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5 Simple Ways to Add Crunch (Not Empty Carbs) To Your Salad

Trinh Le, MPH, RD
by Trinh Le, MPH, RD
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5 Simple Ways to Add Crunch (Not Empty Carbs) To Your Salad

In a salad, crunchy croutons can be a welcome pairing for flimsy salad greens. Sadly, croutons usually add little more than empty calories, carbs and extra sodium to your bowl. To keep your crunch lower-carb and packed with nutrients, check out these five tips and featured recipes:

1. Chomp into raw crunchy veggies. Unlike croutons, crunchy veggies get their texture from fiber and water—two important nutrients when it comes to weight loss or maintenance and overall health. While “crunchy” is a relative term, we think these are some awesome options: chopped celery, matchstick carrots, minced jicama, cucumber coins, sliced radishes and bell pepper slices. Test out their crunch factor with these recipe ideas:

Celery Salad with Dates & Parmesan | Bon Appetit
Crunchy celery, tangy lemon and sweet dates come together in this unique salad. By sprinkling some toasted almonds on top, you’re getting even more crunch! Recipe makes 6 servings.

Nutrition (per serving): Calories: 270; Total Fat: 18g; Saturated Fat: 3g; Monounsaturated Fat: 7g; Cholesterol: 7mg; Sodium: 161mg; Total Carbohydrate: 21g; Dietary Fiber: 6g; Sugars: 11g; Protein: 9g

Ultimate Superfood Salad | The Roasted Root
The ultimate superfood salad is an excellent example of how crunchy veggies come together to form a multivitamin in food form. This recipe tosses kale, red cabbage, bell peppers, carrots, broccoli and walnuts together with a ginger-lemon dressing. Recipe makes 8 servings.

Nutrition (per serving): Calories: 203; Total Fat: 16g; Saturated Fat: 2g; Monounsaturated Fat: 5g; Cholesterol: 0mg; Sodium: 39mg; Carbohydrates: 13g; Dietary Fiber: 6g; Sugars: 3g; Protein: 5g

Crunchy Cucumber Radish Salad | Munchkin Time
Munch into simple crunch with this recipe for cucumber radish salad. Using just five ingredients, you can create a refreshing, low-calorie salad that pairs well with your favorite lean protein. Recipe doesn’t suggest serving size, but we recommend 1 3/4 cups salad. Recipe makes 2 servings.

Nutrition (per serving): Calories: 93; Total Fat: 7g; Saturated Fat: 1g; Monounsaturated Fat: 0g; Cholesterol: 0mg; Sodium: 189mg; Total Carbohydrate: 7g; Dietary Fiber: 2g; Sugars: 3g; Protein: 2g

Melon Cucumber Jicama Salad | Garlic + Zest
This unique sweet, salty and possibly spicy (if you add serrano peppers) salad is just the thing on a hot summer day when doing any sort of cooking feels out of the question. Cool down with crunchy, cold cucumber, jicama and watermelon tossed in a sweetened lime and mint dressing. Recipe makes 4 servings.

Nutrition (per serving): Calories: 248; Total Fat: 7g; Saturated Fat: 5g; Monounsaturated Fat: 0g; Cholesterol: 17mg; Sodium: 264mg; Total Carbohydrate: 39g; Dietary Fiber: 9g; Sugars: 24g; Protein: 9g

2. Sprinkle in nuts and seeds. These are a great way to enjoy crunch, and sneak in a dose of heart-healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Virtually all nuts and seeds pair well with salads, but these suggestions are particularly delicious: walnuts, almonds, peanuts, pistachios, cashews. Seeds to try include chia, sesame, sunflower, pumpkin, quinoa and so much more. Check out these recipes for a test drive:

Roasted Beet Kale Salad with Candied Walnuts | The Endless Meal
This hearty salad is topped with candied walnuts, a great source of heart-healthy omega-3 fats. Add superfoods kale and beets, and we can hear your heart beet for this salad already! Recipe makes 8 servings at 1 cup each.

Nutrition (per serving): Calories: 248; Total Fat: 17g; Saturated Fat: 2g; Monounsaturated Fat: 5g; Cholesterol: 0mg; Sodium: 175mg; Carbohydrate: 23g; Dietary Fiber: 4g; Sugar: 15g; Protein: 4g

Chicken, Grape & Almond Salad | Havoc in the Kitchen
Crunch into fresh, sweet grapes, nutty almonds and crumbled feta with this easy salad. The recipe is versatile, and asks you to choose your favorite salad greens. Nutrition information is for salad made with 2 cups of salad greens and 2 (3-ounce) grilled chicken breasts. Recipe makes 2 servings at 1 entree salad each.

Nutrition (per serving): Calories: 378; Total Fat: 21g; Saturated Fat: 5g; Monounsaturated Fat: 5g; Cholesterol: 95mg; Sodium: 351mg; Total Carbohydrate: 13g; Dietary Fiber: 3g; Sugars: 9g; Protein: 33g

FLAVOR TIP: Give nuts and seeds extra flavor by toasting them in the oven for a bit. Simply spread them onto a baking sheet and place into a preheated oven at 350-450 degrees F. Toasting temps and times will vary by nut so it’s best to bake each type of nut separately, and do a quick internet search for individual toasting instructions.

