Salads are popular among clean eaters, because they pack in plenty of nutrition with few calories. However, while a pile of greens and sliced vegetables supply a bounty of must-have nutrients and age-avenging antioxidants, they're often light in another important part of any fitness enthusiast's diet: protein!
Fitness folks know that every meal needs to contain plenty of this crucial macronutrient to keep muscle growth going full force. Meals rich in protein can also work to quell hunger pangs, which is a big part of preventing the mindless snacking that can lead to belt-stretching side effects. Salads are a great way to sneak in more protein.
Of course, items like grilled chicken, hard-boiled eggs, and beans are all ways to give your salad a protein boost. But let me present you with a trifecta of other delicious and nutritious ways to beef up your salads without actually adding the beef. And varying the kinds of protein you add to your salads will keep your taste buds interested.
1. Greek Yogurt
Deliciously thick and tangy, Greek yogurt need not only be spooned up from a bowl. Jam-packed with 20-25 grams of protein per cup, this healthy culinary import can be used to create a creamy dressing that will make you actually crave salads. Bottled ranch dressing? Not so much!
As a health-hiking bonus, you'll introduce some helpful bacteria known as probiotics into your vegetable mixture. Just be sure to use plain nonfat Greek yogurt for dressing purposes, because flavored varieties tend to be loaded with added sugars.
Try This: Make your own Greek-yogurt-based salad dressing by mixing plain Greek yogurt with extra-virgin olive oil, fresh lemon juice, minced garlic, Italian seasoning, and a couple pinches of salt. Use what you need immediately, then store leftovers in the refrigerator for up to one week.
2. Hemp Seeds
From a nutritional standpoint, hemp seeds are a surefire way to make your salads totally groovy. All joking aside, the nutty-tasting seeds are a stellar source of high-quality protein; they provide 3 grams per tablespoon.
They even contain all nine essential amino acids, which are necessary for "turning on" muscle building. Hemp seeds are also an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids and magnesium!
Try This: Nothing fancy here. Simply throw a handful of hemp seeds (also called hemp hearts) right into your bowl or atop your plate. With the rising popularity of this power food, you can now find hemp seeds in most health food stores and many larger supermarkets.
3. Roasted Chickpeas
If you're looking for a healthier crunch than croutons, oven-blasted chickpeas might just be the perfect solution. Those bags of roasted chickpeas you see in the snack-food aisle are made by tossing legumes with various seasonings and roasting them in an oven to crispy perfection.
These gems pack in a dynamic duo of protein and fiber (up to 6 grams of each in a mere quarter-cup serving) to make your salad more conducive to building muscle and keeping hunger at bay.
Try This: Rather than relying on supermarket versions of this crunchy treat, make your own! Drain and rinse two cans of chickpeas, then thoroughly dry them with a kitchen towel, discarding any loose skins. Toss them with a couple tablespoons of olive oil, a half teaspoon of salt, and any desired seasonings.
Curry powder, smoked paprika, and garam masala work great. Place the chickpease on a baking sheet, and roast them at 425 degrees F until crisp and golden, about 35-40 minutes, stirring twice throughout.