By Alla Byrne
September 01, 2009

Don't fool yourself into thinking that all salads are healthy. There are many fat traps lurking at the salad bar-you just need to know how to avoid them! With a few simple swap outs, you can build a satisfying salad that won't derail your diet.

Start with a healthy base

A good rule of thumb when picking lettuce: the darker the leaf, the more nutritious. Swap out pale iceberg for vitamin-packed romaine, spinach or radicchio. Two other nutritional powerhouses are potassium-rich endive and red cabbage, which is loaded with phytonutrients.

Load up on the right veggies

Not all vegetables are created equal. Fill your plate with smart picks: carrots, peas and broccoli. A colorful mix will provide you with a variety of nutrients. Beware of anything drenched in oil, such as sun-dried tomatoes; instead opt for fresh tomatoes, an excellent source of lycopene.

Pump up protein

Protein is a must-have to keep you satisfied. Just don't reach for anything battered and fried. Stick with lean proteins like skinless chicken or turkey, salmon or tuna. If you want a vegetarian option, go for legumes. Half a cup of canned beans packs 6 grams of fiber and more than a quarter of your daily protein for about 100 calories.

Avoid the extras

Crunchy noodles, croutons and bacon bits are all salad sabotagers. If you're craving crunch, add a tablespoon of heart-healthy nuts in lieu of ad-ins with no nutritional value. Cheese is another topping to go easy on (¼ cup of Cheddar adds more than 100 calories). Opt for a small amount of a strong-flavored cheese like feta or Parmesan, which are naturally lower in fat and calories.

Skip creamy salads

Try to avoid any salads where mayonnaise, which has 100 calories and 12 grams of fat per serving, is the main ingredient. Pass up mayo-laden tuna, chicken or egg salad and go for plain tuna, grilled chicken or chopped egg instead.

Choose your salad dressing wisely

Now that you've built a better salad, don't ruin it with fattening dressing. Watch your serving size carefully and steer clear of creamy varieties. One ladle of full-fat Caesar or ranch packs 300 calories! Fat-free dressing isn't the answer either. Since fat helps your body process vitamins, try a low-fat option. Your best bet is making your own dressing with oil and vinegar. Try three parts vinegar to one part oil; you'll save calories while reaping the heart-healthy benefits of olive oil.

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