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14 Ingredients for a Skinnier Salad

The wrong salad ingredients can be boring. Worse, they can sabotage your diet. But all the right stuff can make salad the ultimate delicious power lunch.
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Whipping together a salad is a simple way to get a load of disease-fighting nutrients in one meal and still keep your calories down. But watch out for salad saboteurs. The little extras people sprinkle on can have just as much fat as a cheeseburger and fries, says Cynthia Sass, RD, a spokesperson for the Chicago-based American Dietetic Association. But a healthy salad doesn't have to be a sad, tasteless affair. Here's how to build one that will be kind to your waistline and a joy to your taste buds.

  • AVOCADO
    High in monounsaturated fat (the good kind), avocados are low in saturated fat and they're cholesterol free. How much: 1/4 cup, or a few slices
  • SALAD DRESSING
    Use a low-calorie, low-fat, or nonfat dressing. How much: 2 tablespoons
  • EGG
    Eggs are packed with protein. How much: Half of a hard-boiled egg
  • NUTS
    Although high in fat, nuts are chock-full of protein, fiber, and minerals. Try walnuts, almonds, and cashews. How much: 1 tablespoon
  • MUSHROOMS
    They boost the immune system and contain folate and selenium, an antioxidant that may help prevent certain cancers. How much: 1/4 cup
  • CHEESE
    Low-fat or nonfat cheese is a great source of protein as well as bone-building calcium. Try the low-fat cheddar or feta variety. Both are flavorful, so a little goes a long way. How much: 1/4 cup
  • CARROTS
    They're rich in beta-carotene, an antioxidant that may protect against heart disease and cancer. How much: 1/4 cup, shredded or sliced, or 5 to 6 baby carrots
  • BELL PEPPERS
    They're bursting with vitamins A and C. If you consume just one raw red pepper, you can meet your daily requirements for both vitamins. How much: 1/4 cup
  • BROCCOLI AND CAULIFLOWER
    Cruciferous vegetables like these contain fiber, vitamin C, and phytochemicals — natural plant compounds that may guard against cancer. How much: 1/3 cup
  • PROTEIN
    Lean chicken breast and tofu are great, low-fat sources of protein. How much: Three ounces, about the size of your palm or a deck of cards
  • DRIED CRANBERRIES
    Rich in vitamin C, they may protect against urinary tract infections. Skip the dried fruit if you're watching your sugar intake, however. How much: 2 tablespoons
  • LETTUCE
    The darker the leaf, the more nutrients it contains. So steer clear of iceberg lettuce and go for mixed field greens, romaine, or spinach. How much: 1 cup
  • TOMATOES
    They contain vitamins A and C and lycopene, which may protect against prostate and colon cancers and, possibly, heart disease. How much: 1/3 cup
  • BEANS
    Chickpeas, kidney beans, and black beans are packed with folate, protein, and fiber. How much: 1/3 cup

Total: About 350 calories, 28 grams of healthy fat

6 Fat Traps to Avoid
They're tempting, but the six ingredients below will transform your perfectly healthy salad into a nutritional nightmare.

  • Bacon bits
    These crunchy villains are full of fat and sodium and not much else.
  • Croutons
    Resist these bite-size bread nuggets. They're often fried and can contain bad-for-the-heart trans fats.
  • Creamy salad dressing
    "It's the worst source of hidden calories," says Samantha Heller, RD, senior clinical nutritionist at New York University Medical Center, in New York City. Regular dressings, such as Caesar, ranch, and Thousand Island, can have a whopping 150 calories and 16 grams of fat per tablespoon. Instead, drizzle two to three tablespoons of a low-fat or nonfat dressing on your salad. Or mix two tablespoons of balsamic vinegar with one of olive oil.
  • Deli meats
    Sodium-rich salami, ham, and pepperoni get about 60 percent of their calories from fat.
  • Fatty cheeses
    Blue cheese and Roquefort are high in artery-clogging fat.
  • Macaroni and potato salads
    They're drenched in high-calorie, fatty mayo and sodium. "Skip them and you'll save hundreds of calories," says Heller. If you crave carbs, toss in whole-wheat pasta, which has fiber and some protein.

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