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How to Ruin a Healthy Salad

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Updated June 10, 2014

Eating a salad sounds so healthy, doesn't it? I picture a big pile of tasty greens, a variety of fresh veggies and maybe a few nuts or other crunchy things, topped with a modest portion of dressing. In fact, a salad is a great vehicle for getting more fruits and vegetables into your diet.

But a good salad can go bad when you pour high-calorie toppings and dressings over a pile of plain lettuce and various things that have been deep-fried. 

Here's some of the common ways people ruin their healthy salada.

Using Only Iceberg lettuce

Iceberg lettuce has a nice crunch, but almost no nutritional value beyond being a source of water. There's very few vitamins and not much fiber either. And since it's not too flavorful, a pile of iceberg lettuce practically screams for globs of high-fat dressings.

So, to keep your salad on the healthy side, use a variety of darker greens like spinach, leaf lettuce, arugula, dandelion greens, kale, watercress and basil leaves. The darker the leaves the better -- they're richer in folate, minerals and phytochemicals.

Using Lots of Croutons and Bacon Bits

These extra toppings don't add any nutritional value, but they can add a lot of calories and the cheap ones are loaded with ingredients with names you can't pronounce. One-half cup of croutons has about 100 calories and those bacon bits probably aren't even real bacon.

So you like a few crunchy toppings, do this instead -- add a tablespoon or two of chopped walnuts or flax seeds. They've got omega-3 fatty acids that are good for your heart and nervous system, plus they're good sources of fiber, which your body needs for a healthy digestive system.

Adding Extra Cheese

Cheese is the Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde of the food world. It's a great source of calcium and protein, so it certainly can be part of a healthy salad, but it's also loaded with sodium, saturated fat and calories.

So what do you do if you're a cheese lover?

Easy! Just pay attention to how much cheese you are using. A serving of cheese is about one and one-half ounces - or about the size of a pair of dice. Go with a low-fat dry cheese like Parmesan or you can add some reduced fat cheese, or use vegetarian cheese substitutes made from rice or soy. 

Adding Fried and Processed Meats

Adding a protein source can transform a salad into a full-fledged (and really good for you) meal.

But adding deep-fried chicken strips or hunks of processed lunch meats will turn your healthy salad into a health-disaster. And a typical taco salad with seasoned ground meat and globs of sour cream is just a no-go.

Keep your salad lean and mean by adding cooked chicken or turkey breast, a couple of grilled shrimp or legumes.

Drenching Your Salad With Dressing

Salads are usually topped with salad dressing, hence the name, but sadly, most of them are high in calories and fat.

Plus, a serving of salad dressing is only 2 tablespoons. For those 2 tablespoons, you're going to get anywhere from 100 to 200 calories. 

Forgo the salad dressing and squeeze some fresh lemon or lime juice on your salad. Or get creative with some salsa as a topping and balsamic vinegar is also nice. 

When you order a salad at a restaurant, ask for your dressing to be served on the side. You'll be amazed at how many calories you can save when you control the topping.

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