Salads are a great way to add more vegetables and fiber to your diet, however, without a substantial amount of protein they can easily leave you unsatisfied and hungry. Since protein is the most satiating macronutrient, including a source at every meal is a great way to help balance your blood sugar, minimize cravings and keep you fuelled and full for hours to come. Whether you are using one, two, or multiple sources at a time, here are some simple and creative ways to add protein to a salad to help create a well-balanced meal.
How to Add Protein to a Salad
Whether you choose to add one source, two sources, or a combination of a few, here are 17 easy and creative ways to add protein to a salad.
Cooked chicken is arguably the most popular way to add protein to a salad. Be it grilled chicken breast, shredded chicken, or a tossed chicken salad, chicken is a good source of lean protein that can quickly add a much-needed boost to any meal. Not to mention, chicken can be added hot or cold making it a great use of leftovers or a simple meal prep strategy to ensure you have high-protein salads all week long.
Nutrition: A 3-ounce serving of chicken breast provides 26.1 grams of protein. (1)
2. Boiled Eggs
Whether they are soft-boiled or hard-boiled, eggs are an inexpensive and convenient source of protein that works well in green salads, bean salads, potato salad, and grain salads alike. All varieties of eggs are a good source of protein, a rich source of healthy fats, and provide over a dozen essential nutrients. (2) And while you can certainly cook eggs at home, hard-boiled eggs are also easily found at all major grocery stores making them a great no-cook protein option.
Nutrition: A serving of 2 large hard-boiled eggs provides 12.6 grams of protein. (3)
3. Sliced Turkey
Deli meat often gets a bad rap, however, it is a delicious and convenient way to quickly add protein to a salad. Whether it’s turkey, chicken, ham, or beef, a few slices of deli meat can easily take the protein content of any salad from moderate to high. When shopping for deli meat, be sure to read the ingredients and opt for versions with limited additives, preservatives, and lower sodium content.
Nutrition: A 3-ounce serving of sliced turkey provides 16.5 grams of protein. (4)
Although vilified as a dietary evil, bacon is in fact a good source of protein and healthy fats. Contrary to popular belief, this cured meat actually contains 50% monounsaturated fat, the same “healthy” fat found in olive oil, along with 40% saturated fat, 10% polyunsaturated fat, and a moderate amount of cholesterol. (5)(6) Although dietary cholesterol was previously demonized and thought to be of grave health concern, there is now a general consensus that dietary cholesterol has little effect on blood cholesterol levels. So, whether you’re only using bacon or pairing it with some chicken or eggs, a slice of bacon or two is a great way to add protein to a salad.
Nutrition: A 2-slice serving of cooked bacon provides 6.0 grams of protein. (6)
5. Crab Meat
Crab is a good source of lean protein that delivers all of the nutritional benefits of seafood without the fishy aftertaste. Cooked crab meat, or crabmeat, can be found fresh, frozen, or canned, and is commonly available in Dungeness and Alaskan King varieties. In addition to real crab meat, imitation crab meat; the stuff commonly found in seafood salad, crab cakes, and California sushi rolls, is easily found at major grocery stores. Since it contains no real crab, imitation crab meat, sometimes called krab, is not as substantial of a source of protein nor does it provide the same nutritional values as crab meat. (7)
Nutrition: A 3-ounce serving of cooked crab meat provides 16.4 grams of protein. (8)
6. Canned Tuna
Canned tuna, or any canned fish, is another lean source of protein that pairs well with any salad. Of most canned fish, canned tuna has a slightly more neutral taste and, therefore, works well on its own, tossed into a mixed salad with dressing, or tuna salad mixture. If you are concerned about calorie content, be sure to opt for water-packed tuna as opposed to oil-packed tuna, which contains more fat and calories per serving.
Nutrition: A 1/2-can serving of canned tuna provides 21.0 grams of protein. (9)
Shrimp is one of the most commonly consumed shellfish and for good reason; it has an impressive nutritional profile. Shrimp is a good source of complete protein and a rich source of micronutrients; including selenium, iron, and Vitamin B12, while being relatively low in calories. (10) Shrimp comes in many different sizes and colors and can be easily found fresh, frozen, raw, or cooked in major grocery stores. Plus, it’s incredibly quick to cook making it a great protein to add to a salad or bowl.
Nutrition: A 3-ounce serving of cooked shrimp provides 17.8 grams of protein. (10)
Be it fresh, frozen, canned, or smoked, salmon is a rich source of protein and healthy fats, specifically heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. In fact, salmon is one of the best sources of the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA); the essential fatty acids that can not be manufactured by the body and, therefore, must be consumed in our diet. Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to have major health benefits including decreasing inflammation, lowering blood pressure, and improving the function of the cells that line your arteries. (11)(12)(13) Whether it’s a smoked salmon salad or salmon Nicoise salad, salad is a great way to add protein to a salad.
