by Lexi Petronis
photo: Stephanie FoleySalads can be tricky things. I mean, even though they might have things like lettuce in them--and, heck, the word "salad" in their names--that doesn't mean they're necessarily the best healthy-eating choices. In fact, some restaurant salads can pack as many as 1,300 calories per dish!
So salad bars are especially good because you can control what goes on your salad, keep an eye on your portions--and, what I find is an extra-special bonus, make it exactly with the stuff you like most. The only problem is when the stuff you like is yummy--but not really all that healthful. (Looking at you, mayo-filled noodles!)
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Experts say these are some of the big health bombs to avoid at the salad bar:
Bacon bits. The crunchy, salty little nuggets--which aren't even necessarily made of real bacon--have basically no nutritional value. Two tablespoons are as much as 100 calories, with almost 400mg of sodium, which is about 1/4 of your recommended daily salt intake.
Dried cranberries and raisins. Fruit is fine on salads, right? Definitely--especially if it's fresh. But, as Jillian Michaels says, there's a reason dried cranberries are called "nature's candy"--they actually contain about 29g of sugar per portion. And lots of us pile way more than one portion on our salads.
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Cheese and creamy dressings. OK, cheese isn't all bad--it can deliver a nice shot of protein and calcium. But you have be careful about the kinds you choose (even cottage cheese at salad bars is usually the whole-fat variety), and, of course, how much you put on. Sprinkling on just a bit of flavorful varieties, like Parmesan or gorgonzola, can help keep fat grams down. And creamy dressings--well, you probably already know that they can add on calories fast. If you simply replace the ranch and blue cheese dressings with balsamic vinaigrette or non-creamy Italian, you cut the calories practically in half.
Glazed nuts. Sweet and crunchy, yes! But they can add 180 calories to your salad, which is basically the same as an entire packet of chocolate candies.
Fried chicken or shrimp. Adding lean protein to your lettuce leaves is a definite do--but these fried varieties are just disasters. A three-ounce portion of fried chicken adds 15g of fat to your salad!
What are your favorite healthful salad toppings? And how do you avoid going overboard at the salad bar?
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by Lexi Petronis