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immune-boosting salad

6 Immune-Boosting Salads Your Lunch Break Is Begging For

When we’re feeling under the weather, we often turn to comforting soups or slow cooker recipes for nourishment. But if you really want to keep your well-being in check all year round, immune-boosting salads are where it’s at.

Loaded with vitamin- and mineral-packed fruits and veggies, crunchy seeds, and flavorful spices, nutritionists love these healthy, hearty recipes (and you will too!). Add them to your lunchtime repertoire to keep your inner defenses thriving—deliciously.

1. Southwest Salad

Featuring cruciferous vegetables, fibrous legumes, and tons of plant-based protein, this immune-boosting salad will keep you full and focused all day long.

“Spinach has been found to have certain anti-inflammatory properties, mainly due to the amount of chlorophyll in it,” says Supriya Lal, R.D., a registered dietitian based in New York City. Just one cup of spinach contains 24 milligrams of chlorophyll, compared to other greens, which contain between four-to-five milligrams per cup, she says.

But the true MVP of this salad is the seeds. Hemp and pumpkin seeds are a power duo with high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids. These fatty acids support the immune system by enhancing the production and function of white blood cells, Lal says.

Ingredients:

*makes 1-2 servings

    • 1 cup romaine lettuce, chopped
    • ¼ cup bite-sized broccoli florets
    • 1 cup spinach
    • 2 Tbsp pumpkin seeds
    • 2 Tbsp hemp seeds
    • ¼ cup feta cheese, crumbled
    • 1/3 cup black beans
    • 1/3 cup shelled edamame
    • 3 Tbsp of your favorite dressing (Lal likes Chipotle Ranch)

2. Super Green Caesar

Who doesn’t love to indulge in a Caesar salad every so often? Now, you can elevate this classic by adding immune-boosting leafy greens.

“Kale is actually one of the most nutrient-dense greens. One single cup of kale offers more than enough of your daily values for vitamin A, K, and C. And to top it all off, it’s also fully loaded with antioxidants like quercetin that support a healthy immune system,” says James Marin, R.D., co-founder of Married to Health.

Spinach offers similar benefits, giving this salad double the power. Both of these leafy greens will fuel the growth of good bacteria, keeping your gut healthy and, in turn, strengthening immune function, he says. This is likely due to their high levels of prebiotic fiber, according to Harvard School of Public Health.

Ingredients:

*makes 6-8 servings

      • 1 pound kale, chopped
      • 1 cup romaine lettuce, chopped
      • 1 cup arugula
      • 1 cup spinach
      • 1 cup red leaf lettuce, chopped
      • ½ cup broccoli, chopped
      • 1 medium carrot, chopped
      • 1 12 oz can, hearts of palm, drained
      • ¾ cup roasted chickpeas
      • 6 oz protein of your choice, optional
      • ½ cup of your favorite Caesar salad dressing

3. Blueberry Sesame Salad with Brussels Sprouts

Adding blueberries to any meal not only enhances flavor, but also adds some major nutrients your gut will truly appreciate.

“Blueberries contain a plethora of antioxidants, including flavonoids. These compounds play a major role in combating the free radicals in your body that can damage your cells. Blueberries are pivotal for enhancing immunity and helping to decrease inflammation in the gut,” says Marin.

Another great salad addition? Brussels sprouts. This veggie is part of the cruciferous vegetable family and high in fiber, creating extra food for our gut microbes. Plus, Brussels sprouts have been found to contain an antioxidant called kaempferol, which helps with decreasing gut and systemic inflammation and promoting heart health, he adds.

