The 5 Worst Salad Ingredients (and 5 Better Choices)

By now everyone knows ordering a gargantuan restaurant salad can quickly rack up more calories than a bacon double cheeseburger with fries, right?

Restaurants know you know, so they attempt to stay two steps ahead of you with stunts like “lite” salads that are actually just smaller portions of their fat-bomb monstrosities.

I’m likewise flabbergasted what ingredients sometimes land in the “healthy” salad section, which are actually high-sugar impact catastrophes. These five salad ingredients masquerade as “healthy” picks when they’re, in fact, stalling your fat-loss. 

Next time you’re at the salad bar, or making your own at home, make sure to avoid these biggest phony toppings:

Authentic, traditional balsamic vinegar from Italy is aged at least 12 years. It’s not cheap. When you see balsamic vinegar on the menu, you’re probably getting the commercial variety from white wine vinegar that has caramel coloring (for color and added sweetness), sugar, and thickeners like cornstarch and gum.

2. Fat-free dressing

While fat-phobia is rightfully dying, restaurants still love to play into that fear. “Fat-free” anything usually is code for “higher sugar,” and fat-free dressings become a halo-triggering example of a high-sugar impact chemical maelstrom.

When you eat berries, water among nutrients, and fibre, it slows things down. When you remove that water—like with raisins, dates, and other dried fruit that may make for great road trip snacks—it basically becomes very easy-to-overeat concentrated sugar bombs. We call them “nature’s candy” for a reason.

4. Glazed anything

You wouldn’t consider a glazed donut healthy, so how does dunking salmon or chicken into syrupy glaze land it in the “diet” category? Think of these otherwise healthy proteins as a big ‘ole glazed donut and steer clear.

5. Candied walnuts

Nuts are a perfectly healthy food, loaded with protein, healthy fats, fibre and nutrients, and are a vital addition to healthy trail mix recipes. Dunk them in sugar and—you guessed it—they fall under the candy category.

6. Make some quick changes

The solution? Don’t let a menu dictate your choices. You’re in charge, so be polite and specify exactly how you want your salad. If you don’t, you’re responsible if it comes drowning in sugary vinaigrette or blitzed with croutons.

Designing a smart salad needn’t be complicated. In fact, simple is better. Apply these 5 tactics and you’ll have the perfect salad whether you’re at a restaurant or your local salad bar cafe. 

Avoid iceberg, which is basically pesticides and water with few nutrients or fibre. You can settle for Romaine, but if you really want to nutrient things up, pile on organic spinach or kale. As a general rule, darker greens are more nutrient dense.

8. Add some non-starchy veggies

Really load your salad with stuff like cucumbers, radishes, peppers, and mushrooms, but think outside the box with things like low-sugar-impact salsa. Color becomes your healthiest fat-loss friend here.

9. Toss on some clean lean protein

Grilled chicken is my typical go-to, but mix it up with turkey, shrimp, wild salmon, or grass-fed beef. Always verify your protein isn’t battered, deep-fried, or comes drowning in a sugary or gluten-containing sauce.

10. Go for the right fats

Smart fats keep you full and fat burning longer. They include avocado, slow-roasted or dehydrated nuts, and omega-3 rich wild salmon. Skip the junk dressings and drizzle your salad with extra-virgin olive oil and red wine vinegar, or make your own homemade salad dressings to avoid the fuss of store-bought.

11. Finish with slow low carbs

High-fibre (not the “healthy” high-fibre imposters), nutrient-dense carbs like black beans, quinoa, or garbanzo beans give your salad variety and deliciousness.

This article originally appeared on Rodale Wellness. 

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