of micronutrients in food form (over supplement form) is generally safe and is difficult to exceed any toxic levels.
A two-cup serving (two fist size) of one of the salads below adds:
- half to all of your daily vitamin C needs
- about 20% of your daily Vitamin E needs
- one-quarter of your daily vitamin A needs
- half to two times your daily vitamin K needs
- 4 to 6 grams of fiber (about 15 to 20% of your daily needs)
- phytochemicals are prevalent in fruits and vegetables (food labels and nutrient analyses do not display phytochemicals)
Comparison of Homemade Salad Vs. Salad Kits
Salad kits often get a bad rap. But they can be a quick way to incorporate more vegetables, vitamins, and minerals you may otherwise miss out on.
Let’s look closer at these three salads to compare their nutritional information.
The salad ingredients were run through nutrient analysis software to gain insight into all of the vitamins and minerals present within each salad. I included the whole salad dressing packet in the kit, although you could use less. I then compared about 2 cups of each salad for the table below.
|~2 Cups of Salad||Anti-Inflammatory Raw Veggie Salad||Caesar Chopped Salad Kit||Green Goddess Chopped Kit|
|Fat (primarily unsaturated fat for all three salads)||26 g||31 g||28 g|
|Sodium||932 mg||799 mg||583 mg|
|Carbohydrate||15 g||12 g||28 g|
|Fiber||3.8 g||3.5 g||6.5 g|
|Added Sugars||0 g||0 g||2 g|
|Protein||7.6 g||6.9 g||4.5 g|
|Calcium||170 mg (17% DV)||161 mg (16% DV)||86 mg (9% DV)|
|Iron||1.8 mg (10% DV)||1.5 mg (8% DV)||3 mg (17% DV)|
|Copper||0.3 mg (15% DV)||minimal||0.04 mg (8% DV)|
|Magnesium||62 mg (15% DV)||4.5 mg (1% DV)||20 mg (5% DV)|
|Manganese||0.82 mg (41% DV)||0.02 mg (1% DV)||0.32 mg (16% DV)|
|Potassium||424 mg (12% DV)||388 mg (11% DV)||518 mg (13% DV)|
|Phosphorus||162.2 mg (16% DV)||61 mg (6% DV)||57 mg (6% DV)|
|Zinc||1.34 mg (9% DV)||0.3 mg (2% DV)||0.4 mg (2% DV)|
|Vitamin A||234 mcg (26% DV)||670 mcg (45% DV)||483 mcg (32% DV)|
|Vitamin C||78 mg (129% DV)||minimal||25 mg (42% DV)|
|Vitamin E||4 mg (20% DV)||4.7 mg (23% DV)||2.5 mg (12% DV)|
|Vitamin K||42 mcg (53% DV)||172 mcg (215% DV)||155 mcg (193 % DV)|
|Vitamin B1||0.17 mg (12% DV)||minimal||0.09 mg (6% DV)|
|Vitamin B2||0.34 mg (20% DV)||0.03 mg (2% DV)||0.12 mg (7% DV)|
|Vitamin B5||0.56 mg (6% DV)||0.05 mg (1% DV)||0.27 mg (3% DV)|
|Vitamin B6||0.33 mg (16% DV)||minimal||0.17 mg (9% DV)|
|Vitamin B12||0.24 mcg (4% DV)||0.12 mcg (2% DV)||0.07 mcg (1% DV)|
This table provides a complete analysis of each salad. DV = daily value
Homemade Anti-Inflammatory Salad
The homemade anti-inflammatory raw veggie salad is the epitome of anti-inflammatory ingredients: celery, cucumbers, peppers, sugar snap peas, snow peas, carrots, microgreens, radishes, radicchio, olives, apples, almonds, walnuts, olive oil, lemon juice, and turmeric.
This salad provided the most variety of ingredients, vitamins, and minerals. There was a substantial boost in all vitamins and minerals analyzed.
It provided 26% DV of vitamin A, 129% DV of vitamin C, 20% DV of vitamin E, 53% of vitamin K, and 3.8 grams of fiber (10 -15% DV).
It can also be stored for three to five days in the refrigerator for several sides at meals.
Caesar Salad Kit
I chose a Caesar salad kit as this is a well-liked salad for kids and adults. Caesar is primarily Romaine lettuce with no other anti-inflammatory ingredients.
The Caesar salad provided the least amount of nutrients. However, this Caesar salad kit does provide 45% DV for vitamin A, 23% DV for vitamin E, 215% DV for vitamin K, and 3.5 grams of fiber (10 – 15% DV).
I still call Caesar salad a win if you have someone who doesn’t like salad or is new to eating it. Caesar salad can often get some hesitant eaters to try the salad and get more adventurous with other salads.
