The Worst Salad Ingredients for Weight Loss

Reduce Salad Calories by Skipping These Toppings

classic cobb salad
 sbrogan/Getty Images

People who are trying to eat healthier often choose salad as a meal option because they think it will help them to lose or maintain a healthy weight. But many times the salad that they make at home or that they order in a restaurant is full of fat and high in calories.

Calories in Salad

Exactly how many calories are in a salad? Numbers vary greatly. A basic iceberg lettuce salad with tomatoes, cucumber, carrots, red pepper, and low or zero-calorie dressing (such as lemon juice or vinegar) has about 125 calories. But many salads that you see on restaurant menus have more. Here are a few numbers to give you an idea.

  • Cobb salad: 1130 calories
  • Greek salad: 500 calories
  • Grilled chicken Caesar salad: 770 calories
  • Oriental chicken salad with crispy chicken: 1440 calories
  • Taco salad: 830 calories

Of course, the ingredients and the dressing you choose will change your salad calories. Serving size matters, as well.

If you want to order a lower-calorie, healthy salad, avoid these ten unhealthy ingredients. While they are popular ingredients in many salads, they add very little nutritional value to your meal. Instead, they fill your salad bowl full of needless fat grams and useless calories. 


Bacon on a plate

Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

The bacon loaded on top of your favorite salad might add a whopping 400 calories and 30 grams of fat to the total nutrition. Of course, the number will depend on how much bacon is added. But bacon on any salad is bound to boost the fat and calorie count significantly.

So are bacon-style toppings any better? Not really. Many processed bacon (flavored) bits aren't really made out of meat, so they provide no nutritional benefit. In fact, some contain a mixture of trans fat, salt and, believe it or not, sugar! So skip the salty, fatty toppings and add crunch and flavor with nutritious, lower-calorie savory vegetables like radishes or peppers.



Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

Croutons aren't the worst offenders when it comes to diet-disasters, but they add calories from processed grains without providing any nutritional benefit. And many times the croutons are fried so they add unnecessary fat to your otherwise healthy meal.

If you're making your own salad, be wary of crouton brands that look healthy or low in calories.

The serving size listed on most crouton nutritional facts labels is just two tablespoons. That's about two croutons!

If you add the number of croutons that most people add, you'll probably add 100 or more calories in bread and oil.

If you absolutely love to have a bit of crunch on your salad, try adding a tablespoon or two of a healthy, whole grain cereal like Grape-Nuts. You get all the texture with the benefit of whole grain fiber.

Crispy Anything

Fried chicken tenders

Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman 

Chicken is a healthy salad ingredient. Shrimp is a healthy salad ingredient. Fish is a healthy salad ingredient. But when you fry these foods in oil, they aren't healthy anymore. Fried foods are full of fat and extra calories—even when they are fried in oils that are healthy.

The best way to avoid fried foods in your salad is to get smart when you read the menu. Foods that are "crispy," "battered," "breaded," "crunchy," or "crusted" are almost always fried. If you're not sure, ask your server. Ask to substitute a grilled item instead.

Creamy Salad Dressing

Creamy salad dressing

Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

Even if you fill your salad bowl with healthy, nutritious ingredients, you can easily ruin it with a standard creamy dressing. Check out the calorie counts of these popular flavors.

  • Blue cheese: 146 calories, 15 grams fat
  • Green goddess: 128 calories, 13 grams fat
  • Ranch: 126 calories, 14 grams fat
  • Thousand island: 114 calories, 11 grams fat

And if you think that fat-free dressings are better, think again! Many brands add sugar to compensate for the fat that was removed. And the calorie count isn't always very low. Some run as high as 60 to 80 calories per 2-tablespoon serving.

If you love dressing, stick to a single serving of a healthy, homemade vinaigrette. Or make your own lower-calorie creamy dressing at home. Better yet, fill your salad bowl with tasty ingredients and skip the dressing altogether.

Processed Deli Meats

Deli meat

Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

It's a great idea to add protein to your salad, but processed deli meats aren't the best choice. Salami, for example, is a popular meat that is added to many restaurant salads. A single thin slice of salami adds 43 calories and 3 grams of fat to your meal. While those numbers don't seem very high, a typical meal-sized salad can easily have 4 or 5 slices worth of salami on top.

