How to Ruin a Healthy Salad

Eating a salad sounds healthy, doesn't it? A big pile of tasty greens, a variety of fresh veggies, and maybe a few nuts or other crunchy things, all topped off with a modest portion of the dressing.

A salad is an excellent vehicle for getting more fruits and vegetables into your diet. But a good salad can go wrong when you pour high-calorie toppings and dressings over a pile of plain lettuce and add various things that have been deep-fried. 

Here are some of the common ways people ruin their healthy salads.


Using Only Iceberg lettuce

Iceberg lettuce

Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

Iceberg lettuce has a nice crunch but almost no nutritional value beyond being a water source—there aren't many vitamins and not much fiber. And, since it's fundamentally dull, a pile of iceberg lettuce screams for globs of high-fat dressings.

Make your salad more nutritious. Use darker greens, such as spinach, leaf lettuce, arugula, dandelion greenskale, watercress, and basil leaves.

Darker greens tend to be richer in folate, vitamin A, minerals, and phytochemicals.


Using Lots of Croutons


Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

Croutons don't add much nutritional value, but they can add a lot of calories. One 1/2 cup serving of croutons has about 100 calories.

So if you like a few crunchy toppings, do this instead—add a tablespoon or two of chopped walnuts or flax seeds. They've got omega-3 fatty acids that are good for your heart and nervous system, plus they've got fiber, which your body needs for a healthy digestive system.


Adding too Much Cheese


Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

Cheese is a Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde of the nutrition world. It's an excellent source of calcium and protein, so it certainly can be included in a healthy salad, but it's also loaded with sodium, saturated fat, and calories.

So what do you do if you're a cheese lover?

Easy! Pay attention to how much cheese you're using. A serving of cheese is about 1 1/2 ounces—or about the size of a pair of dice. Go with a dry cheese like Parmesan, or add some reduced-fat cheese.

Try alternative vegetarian cheese substitutes made from rice or soy, which often add cheesy goodness for fewer calories. Vegans also tout nutritional yeast by adding a cheesy flavor.


Choosing Fried Meat or Taco Shells

Taco salad

Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

Adding a protein source can transform a salad into a full-fledged balanced meal. But adding deep-fried chicken strips or chunks of processed lunch meats will turn your healthy salad into a health disaster.

Be careful with taco salads. A typical taco salad made with seasoned ground beef and globs of sour cream in a deep-fried taco shell could have well over 1,000 calories.

Keep your salad lean and mean by adding baked chicken or turkey breast, a couple of grilled shrimp, or a sprinkling of legumes.


Drenching Your Salad With Dressing

Creamy salad dressing

Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

Salads are usually topped with salad dressing—hence the name—but sadly, most commercial dressings are high in calories, fat, and often added sugar. A single serving of salad dressing is only two tablespoons and has anywhere from 100 to 200 calories.

Forgo the salad dressing and squeeze some fresh lemon or lime juice on your salad. Or get creative with some salsa as a topping; try balsamic vinegar with a little oil. 

When you order a salad at a restaurant, ask for the dressing to be served on the side. You'll be amazed at how many calories you can save.

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By Shereen Lehman, MS
Shereen Lehman, MS, is a former writer for Verywell Fit and Reuters Health. She's a healthcare journalist who writes about healthy eating and offers evidence-based advice for regular people.