Green Goddess Salad Kit
The Green Goddess salad kit was included due to the anti-inflammatory-rich ingredients (leaf lettuce, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, and green onions) in a convenient, bagged mix.
This packaged anti-inflammatory salad provides more nutritional value than the Caesar salad and is more convenient than a homemade salad.
The Green Goddess salad supplied 32% DV of vitamin A, 42% DV of vitamin C, 12% DV of Vitamin E, 193% DV of vitamin K, and 6.5 grams of fiber (22 to 26% DV).
All three salads are beneficial in varying degrees. If you eat no salad and want to start, bagged salad kits can help you jump in. If you are busy and need a quick anti-inflammatory side, a salad kit can help tremendously.
The more color and variety of vegetables used will make a salad more anti-inflammatory. Look for two to three vegetables in a mix to get more anti-oxidants from different sources.
Try ones with carrots, kale, broccoli, Romaine, leafy greens, onions, and cabbage. Different colors of vegetables provide different antioxidants with the ability to lower inflammation.
Ingredients to Include for Anti-Inflammatory Salads
Choose your lettuce base:
- Kale, spinach, lettuce (iceberg, head, romaine, or leaf)
- Buy a pre-made salad base (lettuce and vegetable mix) and add your own dressing and extra toppings.
Add in some cruciferous vegetable toppings:
- Brussels sprouts
Leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables contain many potent antioxidants (beta-carotene, folacin, magnesium, calcium, glucosinolates, isothiocyanates, lutein, and indoles) along with flavonoids and polyphenols.
Include some other anti-inflammatory vegetable toppings:
- Tomatoes provide beta-carotene (vitamin E), vitamin C, and lycopene. Lycopene is a powerful antioxidant.
- Carrots contain carotenoids (vitamin E), which are strong antioxidants.
- Peppers (red, yellow, and green) have high levels of carotenoids.
- Onions contain the highest levels of quercetin, a potent antioxidant.
- Garlic can be added on top or in the dressing. Garlic is well-researched and a strong antioxidant.
Try adding fruit to your salad:
- Berries (strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries)
Fruit contains flavonoids, which are powerful antioxidants. A variety of fruits will provide a variety of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals.
Protein Toppings (for a Meal Salad):
If a salad is meant for your whole meal, include a protein option to ensure you stay full. If the salad is paired with an entree that includes protein, you can leave protein off of the salad.
Some anti-inflammatory protein options include:
- Chicken or turkey (no skin)
- Fish (tuna or salmon)
- Nuts and seeds (almonds, walnuts, pecans, peanuts, flaxseed, chia seed)
- Legumes (lentils, black beans, chickpeas, kidney beans)
- Dairy (cheeses or dairy used in the dressing)
These anti-inflammatory protein sources are pulled from the printable anti-inflammatory diet food lists based on the scoring tool Dietary Inflammation Scores, which looks directly at food groups and the ability of whole foods to affect markers of inflammation in the body.
Anti-Inflammatory Salad Dressing Options:
In general, choosing a dressing that uses avocado or olive oil as a base, with minimal added sugar and fewer ingredients, is more in line with an anti-inflammatory diet.
I avoid fat-free or reduced fat due to adding more processed ingredients and sugars to compensate for the taste difference.
I recommend using healthy fat sources and then drizzling and limiting the serving size to one to two tablespoons. Some people dip their fork in the dressing before getting a bite of salad to ensure taste with each bite.
Some salad dressing brands that fit this criteria include:
- Primal Kitchen
- Chosen Foods
Caesar dressing from the kit doesn’t meet the criteria due to soybeaDue to soybean oil, Caesar dressing from the kit doesn’t meet the criterian oil. Primal Kitchen does make a Caesar dressing with avocado oil. Grocery stores also carry salad bases (lettuce and vegetable mix) with no dressings and extra toppings. Using salad bases with a dressing and toppings of your choosing can make putting together a salad easier.
The homemade salad with dressing and Green Goddess dressing use anti-inflammatory spices and healthier oils.
This dietitian’s guide is helpful in picking a store-bought salad dressing, and she provides several homemade salad dressing recipes.
Using a salad kit can help you to get a nutrient and anti-inflammatory boost (vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin A, vitamin K, fiber, and phytochemicals).
Making your anti-inflammatory salad will provide you with even more nutrient and antioxidant variety. Go for colorful vegetables and fruit to eat a variety of antioxidants.
I hope this comparison of salads and the impact one salad can have on your overall diet is encouraging and motivating for you to change your diet.
Check out the free printable anti-inflammatory foods list (PDF) to make lettuce-based salads and other salads (fruit or bean-based).
Let’s get UNstuck and stay UNstuck!