3. Cook up savory crunchies. Got cooking time to spare? You will for these additions: bacon bits and Parmesan crisps! We know that bacon and cheese in mass quantities aren’t the best things for you, but a sprinkle over your greens will make your salad experience way more appetizing. Explore savory crunchies using these recipes:

BLT Salad with Avocado | Skinnytaste
If you’re a fan of the classic BLT sandwich, check out the salad version with avocado. Creamy, mayonnaise-marinated tomatoes, romaine lettuce and diced avocados are topped with pieces of lean bacon. The bacon provides enough crunch, so you don’t need to add the croutons. Recipe makes 4 servings at 2 cups each.

Nutrition (per serving): Calories: 204; Total Fat: 14g; Saturated Fat: 3g; Monounsaturated Fat: 4g; Cholesterol: 28mg; Sodium: 361mg; Carbohydrate: 11g; Dietary Fiber: 4g; Sugar: 4g; Protein: 10g

Fried Egg & Massaged Kale with Parmesan Crisps | The Roasted Root
Tender kale massaged in a mustard-lemon vinaigrette is a tasty way to enjoy this famous superfood. Kale salad becomes a main entree—simply top the massage kale salad with dainty parmesan crisps followed by a sunny fried egg. Recipe makes 2 servings at 1 salad each.

Nutrition (per serving): Calories: 245; Total Fat: 16g; Saturated Fat: 5g; Monounsaturated Fat: 6g; Cholesterol: 194mg; Sodium: 445mg; Carbohydrate: 13g; Dietary Fiber: 2g; Sugar: 1g; Protein: 14g

4. Roast chickpeas and edamame. Chickpeas and edamame are vegan-friendly ways to add crunch-factor to your salad. Both contain some amount of carbohydrates, but it’s not much considering they also supply you with valuable protein, fiber and minerals (like iron, zinc, copper). Roast and sprinkle liberally over your salad using some of these recipe ideas:

Moroccan Roasted Chickpea Salad | The Wheatless Kitchen
This munchy-crunchy Moroccan salad is a flavorful way to eat chickpeas and sweet potatoes. The recipe features chickpeas baked in lemon, honey, paprika, cumin and extra virgin olive oil. Can you smell your kitchen just reading that?! Serve a meal or enjoy as a side. Recipe makes 9 servings at 1 cup each.

Nutrition (per serving): Calories: 252; Total Fat: 12g; Saturated Fat: 2g; Monounsaturated Fat: 6g; Cholesterol: 7mg; Sodium: 283mg; Carbohydrate: 27g; Dietary Fiber: 7g; Sugar: 9g; Protein 10g

Crispy, Crunchy Ranch Chickpeas  | Modern Parents Messy Kids
It’s easy to put out crunchy chickpeas if you keep a few cans on hand. Just drain, dry, and bake up with your favorite seasoning. This recipe is for ranch-flavored chickpeas, but you can also make it with your favorite seasoning. Recipe makes 5 servings at 1/4 cup each.

Nutrition (per serving): Calories: 85; Total Fat: 1g; Saturated Fat: 0g; Monounsaturated Fat: 0g; Cholesterol: 0mg; Sodium: 316mg; Total Carbohydrate: 12g; Dietary Fiber: 2g; Sugars: 0g; Protein: 4g

5. Cut up snappy fruits. Fear not fruits! While they do contains some carbs and sugar, all fruits are packed with fiber, antioxidants, phytochemicals and vitamins C, A and folate. Adding them to your salad improves texture and taste. Check out some of these sweet and savory salad recipes to see what we mean:

Avocado, Endive & Apple Salad with Grapefruit Vinaigrette | Clean Eating
This salad pulls together snappy apple pieces plus crispy endives, radishes and pomegranate seeds. It’s dressed in a fancy grapefruit vinaigrette, but you can make a plainer version if you wish. Recipe makes 4 servings at 1 1/2 tablespoons vinaigrette + 1 cup salad + 1/4 avocado each.

Nutrition (per serving): Calories: 250, Total Fat: 15g, Sat. Fat: 2g, Carbs 29g, Fiber: 13g, Protein: 5g, Sugars: 14g, Sodium: 180mg, Cholesterol: 0mg

Beetroot, Carrot and Apple Salad | Grown to Cook 
Sweet beet roots give a salad volume, crunch and texture, especially when paired with carrots and apples. This salad suggests 4 tablespoons of oil, and the nutrition info includes that, but feel free to cut back as needed. Recipe makes 4 servings.

Nutrition (per serving): Calories: 216; Total Fat: 18g; Saturated Fat: 2g; Monounsaturated Fat: 11g; Cholesterol: 0mg; Sodium: 37mg; Total Carbohydrate: 13g; Dietary Fiber: 3g; Sugars: 8g; Protein: 3g

Kale, Edamame, Pear, Fig & Walnut Salad | The Flexitarian
Ripe pears lend a refreshing crisp to this salad with crunchy walnuts. Kale and edamame makes the salad more satisfying and supplies plenty of vitamins and minerals. Recipe makes 2 servings.

Nutrition (per serving): Calories: 347; Total Fat: 23g; Saturated Fat: 2g; Monounsaturated Fat: 10g; Cholesterol: 0mg; Sodium: 80mg; Total Carbohydrate: 46g; Dietary Fiber: 22g; Sugars: 19g; Protein: 24g

About the Author

Trinh Le, MPH, RD
Trinh Le, MPH, RD
Trinh is a registered dietitian by day, blogger at Fearless Food RD by night. She loves helping folks develop a better relationship with food, which includes lots of cooking, eating and learning about nutrition. When she’s not snapping mouthwatering shots of (mostly) healthy food, you can find Trinh HIIT-ing it at her local gym. For more, connect with her on FacebookInstagram and Pinterest.


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