Ingredients:

*makes 6-8 servings

      • 2 pounds kale, chopped
      • 1 medium avocado, chopped
      • 1 cup blueberries
      • 2 cups baked or air fried Brussels sprouts
      • 1 medium carrot, chopped
      • ½ cup nuts or seeds of choice (walnuts, almonds, hemp seeds, and pine nuts are great options)
      • ½ cup Tahini Balsamic Dressing (recipe to follow)
      • 3 oz protein of choice, optional

Tahini Balsamic Dressing 

      • ½ cup tahini
      • ½ cup + 2 Tbsp water
      • ¼ cup balsamic vinegar
      • 1 small garlic clove, minced
      • 2 tsp Dijon mustard
      • 2 tsp maple syrup
      • salt and pepper to taste

4. Citrus Beet Salad

The vibrant colors and ingredients in this salad are sure to delight—and do your body good.

“Beets have inorganic nitrates, which are compounds that have been shown to help keep blood flow strong. This is important for delivering key nutrients throughout the body,” says dietitian Dahlia Marin, R.D., the other co-founder of Married to Health.

Beets also offer fiber, which is important for gut health, as it feeds our gut defenders, resulting in positive immune effects, she adds.

Citrus fruits such as grapefruit and orange also shine in this salad. They’re not only bright in color, but are also rich in fiber, vitamins, and plant properties that have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects, Dahlia says. It’s no surprise that citrus provides a healthy dose of vitamin C, for example, which boosts the immune system, she says.

Ingredients:

*makes 6-8 servings

      • 4 cups baby arugula
      • 1 cup endive, chopped
      • 1 cup fresh figs, sliced
      • 1 cup watermelon radish, sliced
      • 1 cup golden beets, sliced
      • 1 medium avocado, sliced
      • ½ cup pumpkin seeds
      • ½ cup citrus dressing (recipe to follow)

Citrus Dressing

      • Juice of 2 medium grapefruits
      • 3 Tbsp white wine vinegar
      • 2 Tbsp orange juice
      • 1 cup water
      • ¼ tsp black pepper
      • ½ tsp Himalayan sea salt

5. Mixed Berry Salad

The fresh berries and citrus in this salad add a pop of color and contain high amounts of vitamin C, Lal says. Just one cup of strawberries, for example, contains 150 percent of the recommended daily intake (RDI) of vitamin C.

The recipe also contains arugula, which helps support a healthy gut microbiome. This is because it is full of plant nitrates that encourage the growth of good gut bacteria, she explains.

Ingredients:

*makes 2-3 servings

      • 1 cup spinach
      • 1 cup arugula
      • 3/4 cup strawberries, sliced
      • 1/3 cup slivered almonds
      • 1/3 cup orange chunks
      • ¼ cup red onions, sliced
      • ¼ cup goat cheese
      • 3 oz protein of your choice

Easy Balsamic Dressing

      • 2 Tbsp olive oil
      • 2 Tbsp balsamic vinaigrette
      • Salt and pepper to taste

6. Spicy Rainbow Salad

We’re all about nutrient-dense beans in this delicious salad. Beans are packed with fiber, boasting as much as 19 grams per cup depending on the variety, says Dahlia. Fiber keeps the digestive system healthy and protects against disease.

“Beans are also great sources of zinc,” she adds. “Zinc plays a vital role in our intestinal lining and protective mucus layer in our gut, which ensure pathogens that enter our gut are kept inside and broken down by stomach acid and our microbiome before they can make their way into the bloodstream.”

The salad also packs in bell peppers, which are high in vitamin C. One medium-sized red bell pepper provides 169 percent of the RDI for vitamin C, making it one of the richest sources of this vitamin, Dahlia explains.

Ingredients:

*makes 4-6 servings

      • 1 cup green apple, chopped
      • 1 cup yellow bell pepper, diced
      • 1 cup red bell pepper, diced
      • 1 cup red cabbage, sliced
      • 2 cup canned white beans
      • ½ cup of Thai-inspired dressing (recipe to follow)
      • 4 oz protein of choice

Thai-Inspired Dressing:

      • 1/2 cup peanut butter
      • 1 tsp maple syrup
      • 1 tsp chili powder
      • 5-inch ginger, minced
      • 3 cloves garlic, minced
      • 3/4 cup water
      • 2 Tbsp tamari sauce
      • 1/2 tsp salt
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