How Many Calories Does Your Salad Really Have?
Secretly High-Calorie Salads
Some takeout or restaurant salads can contain more than 1,000 calories. Yes, really. (And check out these diet-busting restaurant salads to see some examples.)
Read on to see some salad calorie swaps and pile your plate high with healthy choices.
Build a Healthy Salad Base
Building a better salad starts with the foundation: the greens. Greens are low in calories and deliver high doses of vitamins. The darker the leaves are, the more vitamins and minerals they have. Try mixing a cup of spinach with a cup of romaine or have two cups of a spring mix to help sneak some more vitamins and minerals into your diet. (Here's a complete guide to healthy leafy greens.)
When choosing your vegetables, make your salad as colorful as possible. Each color represents a different assortment of beneficial nutrients. Also, raw veggies are low in calories, so feel free to load up on them.
From there, follow these tips to pick healthier, lower-calorie salad toppers and keep portions of healthy-but-high-calorie toppings (like nuts and seeds) in check.
Salad Calorie Swap 1: Try Crackers Instead of Croutons
High calorie: whole-wheat croutons (80 calories for 8).
Whole-wheat equals healthy, right? Not when it’s been brushed with butter before being toasted.
Lower calorie: crumbled saltines (25 calories for 2).
Salad Calorie Swap 2: Change Up Your Chicken
Stick with lean proteins (chicken, ham, turkey, or fish) and try to get them as close to their natural state as possible for the greatest nutritional value.
High calorie: crispy chicken (380 calories for 4.5 oz).
“Crispy” is code for “fried.” Also, beware the term “panko-crusted”; it’s just a fancy way of saying the chicken has been breaded.
Lower calorie: grilled chicken (213 calories for 4.5 oz).
With all the hunger-sating protein but about 250 fewer cals, a grilled chicken breast is a much better a salad calorie choice.
Salad Calorie Swap 3: Choose Cheese Wisely
Aim for low-fat cheese and try to pick shredded—that way you're getting a greater volume out of a single portion instead of having it in chunks.
High calorie: blue cheese (100 calories per oz).
Stilton, roquefort, and gorgonzola are good sources of calcium and protein, but they’re also high in calories—not to mention saturated fat.
Lower calorie: feta cheese (75 calories per oz) or goat cheese (50 calories per oz).
Both of these crumbly cheese add a salty, creamy kick, just with a lighter salad calorie load. (Related: How to Assemble an Epic, Instagrammable Cheese Board)
Salad Calorie Swap 4: Can the Cranberries
High calorie: dried cranberries (92 calories for 1/4 cup).
Berries are loaded with fiber, but the dried version has seven times more calories than the same amount of fresh fruit.
Lower calorie: tangerine wedges (40 calories for 1 small) or strawberry halves (25 calories for 1/2 cup)
For a hint of sweetness, choose low-sugar fresh fruit to trim salad calories.
Salad Calorie Swap 5: Dress Right
Many times, a healthy salad turns into a not-so-healthy one because of the salad dressing. People often tend to use too much, so stick with the recommended serving size of two tablespoons. Watch out for low-fat dressings—they may still be high in calories and have more fat than you think.
High calorie: vinaigrette (260 calories for 1/4 cup).
A ladleful packs almost as many salad calories as a cup of spaghetti topped with marinara sauce!
Lower calorie: use a tablespoon (65 calories) or dunk your fork in a side and use just what you need.
You can also make your own three-ingredient dressing. Or take it easy and drizzle on a little olive oil and as much red wine vinegar as you’d like.
Salad Calorie Swap 6: Go Nuts
High calorie: walnuts (185 calories for 14).
It’s true that the 18 grams of fat in these is the heart-healthy kind, but you have to take calories into account too. (Related: The Healthiest Nuts and Seeds You Can Eat)
Lower calorie: walnuts (93 for 7).
This is one add-on that’s not off-limits. Just sprinkle ’em on in moderation—and make sure they’re the only nut or seed in your salad.