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More women choose salad for lunch than any other food, according to a study by the National Restaurant Association. But not all salads are created equal: When LHJ checked in with two national restaurant chains that feature salad bars, the most popular items included cottage cheese, Cheddar cheese and hard-boiled eggs. While tomatoes and red onions were also in the top five, dark, leafy greens -- the foundation for the healthiest salads -- didn't make the list. Add a heaping helping of bacon bits or Chinese noodles plus lots of dressing, and your lunchtime fare may be higher in fat and calories than a burger with the works. Here's a guide to help you make a healthy -- and tasty -- salad.Salad fixings: The empty calories
Iceberg lettuce: It pales in comparison to other leafy greens and won't fill you up for the long haul -- 1 and 1/2 cups have only 1 g of fiber (experts say you should get 25 to 35 g per day).
Cucumbers: You're getting mostly water here: Half a cup has only a tiny amount of folate and a minimal amount of vitamin A.
Mushrooms: They may add a satisfying, meaty flavor to your salad, but they lack nutritional value -- 1/2 cup has no fiber, only 5 percent of the RDA of potassium and less than 10 percent of Vitamin D.
Olives: Stick to black. Five green olives have a whopping 468 mg of sodium; whereas, 5 black olives have only 145 mg.
Red onions: There's no reason to suffer onion breath: One fourth cup has a scant 15 calories and little else, except some potassium and a teeny bit of vitamin C.
Marinated artichoke hearts: Two hearts contain 55 mg of potassium and just 1 g of fiber. Since they are often soaked in oil, take just a few.
Radishes: They have few calories -- and few nutrients. If you like a peppery taste, go ahead and pile them on; if not, don't feel guilty skipping them.
Salad fixings that pack a nutritional punch
Chickpeas: Toss in plenty of these -- 1/2 cup has 6 g of soluble fiber and as much protein as a hard-boiled egg. As an added bonus, chickpeas have 186 mg of potassium.
Grated carrots: Loaded with 1,700 mcg
Cherry tomatoes: With half the RDA of vitamin A and 25 percent of vitamin C, these are worth every calorie (5 tomatoes have just 18 calories). And there's no sodium.
Mesclun salad greens: A mix that includes arugula, radicchio and oak-leaf lettuce has almost half your daily requirement for vitamin A and one fourth of your daily quota of folate, which helps protect against birth defects.
Cauliflower: Just 1/2 cup will give you almost half your vitamin C requirement for the day for a mere 13 calories.
Broccoli: If you have to choose between this and cauliflower, go for the green -- 1/2 cup has 100 percent of the RDA for both vitamins A and C.
Green peas: Help yourself to plenty of these -- 1/3 cup contains 40 percent of the RDA of vitamin A and 2 g of fiber.
Kidney beans: Add a burst of color to your plate and get a bonus-1/2 cup has 5 g of fiber and 6 g of protein.
Cottage cheese: Light on calcium but heavy on protein (14 g in 1/2 cup), cottage cheese will help you feel fuller longer.
Spinach: Popeye knew it: Spinach is a powerhouse. For only 13 calories, 1 cup delivers 16 mg of vitamin C, 55 mg of calcium, 2 mg of iron and 2 g of fiber.
Grated Cheddar cheese: One ounce (about 4 tablespoons) provides almost one fifth of your daily calcium requirement and nearly as much protein as a hard-boiled egg. But it also has 114 calories and 9 g of fat, so think of it as a garnish, not a main ingredient.
Chinese noodles: Four tablespoons have 75 calories and 4 g of fat. Get your crunch with croutons instead.
Hard-boiled eggs: A great source of protein (7 g, in the whites) and low in calories (80 calories). Still, one yolk harbors 6 g of fat, so consider leaving the yellow stuff behind.
Deli-style coleslaw: Unless you know it's made with low-fat dressing, don't dig in -- 1/2 cup has 175 calories and a belt-busting 16 g of fat.
Bacon bits: If you must have some, sprinkle lightly: Two tablespoons have 50 calories and 2 g of fat.
Raisins: One quarter cup gives you nearly 10 percent of your daily potassium requirement, along with 1 g of protein and 2 g of fiber. But they're high in calories -- 130 in 4 tablespoons -- and can be as cavity-causing as candy.
Roasted red peppers in oil: Skip them if you can: Two tablespoons have 20 calories-10 of which are from fat-and 125 mg of sodium.
Sunflower seeds: A good source of minerals that are important for strong bones: calcium, magnesium, phosphorous and vitamin D. Sunflower seeds are high in calories-83 in just 2 tablespoons.
Potato salad: One half cup has 20 percent of the RDA of vitamin C, as well as 11 g of fat-if you can resist, take a pass.
What do you really get for one pound? The choice is clear -- veggies are heaps above the rest, but fruit is a close second.
Traditional pasta salad equals a whopping 540 calories and 15 g of fat. You get 15 g of protein, but little else.
Fill up with dark greens for only 80 calories and a trace of fat. You'll get 6 g of protein, 6 g of fiber, 57 mg of vitamin C and 3 mg of iron.
A fruit salad has 175 calories, and just over 1 g of fat. But it's no lightweight with 134 mg of vitamin C, 4.5 g of fiber and 3 g of protein.Top it off right!
The wrong salad dressing can transform even the healthiest salad into a fatty feast. The worst dressings? Blue cheese, ranch and other creamy, cheese-based varieties, which contain more than 100 calories in a tablespoon. Instead choose bottled "light" dressings, which have half the calories. Your best choice is to make your own dressing with oil and vinegar. Olive oil is high in unsaturated fatty acids, which protect your heart, and vinegar contains disease-fighting chemicals called flavonoids.
Sources: Joy Bauer, R.D., M.S.; Riska Platt, R.D., M.S.; and Susan Adams, R.D.
Beef and Blue Cheese Salad Like bread and wine, beef and blue cheese are born to be together. Substitute any blue-veined cheese -- such as Roquefort or Maytag Blue -- for the Gorgonzola.
Curried Chicken Salad Crunchy jicama and celery add a little snap to complement the juicy grapes in this salad.
Field Greens with Quesadilla "Croutons" Shrimp-and-cheese-filled tortilla triangles enliven this crisp Tex-Mex salad with yellow-gold accents.
Mexican Fiesta Salad Prepare this creamy chilled salad in the morning and look forward all day to a hearty, corn-and-bean-studded treat. Lime and cilantro infuse the sour cream dressing.
Mixed Herb Pasta Salad Good taste doesn't get any fresher than pasta tossed with tangy salad greens and a whole host of fresh herbs, then dressed simply with olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper.
Oriental Speckled Rice Salad The Oriental flavor of this salad comes from a tasty mixture of teriyaki sauce, rice wine vinegar, sesame oil, and crushed red pepper.
Beef and Fruit Salad For an exotic presentation, serve the fruit mixture in a kiwano (kee-WAH-noh) shell.
Chicken and Strawberry Salad Build a backyard brunch around this colorful spring or summer salad.
Grilled Chicken and Vegetable Salad Serve this summer chicken salad with Red Salsa, or with your favorite bottled salsa or salad dressing.
Turkey and Nectarine Salad Buttermilk adds a tang to this creamy dill dressing. Although you may think buttermilk is high in fat due to its name, it has slightly more fat and calories than skim milk.
Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal magazine.