Salads have long been considered a smart meal choice and are usually a staple in the health conscious eater’s meal arsenal. Despite the diet-friendly image salad holds in popular culture, even this most virtuous of single bowl meals can be tarnished by heavy toppings. Just because you’ve managed to resist the allure of a sandwich, burger, or pasta in favor of the salad bar, doesn’t mean you’re automatically safe from caloric bombs in the form of toppings such as cheese, croutons, and corn. The good news is that these tempting ingredients live among healthier ones, and we’ve separated the smart from indulgent to keep you on track next time you’re faced with the task of composing a salad. Start strong with a nutrient-packed base of leafy greens, but skip the iceberg in favor of supercharged greens that give you the most bang for your bbkite, like kale and spinach leaves. Salads are a quick and easy way to pack in vitamins, minerals, and nutrients, but choose the wrong toppings and a well-intentioned meal can quickly go south. With this in mind, avoid the following.

Culprit #1: Bacon Fatty, fried, and processed, this topping ranks high among the major offenders. Pick a lean, protein-packed alternative such as grilled chicken, grilled salmon, tuna, tofu, or tempeh.

Culprit #2: Croutons  These seemingly innocuous cubes are devoid of nutritional value and fall under the dreaded processed white flour product umbrella. If its crunch you’re craving, replace croutons with pumpkin seeds or raw nuts.

Culprit #3: Cheese High in saturated fat and calories, even a light dusting of feta, cheddar, or gorgonzola can tip the salad scales in favor of decadent. For a creamy source of healthy fat, substitute cheese with half an avocado. Alternatively, replace shredded cheddar with lookalike grated carrots to trick your eyes and satisfy your stomach.

Culprit #4: Corn Corn is a staple of salad bar offerings, and despite often being classified as a vegetable, is actually a grain. Low in fiber and relatively high in carbohydrates, corn can cause spikes in blood sugar, leading to cravings. Opt for quinoa, garbanzo beans, or wheat berries instead.

Culprit #5: Fried Noodles Like croutons, this deceptively unhealthy topping provides a crispy texture at the expense of your diet. Try some jicama slices for a slightly sweet yet equally crisp alternative.   
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Culprit #6: Sugary, Salted, and/or Roasted Nuts Substitute sugarcoated walnuts or pecans for raw nuts without any additives. Even roasted nuts are laden with unhealthy vegetable oils and loaded with salt, so steer clear in favor of an unprocessed, raw option.

For the finishing touch, choose your dressing wisely. Skip the ranch and caesar in favor of an avocado-based dressing or simple vinaigrette. If you can’t live without the creamy texture ranch and caesar offer, whisk low-fat Greek yogurt together with crushed garlic and a hint of lemon. Even simpler, lemon juice mixed with olive oil, salt, and pepper makes for a heart-smart option. Lastly, don’t be fooled by the claims of a fat-free dressing, as they can be high in sugar and artificial additives.

Check out more of Shanna’s healthy eating Tips at: The Reset Plan