How Good Is Your Salad?

If one of your New Year's resolutions is to drop a few pounds, you may think that a trip to the salad bar guarantees a low-fat, low-calorie meal. But if you're like a lot of Americans, you couldn't be more wrong. Heather Greenbaum, a registered dietician, says that we can actually gain weight from salads.

"The bottom line," Greenbaum says, "is that you need to be smart about your choices at the salad bar. You need to pick and choose the best options. If you are aiming for weight loss, and are trying to stick to a 1500 calorie daily diet, you can eat up the majority of your calories in one trip to the salad bar, and go well over your fat target for an entire day if you're not careful."

To illustrate just how bad salads can be, here is a sample:

Hannah's Salad
2 cups iceberg lettuce
1/2 cup carrot/raisin salad
1/2 cup peas
1/2 cup corn
1/4 cup roasted red peppers
2 tablespoons chopped olives
1/4 cup gorgonzola cheese
3 oz. grilled chicken
4 tablespoons (2 ladles) sesame ginger vinagrette
2 tablespoons sunflower seeds

Total Calories: 1085 calories, 64 grams of fat!

The breakdown:
Iceberg lettuce: This is a BIG no-no, per Greenbaum. Iceberg lettuce has virtually no nutritional content whatsoever. If you want to get the most nutrients per meal - and for your dollar, try darker greens, like spinach or romaine, for more nutritional punch to your salad.

1/2 cup carrot/raisin salad: In just 1/2 cup of this, there are 110 calories, and fat, fat, fat! Greenbaum's advice: avoid all "white stuff" - mayo, cream cheese, sour cream, pasta, potato, tuna, and chicken salads. Just 1/2 cup of pasta salad is a whopping 200 calories - a big no-no for dieters.

1/2 cup corn: 80 calories

1/4 cup roasted red peppers: Another 80 calories. "Red peppers are a great vegetable choice," Greenbaum says, "but you want to pick all undressed veggies to save more calories and fat."

2 tablespoons chopped olives / 1/4 cup cheese: 70 calories and 155 calories, respectively, but Greenbaum points out, "You don't need the added fat of olives if you're using dressing."

3 oz. grilled chicken: 100 calories

4 tablespoons sesame ginger vinagrette: 280 calories (2 tablespoons = 1 ladle, which is hardly enough to cover a salad, Greenbaum says. "In my salad bar research, most ladies used 2 ladles, or 4 tablespoons full!").

2 tablespoons sunflower seeds: 110 calories. "Steer clear of the 'crunch munchy' extras," Greenbaum warns, "like chinese noodles, raisins, banana chips, croutons - they all pack an extra 100 calories and added fat.

So what's a girl to do? Greenbaum suggests trying a pared-back version, like this one:

2 cups spinach or romaine (20 calories, and again, more nutritional bang)

1/2 cup garbanzo beans (pick only 1 starchy veggie to save calories and pick a bean to get extra protein and fiber) - 80 calories

3 undressed colorful, non-starch veggies (like carrots, plain red peppers, and broccoli) - they're low in calories, high in nutrients, full of crunch. "A general rule," Greenbaum points out, "is the deeper the color, the higher the nutrients). - 75 calories for 1/2 cup of each

1 lean dressing-free protein (egg whites, grilled chicken, turkey, water-packed tuna, or shrimp) - 3 oz., 100 calories

Dressing: if you want regular dressing, use 1 tablespoon or 1/2 ladle. For low-fat dressing, you can splurge on 1 full ladle (2 tablespoons); then to add some mileage to the dressing, add balsamic, rice, white wine, or plain vinegar. You can also use a lemon wedge - all this, only 70 calories.

"Crunchy munchy": Use a saltine pack. 2 crackers are only 25 calories, and if you crush them up and sprinkle them in for crunch, it's just as good as croutons, Greenbaum claims. "Or, you could use 1 small sesame stick. Again, it's just 25 calories and gives lots of crunch," she says.

Healthy salad total: 375 calories
5 grams fat
(At this rate, you can even add a piece of fresh fruit for a 50-calorie sweet treat if you want.)

Savings between unhealthy salad and healthy salad:
710 calories, 59 grams of fat - but you keep flavor, crunch, and on track with your diet.