Salads have a rough reputation for being rabbit food or boring, unsatisfying health food. While salads may be very healthy, the reputation is otherwise entirely unwarranted and needs to be readjusted.
With a tiny bit of creativity, salads can become beautiful works of delicious, edible art. Mix and match your vegetables, throw in some fruits and, best of all, top your salad with crunchy, satisfying nuts.
So what are the best nuts for salad? The best nuts for salads, based on a variety of qualities ranging from flavor and texture to nutrition and even price include pecans, walnuts, almonds, pine nuts, peanuts, pistachios, and cashews.
Every nut brings something special to the salad bar, and in this article, we’ll go through each of our top picks to help you choose the right nut for every salad occasion.
The Components of A Good Salad
A very basic salad usually consists of lettuce and salad dressing. The next level would include a variety of salad greens, maybe using a mix of baby kale, spinach, arugula, and some red lettuces.
Ideally, you’ll also chop up some colorful, crunchy vegetables such as radishes, shaved carrots, roasted broccoli and/or beets, and, of course, onions.
Fruits should also be considered. While many people consider them vegetables, things like tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers, and avocados are actually fruits and they are perfect for salads. More traditional fruits that are great in salads might be apples, pears, and peaches, mangoes, or any berry.
Once your bowl is full of hearty fruits and vegetables, it’s time to consider toppings such as healthy nuts. A well-rounded meal should include some healthy fats and proteins, and nuts are a great way to include both in a salad already rich in micronutrients.
What are the Healthiest Nuts?
First of all, the best nuts in terms of health are always going to be raw or dry roasted, but it should go without saying that any candied variety is knocked back a step or two in the health department.
That doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for them in your salad, it just means they are never going to be the absolute healthiest option.
That being said, you can look at health in a variety of ways. High healthy fat content, low fat, high protein, or high vitamins and minerals. Let’s take a look at some great options in each instance:
- High healthy fat: Walnuts, pecans, pine nuts
- Low[est] fat: Almonds, pistachios, cashews
- High protein: Peanuts, almonds, pistachios
- Lots of vitamins: Peanuts, almonds, hazelnuts
- Great minerals: Brazil nuts, pecans, cashews
As you can see, many nuts have cross-category benefits, so choose your favorite and, whenever possible, mix them all together to combine benefits.
The 7 Best Nuts For Salads
|Best Nut for…||Flavor||Texture||Nutrition||Price|
|Pecans||Rich, buttery and slightly sweet||Combined crunchy and chewy texture||High protein and fiber, 19 vitamins and minerals||Current price on Amazon|
|Walnuts||Sweet with a slight hint of bitterness||Slightly crunchy, though when toasted, melt in your mouth||Omega-3 fatty acids, calcium, iron, and zinc||Current price on Amazon|
|Pine Nuts||Buttery||Soft, creamy and smooth||Vitamins E and K, zinc, and copper||Current price on Amazon|
|Almonds||When raw, slightly sweet and buttery||Hard and crunchy, followed by chewy||Vitamin E, protein, potassium||Current price on Amazon|
|Peanuts||Distinctly nutty and buttery||Crunchy, but not hard||Folate, protein and Vitamin E||Current price on Amazon|
|Pistachios||Slightly sweet with an earthy undertone||Smooth, soft when young and gets harder as it ages||B Vitamins, potassium||Current price on Amazon|
|Cashews||Light sweetness||Chewy with a slight crunch||Protein, fiber, iron, B vitamins||Current price on Amazon|
1. Pecans for Salad
Pecans are a perfect example of a truly healthy nut that adds so much more oomph to your salad when it’s candied.
While it’s amazing raw, if the only way you’ll eat it is with a candy coating, it’s worth it.
They’re naturally low calorie and even low-carb for a nut, thanks to their fiber content.
There’s something about pecans in a spinach salad with strawberries that’s almost too perfect.
2. Walnut Salad
Walnuts are a favorite both for heart health and brain health, and they taste delicious.
Toasting them slightly brings out the natural oils and makes them nearly dissolve in buttery goodness in your mouth.
They pair perfectly with apples or pears in a salad.
