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7 Salad Ingredients That Are Ruining Your Diet

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(Photo: www.llbalanced.com)

Recently, we have come to face a hard truth: just because it is a salad, does not mean that it is healthy. Shocking, we know.

We have known to order our leafy greens with dressing on the side. Or to stay away from an over abundance of croutons, but beyond that, we thought we were doing pretty good navigating the salad bar. We were wrong.

A few extra cheese crumbles or dried fruit pieces and you can up the calorie and fat content more than necessary. With the help of nutritionist Mari-Chris Savage, MS, RD, LD, ACE-CPT, steer clear of the nutritionless culprits and swap our for a healthy, filling and fabulous salad. "The big concept for a salad is to consume an abundance of raw vegetables, full of textures, gut healthy fiber, and vibrant color, with a good serving or two of healthy fats," explains Savage.

Low Fat or Fat Free Dressing
"One of the best ingredients to throw out and never buy again is any product that says low-fat or fat-free," says Savage. Dressing is the quickest way to ruin your perfectly healthy salad. MSG, unhealthy fats, sodium and artificial flavors -- all take your salad into overdrive. "When food manufactures decrease the fat, they add a few things far worse: chemical emulsifiers, sugars, and artificial sweeteners. And why do you want to get rid of the food component that helps your body absorb the nutrients from the veggies? We need to rethink the notion that food fat needs to be lowered or cut out. Fat is good! For salad dressings, stick to extra virgin olive oil or even a purred avocado for creamy goodness."

Cheese
"Cheese is a fab choice for obtaining plenty of calcium, protein, and healthy fat. Watch out for the processed products. Look for whole milk, “grass fed” cheese if you can find it. Also, a little bit of cheese goes along way. Stick to an amount that would easy fit in the palm of your hand," Savage suggests. The problem occurs when your salad starts to look like a cheese plate. Add small amounts of cheese in your salads with cheese that are lower in sodium and not heavily processed, such as bocconcini, mozzarella or feta cheese. Cheese should be a "extra" not the star of the show.

Dried Fruit
"Dried fruit is a tricky item because its fruit and fruit is good for you. However, dried fruit has a much higher sugar content due to the removal of water," she explains. Craisins, or dried cranberries, are a fruit, so that means they're good for you, right? They have more sugar than you'd think, 29 grams per a serving and at that point, you might as well throw Snickers on there. "Instead of dried fruit, add fresh slices of apple or pears to a bibb lettuce or chopped strawberries to spinach leaves."

Croutons or Tortilla Strips
"One word when I think about croutons: processed. I challenge anyone to read the ingredients on a package of croutons. The ingredient listing will take a good google search to figure out what some of the words mean." While we love the salty crunch they add, croutons and tortilla strips are an easy way to ruin your salad by adding refined carbohydrates and zero nutritional value. These ingredients can also have high sodium levels, add extra calories while offering zero nutritional value.  "For a good carby bite, add roasted and diced sweet potatoes or butternut squash. For a Mexican twist, toast a few all natural corn tortillas until crisp."

Real Greens
Any leafy green or lettuce and of course it's healthy! Incorrect. Go for the darkest, leafiest greens you can find, kale and spinach are filled with nutrients and fiber are great places to start. Iceberg lettuce is mostly made of water and will not add much to your nutritional in take, if you enjoy the variety, make sure you combine iceberg with other dark greens. 

The Wrong Protein 
"Protein is vital to life; however, eating the incorrect type of protein will not lead to great results. Remember, quality over quantity any day," Savage says. Add complete proteins, these will help you stay fuller longer and properly keep your body charged. "Buy organic, pasture raised or grass fed meat when it is possible for you. And, when in doubt, go without. One of my personal go-to’s is hard boiled eggs and nitrate free bacon topping a big cobb." Grilled chicken, salmon, tuna and quinoa are filling and healthy alternatives to fried, well, anything, calamari, or no protein at all. Marie's grilled salad recipe has the perfect balance of healthy protein with a unique spin on preparation. 

Nuts
"Nuts are a great source of healthy fat, minerals, and a little bit of protein. However, a handful is the serving that you need in one sitting. Also, watch out for added processed oils, salt, and sugars on the nut packaging. When trying to decide which brand, go for raw nuts." Nuts provide us with energy, so moderation is important. Especially if the nuts are glazed or coated, stay away. A few tablespoons of chopped raw nuts will allow you to experience the crunch and texture without overdoing it.