Smart Salad Swaps
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Smart Salad Swaps

Eating a salad for lunch or dinner seems like a no-brainer healthy meal. But what you choose to toss in with those leafy greens can make the difference between a diet-friendly dish and a bowl of fat.

Some toppings can turn out to be salad saboteurs. We found the biggest offenders and their healthier alternatives. (Don't worry: They're full of flavor and won't leave you hungry in an hour.)

SKIP THIS: WHOLE NUTS
Nuts give your salad a delicious crunch but can be extremely high in fat and calories. Just two tablespoons contain up to 201 calories and 21 grams of fat.

PICK THAT: CHOPPED NUTS
Since nuts are heart-healthy, the smart way to use them is to choose slivered or chopped rather than whole ones and toss in a lot less. Opt for lower-calorie varieties, such as almonds (161 calories, 14 grams of fat per 2 tablespoons), cashews (161 calories, 13 grams of fat) and walnuts (183 calories, 18 grams of fat), and use a light hand when you sprinkle them on.

SKIP THIS: FATTY MEATS
Adding meat to your salad gives you a protein boost, but crispy chicken, steak, bacon, and salami can really bump up the calorie and fat count.

PICK THAT: LEAN PROTEIN
Go with lower-fat meats such as grilled chicken breast, (141 calories, 2 grams of fat, and 18 grams of protein per three-ounce serving) or extra-lean turkey bacon -- four slices have 80 calories, 2 grams fat, and 12 grams of protein. Craving steak? Choose London broil (155 calories, 6 grams of fat, 23 grams of protein).

SKIP THIS: DRIED FRUIT
While a single dried cranberry has as many calories as a fresh one, it's much smaller, so it's easy to eat a lot more of them. Just one-third cup of sweetened dried cranberries has 123 calories and 26 grams of sugar. You'd have to eat nearly three cups of fresh ones to get that many. And raisins? A serving adds 145 calories and 29 grams of sugar to your salad.

PICK THAT: FRESH FRUIT
Just as sweet as dried, but a better calorie-per-bite bargain. Try berries, such as strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries, which are nutrient powerhouses.

SKIP THIS: MARINATED VEGETABLES
At the salad bar, these are often soaking in oil -- and absorbing it. "You can assume that there is between a teaspoon and a tablespoon of oil in a scoopful of marinated vegetables. That's 100 to 150 calories from fat -- and it could be more," says Karen Miller-Kovach, RD, chief scientific officer for Weight Watchers International. You should also watch out for grilled veggies that look extra moist. Chances are they've been hanging out in oil as well.

PICK THAT: STEAMED OR RAW VEGGIES
Throw in all the broccoli, onions, tomatoes, raw mushrooms, and shredded carrots you want -- they're loaded with nutrients and low on calories. If you're not willing to give up marinated vegetables completely, use them to dress your salad, suggests Miller-Kovach. "That saves you the calories and fat you would have added with the vinaigrette or creamy Italian."

SKIP THIS: HIGH-FAT CHEESE
Blue, mozzarella, and cheddar cheese are some of the tastiest toppers, but they're also loaded with fat. A half cup of blue has 239 calories and 20 grams of fat, including 13 grams of saturated fat. Mozzarella? The same amount will add on 168 calories, 13 grams of fat, and 8 grams of saturated fat. And cheddar packs 228 calories and 19 grams of fat, 12 of it saturated.

PICK THAT: GRATED HARD CHEESE
Small servings of Parmesan or Romano give a big flavor boost without all that saturated fat. A tablespoon of grated Parmesan, for instance, has only 22 calories and 1 gram of fat.

SKIP THIS: CROUTONS AND CRISPY NOODLES
These crunchy toppers are nothing more than fried refined flour. "It's like putting potato chips in your salad," says American Dietetic Association spokesperson Bonnie Taub-Dix, RD.

PICK THAT: ARTIFICIAL BACON BITS
"They add smoky flavor and crunch," says Miller-Kovach. And they're low in calories and fat (just 33 calories and 2 grams of fat per tablespoon) because they're made of textured vegetable protein. These bits even kick your salad's protein content up 2 grams. One note of caution: They're high in sodium, so if you're watching your salt intake, use them sparingly.

Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, March 2009.

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