3. Pine Nuts in Salad
Pine nuts are definitely a splurge, but well worth it.
They’re buttery taste and creamy texture is unrivaled and, if toasted slightly, add the perfect tiny bit of rich crunch to your salad that makes it irresistible.
You could add pine nuts to anything and it would be a winner, but they really highlight the peppery taste of arugula and offset the salty brine of olives.
4. Almonds for Salads
You can use whole, raw almonds in a salad, but they’re large and quite hard, so pre-sliced or chopped almonds will be easier to mix into your dish.
They’re particularly high in protein and healthy fats, and low-carb as far as nuts go, so you can eat them without guilt and they’ll help add substance to an otherwise light salad.
The combination of a slightly tart cranberry or goji berry, the sweetness of raw almonds, and the creaminess of soft cheese like feta or goat’s cheese is a perfect salad combination.
5. Peanut Salad
Peanuts are the most commonly eaten nuts, but have you ever tried them in your salad? They bring their signature nutty, buttery flavor inside a crunch that works well in an Asian style salad, with orange slices and maybe some thinly sliced, toasted tortillas.
You’re probably most familiar with roasted and salted peanuts, which are fantastic, but raw, soaked peanuts are an entirely new experience.
They lose much of their nutty flavor and take on a sweet, almost pea-like flavor that adds a lot of texture to a salad and should be tried at least once in your life.
6. Pistachio Salad
Pistachios are slightly higher priced than some of the more common nuts, so you may not be as familiar with them, but they’re a great treat at least on occasion.
You can buy them pre-shelled to make them more convenient for your salad. The younger nuts have a light, edible papery cover that makes the nuts taste and feel earthier, and the older they get the harder the nuts get, but they also get sweeter.
Pistachios make a great match for avocado and mango, bringing a tropical atmosphere to your salad.
7. Cashew Salad
Cashews are creamy, light in flavor, and just the right mix of crunch and chew for a salad. They’re great filler toppings, helping you feel more satisfied with your salad without overwhelming it and taking it over with flavor.
With a sesame dressing, and thinly sliced cabbage you can make an Asian-style slaw with crunchy chopped and toasted cashews that will impress even the pickiest of eaters.
What makes good salad toppings, other than nuts?
If we assume that you’ve got a variety of lettuces, vegetables, and fruits already chopped up in your salad, there are still plenty of extras you can top your bowl with to add crunch, nutrition, and flavor.
Some of our favorites include:
- Nuts and seeds (obvious answer)
- Dried fruits and berries, no sugar added
- Grains, such as quinoa, barley or wild rice
- Beans and legumes, including roasted chickpeas and shelled edamame
- Shredded or cubed cheese, cubes of marinated tofu or a sprinkling of nutritional yeast
- Sliced and toasted tortillas or crumbled tortilla chips
- Eggs, seafood or leftover meat, shredded or cut into bite-sized pieces
- Fresh herbs
- Olives, capers, marinated artichoke hearts, banana peppers and/or sundried tomatoes
You are limited only by your imagination, but hopefully, that’s enough to get your salad game started.
What are the best nuts for protein?
Peanuts, though technically a legume, are the nut that has the highest ratio of protein per 100-gram serving, offering 9 grams of muscle-building goodness.
Almonds and pistachios tie for second place, with 6 grams of protein per 100 grams each, and at approximately 4 grams of protein per serving you can choose from cashews, walnuts, hazelnuts, or pine nuts.
If you also consider seeds for protein, you’ll be impressed by the 9 grams per serving protein count for hemp seeds. Pumpkin and squash seeds aren’t far behind with 8.5 grams of protein per 100-gram serving.
What are the benefits of nuts and seeds?
Nuts and seeds are full of nutrition, particularly fats and proteins of very high quality. Many people are concerned about the type of fat they eat and nuts and seeds make it easy to consume in the healthiest, most natural way.
With all the healthy fat and protein, they’re very satiating, help you curb cravings and moderate snacking tendencies.
That being said, nuts are almost all high in fats (and carbs) and should be eating with a good understanding of portion size because they’re easy to over-consume.
Nuts and seeds also have vitamins and minerals and plenty of fiber, but each item will have its own nutrition profile.
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