When you’re trying to eat healthy, choosing to eat a salad is a typical no-brainer. After all, one cup of leafy greens only contains about 10 calories and, if the right varieties are chosen, you end up with a medley filled with minerals and nutrients. But just because a lot of salads are healthy doesn’t mean that all salads are healthy. In fact, with a lot of high-calorie and high-fat inclusions that often come with salads, especially when you’re ordering out, there’s a good chance that you’d be better off with a cheeseburger and fries than with the “healthy” alternative.
Too many people assume just because it’s a salad, it’s healthy. Yet some salads have over 1,200 calories, processed sugars and carbs, nasty chemicals, and loads of unhealthy fats, making them anything but good for you.
So, if you think you’re eating healthy, but not seeing the results you want, it may be because of what’s in your salad. Look closely to be sure you’re not sabotaging your health goals with these five unhealthy salad ingredients.
1. Fat Free Salad Dressings
If you’re still on the fat-free fad, it’s time to move on. For the most part, fat-free is nothing but a synonym for high sugar – and not natural sugar, either. Fat-free salad dressings often have fake, chemical sugars and are heavily processed. This means that nutritionally, these dressings aren’t helping you in any way. Instead, many of them have the opposite effect and make you crave sweets, slow your metabolism, and generally degrade your health.
Healthier swap: On your next salad, forgo the fat-free (or even low-fat) dressing and opt for a natural, healthier dressing made with extra virgin olive oil instead. (Better yet, whip up your own.)
2. Dried Fruit
Although putting dried fruit on top of your salad sounds like a sweet and healthy treat, it’s more the former than the latter. During the dehydrating process, fruit loses much of its nutritional value, leaving behind the sugary sweetness without a ton of the good stuff. What’s more, many store-bought brands of dried fruit contain added sugars and sweeteners, neither of which you need.
Healthier swap: If you’re craving a bit of sweetness in your salad, go for fresh fruit instead of the dried varieties. Things like apples, blueberries, and grapes liven up your greens without sabotaging your health goals.
3. Salted (or Roasted) Nuts
Another seemingly healthy salad topper that may not be as healthy as it’s cracked up to be is salted nuts. Sure, nuts are heart healthy and filled with beneficial fatty acids, but they’re not healthy when they’re covered in salt. And while roasted nuts may be tasty, they’re often cooked in unhealthy oils and, depending on how they’re roasted, may lose much of their nutritional value.
Healthier swap: By all means, throw a few nuts on top of your salad, but be sure they’re unsalted, raw, or dry roasted. Almonds, cashews, and pistachios are your best options and can make you feel fuller faster.
4. Fried (or Glazed) Proteins
If you’re eating a salad as a meal, you already know it should contain some protein. But topping your leafy goodness with fried chicken or shrimp defeats the purpose of a healthy meal. These foods tend to be cooked in fake oils, and are often high in trans fat and calories. Plus, they lose a ton of their nutritional value through the frying process. But don’t reach for the glazed meats either. Chicken and salmon covered in a sweet sticky sauce add unnecessary sugars and calories to your otherwise healthy salad.
Healthier swap: Solve the protein problem by asking for your chicken, shrimp, or salmon baked or grilled without any sauces. This gets you the nutrients you need without sacrificing your waistline.
5. Balsamic Vinegar
Yes, balsamic vinegar is healthy. It’s filled with antioxidants, helps maintain blood sugar, and even promotes bone health. But that doesn’t mean that the balsamic vinegar you’re getting with your salad is. The reality is that true balsamic vinegar is not cheap. It takes a minimum of 12 years to craft and, because of its lengthy process, tends to be rather expensive. That’s why a lot of the balsamic vinegar options that you are likely to see on your supermarket shelves or atop your restaurant salad isn’t really balsamic in its healthiest form. Many commercial brands of balsamic vinegar are actually white wine vinegar with added coloring, sugars, and thickening agents.
Healthier swap: Instead of blindly reaching for the bottle to douse your salad in vinegar, check the label to see what’s in there. If it’s not true balsamic vinegar, set it back down and opt for an olive or avocado oil based dressing instead.