10 Unexpected Ways You’re Sabotaging Your Salads

An expert dishes on 10 toppings that aren't quite as healthy as you might think.

When my funds are running low (or I’m feeling really lazy) and I need to stuff my face with something healthy, a simple salad with a little dressing is my go-to. It’s a relatively cheap meal, easy to make, and can be pretty tasty, too. Salad has never done me wrong, or so I thought (insert dramatic music here).

Salad has been getting a bad rap lately, with folks saying the green stuff and what goes on top of it isn’t nearly as nutritious as we think it is. Not to mention that restaurant chains will slap some lettuce on anything and call it a salad (Chili’s Quesadilla Explosion Salad, I’m looking at you). So what is a poor salad eater to do? This poor salad eater decided to talk to Juliet Burgh, Nutrition Director at Unite Fitness Studio, to find out what exactly I might be doing to make my salads so unhealthy. 

First off, Burgh says we all need to take control of our salads, even when we’re out and about. She suggests asking for grilled chicken and veggies when forced to eat a fast-food salad, “basically deconstructing what they offer and turning it into something very plain,” she says. “You can see if they have balsamic vinegar and oil for dressing.” And when you get the chance, choose the salad bar over pre-made. “At least you can be in control of what and how much you’re putting on your plate,” she says.

The main trouble when it comes to salads, though, is that we’re not picking our toppings wisely. Turns out, plenty of salad toppings are not as healthy as you might think. And no, we’re not talking cheese and bacon bits (although those aren’t good for you either), we’re talking about things you didn’t even know were unhealthy. Below, Burgh’s list of 10 unexpected toppings that are sabotaging your salads, so next time you hit up the salad bar you can up your salad game and keep it nutritious.

Seaweed Salad
In this case, green doesn’t mean go. Oftentimes, seaweed salad isn’t as healthy as it looks. According to Burgh, depending on where you get it from, seaweed salad can be full of added sugars that’ll weigh your salad (and you) down.

Candied Nuts
I like a honey-roasted cashew just as much as the next person, but Burgh says these are a no-go on a salad. Candied nuts are packed with sugar and calories making them a pretty bad choice for adding texture to your plate. Instead, Burgh suggests plain toasted nuts for crunch.

Don’t let the fava beans and chickpeas fool you: If the menu doesn’t note that they are baked, falafel balls are generally fried, greasy, and not a good way to top a salad. Instead, Burgh suggests adding hummus to get your chickpea fix and add a nice creamy texture.

Nuts and Seeds
While a few toasted nuts work for crunch, don’t go nuts with the nuts. “Without proper portioning,” Burgh says, “nuts and seeds add a lot of calories.” So, if you’re going to use nuts or seeds in your salads, make sure you’re paying attention to the serving size.

I know, I know: Avocado is a good fat, right? Well, yes, it is, but don’t overdo it. “A whole avocado can have 300 calories,” Burgh says, “It’s all about portion size.” So, don’t freak out: It’s okay to add some avocado, just not too much.

Chicken and Tuna Salad
We usually think of chicken and tuna as healthy ingredients to add sustenance to our salads, but you’re better off staying away from chicken and tuna salads. “Oftentimes,” Burgh says, “these have too much mayo and added sugars.” Try preparing your own tuna or chicken with olive oil instead, and skip the mayo. (We’ve got the perfect recipe for you here.)

Burgh suggests salad eaters stay away from anything “crunchy and carb-y.” Wontons are a prime example. “We think because it’s such a small amount that it’s ok, but these still have a lot of added oils and calories,” she explains. You’re probably better off without them.

This may come as a shock to you, but loading up on too much fruit, especially dried fruits, can be bad for your salad due to the high sugar count. Burgh says to be cautious when piling it on.

Crunchy Onions
When you see these on a menu, note: They are pretty much just glorified fried onions. Burgh says to nix them because “they are full of saturated fat and are high in calories.” If you need a cooked onion fix, try substituting crunchy onions for caramelized or roasted onions, she says.

Tortilla Strips
Even in your Mexican-inspired salad, the crunch just isn’t worth it. “Just because they are small does not mean they don’t count toward your caloric intake,” Burgh says. “They are a very refined and unhealthy source of carbs.” Sigh, you will be missed on our Arugula Taco Salads from HipCityVeg.

Like what you’re reading? Stay in touch with Be Well Philly — here’s how: