salad with chicken

Easy Salad Ideas for the Anti Inflammatory Diet

Introduction

Inflammation — while not a disease in itself, it is the root cause of many chronic conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis. However, our lifestyle, in particular, our diet can have a huge impact on the inflammation in our bodies!

It’s so important to pay attention to what foods you’re putting in your mouth at meals. I know, I know, we’re all busy and fast food is so much easier — and who has time to eat healthy, right?

Not true! An easy way to eat your way to health is by eating a salad every day. Salads aren’t just for health nuts anymore. A big, luscious fatty salad, filled with colorful, crunchy, savory ingredients is a great way to add anti-inflammatory foods to your diet.

The basics of an anti-inflammatory salad can include dark leafy greens, colorful veggies, eggs, fatty fish, raw seeds or nuts, extra virgin olive oil, apple cider or balsamic vinegar, and flavor enhancers such as herbs, nutritional yeast, salt and pepper.

The best thing about a salad is it’s totally customizable — you can change it up as much as you want and have something different every day.

Green leafy veggies and herbs

Dark Leafy Greens

Equal parts spinach, kale, and arugula form the salad base. Loaded with fiber, vitamins, and minerals such as magnesium, potassium, iron, calcium, vitamins A, C and lutein, these greens are nutritional powerhouses.

Arugula is a cruciferous vegetable high in plant nitrates that may help improve blood flow which, in turn, may help lower blood pressure and improve oxygenation during exercise, leading to improved athletic performance.

Spinach, a member of the chenopodiaceae family, has anticancer properties and may also help improve blood flow and blood pressure.

Kale, the king of cruciferous vegetables, is high in antioxidants which contribute to its anticancer and cardiovascular protective properties.

High in lutein and zeaxanthin, kale may help protect your eyes from macular degeneration and cataracts.

Kale’s low calorie but high water content, plus small amounts of fiber and protein, make it great food for weight loss.

5 eggs on a plate

Eggs

Next, let’s try adding some eggs to that salad. But wait, aren’t eggs high in cholesterol? Aren’t they bad for you?

For the vast majority of people, dietary cholesterol has no effect on blood cholesterol. What! This goes against everything we were told for the last 50 years!

Hang on, let me explain. Most of the cholesterol in the body is made in the liver (the amount it makes is equivalent to eating 4 egg yolks per day) and the brain — without cholesterol, we’d be dead! Our body actually needs cholesterol to survive.

Egg yolks may be nature’s multivitamin as they are rich in so many nutrients — choline, vitamin B12, carotenoids, lutein, zeaxanthin to name a few. An egg is considered a perfect protein as it contains all the essential amino acids your body needs.

salmon on sheet pan with herbs on top

Fatty Fish

Fatty fish are high in DHA which is a type of omega-3 fatty acid that may lower your risk of cardiovascular disease and improve brain function. DHA is also important for brain and eye development.

Wild salmon, anchovies, and sardines are all fatty fish that are high in DHA and best of all, they’re affordable — anchovies and sardines are downright cheap!

vegetables at farmers market

Vegetables

Red, green, yellow, orange — intensely colored veggies not only look like a rainbow but are loaded with antioxidants. vitamins, minerals and complex carbohydrates — the good carbs. Low in calories, they make a fabulous addition to an anti-inflammatory salad.

It’s a good idea to include as many colors in your salad as you can as each has different benefits . Red veggies such as beets or red cabbage are high in the powerful antioxidant, lycopene, known to help reduce the risk of prostate cancer and heart attack.

Yellow and orange are the colors of beta-carotene which your body converts to vitamin A. This vitamin helps keep your skin, teeth and bones healthy plus improves night vision.

White vegetables such as cucumbers or cauliflower are high in fiber and flavonoids such as quercetin which may help keep your cholesterol in check.

Chlorophyll is responsible for the color of green veggies. Green vegetables such as broccoli, brussel sprouts, and cabbage are loaded with vitamin K, potassium, folic acid, and carotenoids which may help lower blood pressure, improve blood clotting, and protect against cancer.

green herbs

Herbs

Ever heard the old saying “If it tastes bitter, it’s probably good for you?” For herbs, this saying rings true.

Many herbs have a bitter taste due in part to their healthy plant compounds. These compounds cause the body to upregulate production of its own antioxidants.

Some of the most bitter herbs have the most health benefits and pack the biggest nutritional punch. Bitter herbs are like a shot of espresso — they give the body a powerful health jolt.

Adding herbs to a salad definitely kicks up the health benefits a notch or two! Some of my favorites are basil, oregano, rosemary, thyme, and cilantro, but feel free to use whatever you like best.

olive oil in a body and a dish on a countertop

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

The monounsaturated fat in extra virgin olive oil is an excellent addition to any anti-inflammatory salad, as it helps make the antioxidant compounds bioavailable, so your body can more easily use them.

Extra virgin olive oil or EVOO, has been relentlessly studied–and with good reason. EVOO contains anti-inflammatory polyphenols and plant compounds, which may be responsible for its protective effect against cardiovascular disease, cognitive issues, diabetes, inflammation, and weight loss.

Studies have also shown that it may promote longevity as seen in this Spanish study. The PREDIMED study, one of the largest studies on the effect of the Mediterranean diet on cardiovascular disease , concluded that a Mediterranean diet supplemented with EVOO or nuts lowered the risk of cardiovascular events better than the low fat diet.

Contrary to popular belief, eating fat does not make you fat. Eating foods high in good fats like EVOO promote satiety so you don’t eat as much at meals. Eating healthy fats may actually promote weight loss!

Vinegars

vinegars, limes, orange, red peppers

Vinegar based salad dressings enhance a salad in many ways. Vinegar is high in ascetic acid which can help the body absorb minerals. The calcium in dark leafy greens is notoriously hard for the body to absorb, so a little help from vinegar is just what a salad needs.

Acetic acid may also help lower blood sugar, protect against cancer, and improve GERD symptoms.

There are numerous types of vinegar out there — balsamic, apple cider, red wine, malt, and rice venegars to name just a few. Play around and choose whatever tickles your taste buds!

Flavor Enhancers

salt shaker on counter

Flavor enhancers are what gives a salad that sense of “umami,” an inherent savoriness we all crave in the foods we eat. Salt, pepper, nutritional yeast can all help contribute to the umami of a salad.

Nutritional yeast is works well in a salad as it adds a cheesy texture and savoriness to each and every bite you put in your mouth. Don’t skimp on flavor enhancers — they help take a salad to the next level.

Easy Anti Inflammatory Salad

Easy and versatile salad full of anti-inflammatory ingredients to help calm the fires of one of our worst enemies — inflammation.

  • Equal parts kale, spinach, and arugula (about 1/2 cup each)
  • 1 hard boiled egg
  • 6 ounces grilled salmon (can substitute any protein for the salmon)
  • 2 tbsp sunflower seeds, raw
  • 1/4 cup nuts (I like almonds or walnuts)
  • 1 cup red, green, or yellow bell peppers, chopped
  • 1/2 cup raw beets, chopped
  • 1/2 cup sweet basil
  • 1 tbsp nutritional yeast
  • 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tbsp balsamic or apple cider vinegar
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. Salad: Combine all ingredients through nutritional yeast in a bowl. Mix well.

  2. Dressing: Whisk EVOO, vinegar, salt and pepper together in a separate bowl. When mixed well, toss in salad.

Conclusion

Fighting inflammation is a constant battle that many of us are waging every day. However, eating with intention is an easy way to put out those fires and get back on the road to vibrant health.

It’s the little things that sometimes have the biggest impact on our health. Adding an anti-inflammatory salad to a meal each day may be one of those little things.

Why not give it a try?

About the author

Susan Taylor, RDN LD is a registered dietitian / nutritionist with 20+ years experience in the nutrition field.  Susan has worked in a variety of clinical settings including hospitals, longterm care, rehab, and private practice. She currently enjoys life in the Charleston, SC area and is always looking for ways to fit in a little more beach time.