We’ve all been there: You decide to have a “healthy lunch” of salad. Fourteen dollars later, you have yourself the equivalent of a BBQ meal complete with grilled chicken, cheese, grains, $3 worth of avocado and maybe some vegetables hidden under all of that protein if you’re lucky. Salads are getting fancier than ever, but we’d also like them to get more nutritious, so we consulted with the experts about what to shy away from next time we’re at the salad bar.
Dried cranberries are loaded with sugar and preservatives. That’s how they last on the grocery store shelf for months at a time. Opt for fruits such as grapes and raspberries to get the same color without the artificial flavoring.
Flavor boosters such as walnuts and almonds add healthy fats to your meal in small doses, but San Diego-based nutritionist Tara Coleman reminds us to keep the portion to 1/4 cup (about the size of the palm of your hand).
Sunflower or pumpkin seeds fall under the category of “great up to a point.” Stick to the palm-of-your-hand rule when adding these.
If you’re avoiding carbs, this may be a no-brainer, but Coleman says croutons are often loaded with artificial flavors and sodium. She recommends fresh kale chips instead for an extra crunch.
5. Low-cal dressing
Less fat sounds like a good thing, right? Often in low-cal or low-fat dressings, artificial flavoring takes over for fat. Try a light dressing of olive oil (a healthy fat), lemon juice, or lime with salt and pepper to bring out the natural flavors in your meal.
6. Iceberg lettuce
It’s not that iceberg lettuce isn’t nutritious; it’s just mostly water. Imagine you’re eating a salad made of celery when you could be getting a superfood punch by using a base of kale. On the plus side, it’s only 20 calories per serving.
7. Extra protein
Tofu, lean chicken and chickpeas are all great, but you don’t need all three if you’re aiming for a light meal. Choose one source of protein, and fill the rest of your bowl with veggies, veggies, veggies.
8. Shredded cheese
According to HelloFresh’s registered dietitian Rebecca Lewis, half a cup of cheese can be upwards of 250 calories in addition to almost 20 grams of fat. We’re not asking you to skip the cheese entirely — that would be a crime — but make sure your salad is 98 percent veggies and 2 percent cheese.
9. Mayonnaise-drenched salads
It wouldn’t be a barbecue without pasta salad, but unfortunately, it wouldn’t be pasta salad without a ton of mayo. Check out these recipes for healthier alternatives.
10. Bacon bits
Most salad bars insist on a tray of bacon bits, despite the preservative-packed, sodium-loaded, fatty content of these little (delicious) health-food killers. Skip!