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Salads: Not Your Diet's Best Friend

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Whenever someone says they are on a diet, look for them to eat more salads. With the base of every salad being a leafy green, it's understandable why dieters migrate to the salad bar or choose a salad on a menu when dining out. But dieters, be warned -- the salad bar is not your diet's best friend.

I'll admit that I always eat salads whenever I am dieting or just trying to stay healthy. However, sometimes I'm not doing my body a favor by choosing a salad over a sandwich or even a Whopper, like Katharine pointed out last week. Think about it: What is the best part of the salad? The lettuce? Not unless you're a rabbit. The tastiest parts of every salad are the toppings and the dressing. I am here to tell you which toppings and dressings to avoid and how you can still make a tasty salad that doesn't have nearly 1,000 calories.

When you have the choice between a regular chef's salad with a balsamic vinaigrette and a barbecue chicken southwest salad with creamy chipotle Ranch dressing, which one are you most likely going to choose? The majority of us would go with the barbecue chicken salad. It's probably full of chicken covered in a sweet barbecue sauce, black beans, lots of cheddar cheese, corn and tortilla strips, and doused in a creamy, fatty chipotle Ranch dressing. Sounds delicious, right? But at nearly 1,000 calories, that salad is doing you more harm than good.

If your salad comes with a creamy dressing, you can do one of two things: Ask for a light dressing (if the restaurant has one), or just choose a vinaigrette. Then, ask for that dressing on the side. If a vinaigrette isn't available, still ask for the dressing on the side. The bulk of the calories in a salad come from the dressing. So take it off your salad and lightly dip your salad into the dressing as you eat instead. You'll be surprised by how much less dressing you will eat throughout your meal.

Another topping that causes more harm than good is the protein. A common mistake is that we add nearly five times the amount of recommended protein to our salads. Always remember that you only need one or two types of protein on your salad. So, if you'd rather eat meat and cheese for your protein, nix the beans, eggs and nuts. Oh, and if your salad comes with crumbled bacon, just get rid of it.

Imagine your salad with three to fives times as much protein. That's how much protein you are eating if you pile on all sorts of protein options. Sounds more like a bowl of chicken with lettuce.

You can save yourself tons of calories and fat if you stick to one type of protein in your salad. Remember that 1/4 cup of mixed nuts can be nearly 160 calories, 1/4 cup of shredded cheese has nearly 100 calories, one hard-boiled egg has nearly 70 calories and 1/2 cup of black beans has nearly 100 calories. Add that with some protein and you're close to adding 500 or 600 calories to your salad before the dressing.

Next, go easy on the extra tasty toppings. I'm talking croutons, corn, dried fruit, peas and other creamy tidbits, like chicken salad, potato salad and hummus.

When you're at the salad bar, it's easy to get a scoop of this, a scoop of that and come back to your table with a salad filled with almost everything the salad bar has to offer. You probably got one of those gingerbread muffins from Jason's Deli, too, right?

If you fill your salad bowl with lots of mixed greens and low-calorie vegetables first, then you won't have enough room in your bowl to add all of the extra high-calorie and high-carbohydrate toppings.

Get some color on your plate by adding carrots, broccoli, red onions, artichokes, tomatoes, bell peppers, celery and radishes. You can keep your calorie and carbohydrate count low by filling up on vegetables first.

If you want a sweet touch to your salad, add one fruit to your bowl, preferably fresh ones. Slices of apple, oranges or berries are great additions to your salad, but be sure to choose one, because fruit has a lot of extra sugar and carbohydrates.

Instead of adding a ton of white croutons doused in olive oil, choose whole-grain croutons, if available, or limit your serving size of croutons to five or six.

Make these simple adjustments to your salad and you'll find it easier to keep your New Year's resolution to stay healthy.

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