Nutrition: A 3-ounce serving of cooked salmon provides 21.6 grams of protein. (14)
Beef, along with other forms of red meat, is one of the most nutrient-dense sources of protein, containing all essential 9 amino acids, as well as iron, zinc, selenium, niacin, vitamin B12, vitamin B6, and fat-soluble vitamins A and E. (15) In addition to a wide variety of vitamins and minerals, beef is also a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, creatine, taurine, glutathione, CLA, and cholesterol. (16) Although steak tends to be the most popular choice when it comes to salads, all cuts of red meat, be it ground beef or striploin, easily work as a high-protein topping to any salad.
Nutrition: A 3-ounce serving of cooked sirloin steak provides 25.5 grams of protein. (15)
Made from condensed soybean curd, tofu is one of the most popular sources of vegetarian protein. Unlike other plant-based proteins, tofu contains all essential amino acids, although not in the same ratios as animal protein, and it is often considered a more optimal source of vegetarian protein. (17) In addition to protein, tofu is also a source of carbohydrates and fat. Tofu is available in soft, firm, and extra-firm formats, and can easily be sliced and grilled, baked, or roasted, making it a great way to protein to a salad.
Nutrition: A 3-ounce serving of extra-firm tofu provides 8.4 grams of protein. (18)
Similar to tofu, tempeh is made of fermented soybeans that have been pressed into a dense and firm block. Tempeh has a firm texture and slightly nutty taste and, because it is fermented, is also a source of beneficial bacteria in the form of probiotics. Tempeh makes a wonderful protein-packed addition to any salad or bowl and can be prepared by grilling, steaming, roasting, or pan-frying.
Nutrition: A 3-ounce serving of cooked tempeh provides 15.3 grams of protein. (19)
Be it black, white, or kidney, beans are a source of vegetarian protein making them a great way to add protein to a salad. Whether you want to make them the base of the salad or a topping to one, beans add a much-need boost of protein and fiber to any meal. Although cooking beans from scratch is a much more economical choice, canned beans are equally as nutritious as dry beans and can help to save you a lot of time in the kitchen.
Nutrition: A 3/4-cup serving of cooked black beans provides 11.4 grams of protein. (20)
Much like beans, lentils are a good source of plant-based protein and fiber and come in a wide variety of types and colors. Although they can be used as a topping to a leafy green salad, lentils work particularly well in a make-ahead salad as they can last for days dressed in the fridge. When adding lentils to a salad it’s best to cook them al dente to ensure they still have a little bite to them to avoid a mushy salad topping.
Nutrition: A 3/4-cup serving of cooked lentils provides 13.4 grams of protein. (21)
Along with beans and lentils, chickpeas are a member of the legume family and a source of vegetarian protein and fiber. Albeit their overall protein content is low compared to their carbohydrate content, every little bit counts. Although often consumed cold in salads, chickpeas can easily be toasted or baked to create a crispy and crunchy protein topping for a salad.
Nutrition: A 3/4-cup serving of cooked chickpeas provides 10.9 grams of protein. (22)
15. Whole Grains
Compared to animal proteins, whole grains are not a substantial source of protein or a complete protein, however, remain a good option for vegetarians or individuals following a plant-based diet. Of all whole grains, the ancient grains, specifically Kamut, teff, and quinoa, contain the highest levels of protein per serving. (23) Much like beans, lentils, and chickpeas, whole grains work well as a topping or a base to add protein to a salad.
Nutrition: A 3/4-cup serving of cooked Kamut provides 8.3 grams of protein. (24)
No salad is complete without a topping of cheese! Whether you choose to make it the star of the show, like in a grilled halloumi salad or burrata salad, or a condiment paired with other sources of protein, cheese is a great way to add protein to a salad. Gram per gram, cheddar cheese, goat cheese, Gruyere, Monterey Jack, and Swiss are the highest protein options. (25) Although non-dairy cheese is a great alternative for individuals with allergies or following a plant-based diet, they do not provide the same amount of protein as a traditional cow or goat milk cheese.
Nutrition: A 1-ounce serving of cheddar cheese provides 7.0 grams of protein. (26)
17. Nuts and Seeds
Although primarily sources of fat, nuts, and seeds do contain moderate amounts of protein and can be used to add protein to a salad. Comparatively speaking, peanuts, almonds, pistachios, hemp seeds, and sunflower seeds tend to be the highest protein options. (27) To help mitigate excessive calorie intake, nuts and seeds are best paired with other sources of animal protein or vegetarian protein when adding protein to a salad, as they are rich sources of healthy fats and when consumed in excess can quickly increase calorie intake.
Nutrition: A 1-ounce serving of dry roasted peanuts provides 4.8 grams of protein. (28)
The Bottom Line
Be it steak, chicken, fish, eggs, cheese, beans, or lentils, there are plenty of ways to add protein to a salad. Including protein in a salad can help to create a well-balanced meal and regular protein intake has been shown to support weight loss, increase muscle mass and strength, curb hunger, speed up recovery after exercise, and help individuals maintain a healthy weight.