Remember the last time you ordered a salad while your friends chowed down on burgers and fries? In that moment, you may have silently gloated a bit or given yourself an extra pat on the back for being so health conscious. Leafy greens are low in calories and high in fiber and nutrients, making them a dieter’s dream. Throw on some in-season veggies and you’ve created a meal that is full of antioxidants, vitamin C, and beta-carotene.
The problem is, most salads don’t stop there. That seemingly guilt-free veggie meal at a restaurant rarely ends with produce. Even if you’re concocting the salad at home or choosing from the salad bar, there are an array of calorie-laden toppings that can sabotage your attempt to create a guilt-free meal.
The salad dressing can make or break a salad. While you may be tempted to go the creamy route, a 2-tablespoon serving of ranch dressing has 140 calories, 130 coming from fat. Blue cheese, Parmesan, and chipotle dressings have similar nutritional profiles. Keep your salad light and healthy by choosing a vinaigrette or making your own dressing by mixing olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
2. Fried meat
Adding a lean protein can quickly turn your veggie-based salad into a filling, balanced meal but make sure to avoid anything fried. Crispy chicken strips are one of the quickest ways to ruin your healthy salad. Opt for grilled meats or seafood instead.
You may argue that no true salad is complete without it, but too much cheese can quickly make your pile of greens just a vehicle for fat and calories. One serving of shredded cheese is 2 tablespoons, so be careful to not overdo it.
If you love texture you may be all about the croutons, tortilla strips, or candied nuts since they provide your typical salad with an added crunch. These items will add a different taste and great, crispy texture, but they’re also high in fat, calories, and salt. If you need the crunch factor add in some unsalted walnuts or bits of chopped apple.
5. Dried fruit
Mixing a bit of sweet with savory makes for a delicious salad, but it’s important to choose your toppings wisely. Dried fruits often have added sugar that can really add up. One serving of dried, sugar-sweetened cranberries, for example, packs on 123 calories and 26 grams of sugar. Choose fresh fruit instead. Sliced grapes, apple, and strawberries provide a burst of sweet to compliment the savory side of the greens.
Choosing the base is just as important as selecting healthy toppings. Iceberg lettuce may have a nice crunch, but it contains practically no nutrients and minimal fiber. Use darker greens like spinach, leaf lettuce, arugula, and kale. For a powerful, nutrient-packed dish, mix and match greens to get your fill of folate, vitamin A, and phytochemicals, which are found in these leafy greens.