If you like deli meat on your salad, stick to chicken, turkey or even ham. But keep in mind that almost all deli meats are relatively high in salt, so people who are trying to cut their sodium intake might want to stick to grilled meats instead.



Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

Many restaurants offer Asian-style salads that are full of healthy vegetables and lean meat. But others fill the salad bowl with fried ingredients like crispy wontons. They might add wonton strips to your salad or wrap veggies in wonton wrappers and fry them. Either way, the fat and calorie count of your salad goes up.

So should you skip the Asian salad altogether? No. But ask for the salad without the wontons. You'll save yourself 100 to 200 calories and 7 to 13 grams of fat by leaving wontons out.

Taco Bowl

Taco salad

Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

It's hard to find a taco salad that is healthy. But the easiest way to make a taco salad healthier is to skip the fried taco bowl. Not only is it messy and unnecessary, but an 8-inch fried taco shell adds 220 calories and 11 grams of fat to your meal.

If you want to build a healthier taco salad at home, use a regular bowl and fill it with healthier taco meat. Use marinated chicken breast or lean ground turkey. Limit your serving of cheese to 1 ounce and your serving of avocado to 1 or 2 tablespoons. Flavor your salad with spicy peppers, fresh tomatoes, corn and crunchy greens. 

Honey Glazed Foods

Honey roasted nuts

 Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

What's a great way to take a healthy salad ingredient and make it less nutritious? Coat it in honey. You might see honey-glazed chicken or honey-glazed ham on some salad menus, but more often, you'll see honey-crusted nuts.

These are good foods to avoid if you're trying to keep your sugar intake under control and limit the number of empty calories added to your salad. You'll often see honey-crusted walnuts or honey-coated almonds added to southern-style salads. They add flavor to your meal, but they also add unnecessary calories.

If you like nuts on your salad, add a small serving of raw almonds or walnuts. You'll still get all of the taste and the healthy benefits that nuts provide, but without all of the extra calories and sugar.


Cheddar cheese

Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman 

Cheese isn't necessarily a bad addition to your salad. A popular cheese variety, like cheddar, provides protein and calcium. But it is also a source of saturated fat. So if you add cheese to your salad, you need to be careful about the amount that you add. And since most of us aren't very good at estimating or measuring portion sizes, sometimes it's better to skip the cheese.

If you do add cheese to your salad, follow a few guidelines. First, make sure it's real cheese. There are several cheese "foods" available in your grocery store that provide a cheesy flavor (and all of the fat) without any nutritional benefits. Second, measure the cheese before you add it to your salad. A single serving of cheese is just one ounce. Use a digital scale to get the right amount.


Ground beef

Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

Even though beef can be part of a healthy weight loss diet, the beef that is added to many salads is often not very lean. The taco salad that you order at a fast-food restaurant, for example, may contain beef that is very high in saturated fat and calories.

If you're making your own salad and want to add beef, try adding lean, grilled steak. If you like the meaty taste of ground beef in your salad you can also try using lean ground bison or lean ground turkey.

8 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. U.S. Department of Agriculture. Nutritive Value of Foods.

  2. Bacon. FoodData Central. U.S. Department of Agriculture.

  3. Croutons. FoodData Central. U.S. Department of Agriculture.

  4. Salami, dry or hard, pork. FoodData Central. U.S. Department of Agriculture.

  5. Wonton crisps. FoodData Central. U.S. Department of Agriculture.

  6. Taco shell, flour. FoodData Central. U.S. Department of Agriculture.

  7. Cheddar cheese. FoodData Central. U.S. Department of Agriculture.

  8. Sayer RD, Speaker KJ, Pan Z, Peters JC, Wyatt HR, Hill JO. Equivalent reductions in body weight during the Beef WISE Study: Beef's role in weight improvement, satisfaction and energy. Obes Sci Pract. 2017;3(3):298-310. doi:10.1002/osp4.118

By Malia Frey, M.A., ACE-CHC, CPT
 Malia Frey is a weight loss expert, certified health coach, weight management specialist, personal trainer​, and fitness nutrition specialist.