What Foods Should You Pair with Leafy Salads and Why?

Published on May 22, 2024

This article was prepared by Katie Donlon, a TU Dublin Food Science student, as part of her work experience at McCormack Family Farms in 2024.

The right food pairings can significantly enhance the nutritional value and taste of leafy salads. By combining specific ingredients, you can boost the absorption of essential nutrients and create a more enjoyable eating experience. Here are some key pairings to consider:

Nutritional Benefits of Adding Healthy Fats

Why Add Fat? Incorporating healthy fats into your salad can improve the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins and antioxidants found in leafy greens like spinach and kale. Here’s why:

  • ♦ Carotenoids: Found in spinach and kale, these compounds require fat for optimal absorption. Carotenoids have antioxidant properties and promote eye health.
  • ♦ Vitamin A: Essential for vision, vitamin A in spinach helps form rhodopsin, necessary for low-light and colour vision.
  • ♦ Vitamin E: An antioxidant that protects cells from damage.
  • ♦ Vitamin K: Crucial for blood clotting and wound healing.


Best Oils to Use:

  • ♦ Olive Oil: Rich in oleic acid, vitamins E and K, and antioxidants. It reduces inflammation and complements Mediterranean dishes.
  • ♦ Avocado Oil: Contains oleic acid, lutein (for eye health), and vitamins A and E. Its neutral taste pairs well with various salads.
  • ♦ Sesame Oil: Packed with antioxidants sesamol and sesaminol, it supports heart health and adds a nutty flavor, especially in Asian, Indian, and Middle Eastern dishes.


Enhance Calcium Absorption with Salmon

Why Pair with Salmon? Leafy greens like kale and spinach are rich in calcium, but for efficient absorption, your body needs vitamin D. Salmon, a vitamin D-rich food, is an excellent choice.

How to Pair:

  • ♦ Add smoked or canned salmon to salads.
  • ♦ Create dishes like salmon and spinach fish cakes.

Or try our Crispy Greens and Salmon Hash recipe!


Boost Iron Absorption with Bell Peppers

Why Pair with Bell Peppers? Spinach is high in iron, essential for red blood cell formation. Vitamin C in bell peppers enhances iron absorption.

How to Pair:

  • ♦ Add bell peppers and spinach to salads, curries, soups, or stir-fries.

Or try our Chicken Fajita Bowl recipe!


Improve Taste with Complementary Ingredients



  • ♦ Garlic or Parmesan: Enhance the mild flavour of spinach with garlic oil or grated parmesan.
  • ♦ Toasted Pine Nuts: Add a nutty flavour and crunchy texture.



♦ Tomatoes and Feta: Balance its peppery taste with cherry tomatoes and feta cheese for a tasty salad.



♦ Italian Dishes: Use in pizza, pasta sauces, or tomato and basil focaccia.

♦ Unique Pairings: Pair with blueberries, coconut, lemon, or use in basil pesto on fish like seabass and salmon.


♦ Sweet Foods: Balance its slightly sour flavour with sweet ingredients like an apple.



Food Pairings to Avoid


♦ Found in tea, coffee, apples, and beans, tannins can inhibit iron absorption. Reduce intake or counteract with vitamin C-rich foods.

Phytic Acid

♦ Present in legumes, seeds, and grains, it can inhibit the absorption of minerals like iron, zinc, magnesium, and calcium.



Pairing the right foods with your leafy salads not only boosts their nutritional value but also enhances their taste. Incorporate oils like olive, avocado, and sesame for better nutrient absorption, and complement leafy greens with vitamin D and C-rich foods like salmon and bell peppers. Avoid ingredients that hinder nutrient absorption, and experiment with flavours to create delicious and nutritious salads.

By thoughtfully combining ingredients, you can turn a simple leafy salad into a powerhouse of taste and nutrition, making your meals both healthier and more enjoyable.