10 Ways Your “Healthy” Salad Is Making You Gain Weight

Updated: Oct. 20, 2020

For starters, salads in a tortilla bowl are no longer that healthy.


You go crazy with the toppings

Quick service salad bars can be tempting with their endless array of toppings, so it’s easy to turn your fresh tossed salad into a chaotic jumble of flavors. To avoid extra calories and a grumbling tummy from too much variety, try to follow a theme. If you’re craving Mexican, choose fresh veggies like cucumbers, tomatoes, and bell peppers; add black beans or grilled chicken for protein; top with a little bit of low-fat Mozzarella cheese or a few avocado chunks and drizzle with lemon juice. Your taste buds and stomach will thank you. Try these 12 healthy salad recipes that make lunch exciting again.


You can’t say “no” to croutons

Crunchy toppings like croutons, fried wontons, or crispy sesame sticks can quickly negate your healthy lunch intentions. “Those are all fried so you get a lot of extra fat there,” says Libby Mills, MS, RDN, LDN, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. If you’re eating out, look for salad bars that offer dried soy nuts for that crunchy texture. Even better, bring your lunch and make our own healthier crunchies by baking off chunks of multigrain bread or strips of raw wonton wrappers in the oven until crispy. You can also break up snacks like Snack Factory pita chips (which are slightly lower in calories, fat, and carbs than other brands), Ritz Crisp and Thins (with flavors like bacon), or Pasta Chips from Vintage Italia (baked and flavorful) to toss on top; you’ll use much less than a serving size, so they won’t bust your calorie count and will deliver that salty crunch you crave. Quit making these other common mistakes that make you regain weight.


You pile on the nuts and fruit

Dried cranberries and nuts are a match made in salad heaven, but the combo isn’t such a dream for your waistline. “Dried fruit is one of those things people love to add to a salad, but if you don’t measure it,  you can easily add several extra servings of fruit, which is a lot of sugar,” says Libby. The same goes for nuts like walnuts or almonds, which can push your fat intake over the edge. Be sure to measure out one serving of dried fruit and try coarsely chopping your nuts so you use less and still get texture and flavor with every bite. You can also try swapping out dried fruit for Bare Snacks’ coconut chips for a sweet taste with a punch of fiber and iron or Snack Factory’s fruit sticks. Check out these other 20 mistakes you make when picking produce.


You always order pre-made salads

Salad joints and other lunch spots offer a huge menu of pre-made salad options, and while these might be convenient and taste great, they could be hiding more fat, sugar, and salt than you realize. Even McDonald’s salads are not always as healthy as you think. “Beware of any salads that have crispy or fried foods on top, even if it’s chicken,” says Mills. Pay close attention to the ingredients and ask yourself if you’d add those to your salad at home. Try these other 17 tips for getting over a weight-loss plateau.


You assume every salad bar topping is healthy

Roasted veggies (like Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, or sweet potatoes) are all the rage at DIY salad bars. But you might want to think twice before piling them on; they can hide extra fat and salt, depending on how they’re cooked. Instead, throw together one of these 12 delicious kale salad recipes you won’t be able to turn down.


You forget about protein

No salad is complete without a source of protein, and if you’re bringing one from home, it’s important to plan ahead. Grill up a bunch of chicken breasts Sunday night and cut one up fresh each day to throw on your greens. For a quick fix, keep tuna in your cupboard for a low calorie but protein-filled option. Tonnino gourmet tuna is low in mercury and can even save you the trouble of adding dressing; not only is it packed in olive oil, the fillets themselves are tasty enough on their own, with flavors like jalapeño or capers and garlic. For a vegetarian option, choose chickpeas or lentils, powerful sources of plant-based protein that are also packed with fiber. Or consider these 16 weight-loss recipes that go beyond salad.


You don’t add enough raw veggies

Stock up on salad basics like tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, bell peppers, and raw broccoli; they’re freebies because of their low calorie content and will help you eat less because they fill you up. But you should learn the gross truth behind “pre-washed” lettuce.


You choose the wrong dressing

Pre-made dressings can turn your healthy salad into a calorie bomb, since they’re often high in fat, salt, and, sugar. “Ask for dressing on the side and add in a little at a time.” says Mills. Avoid fat-free versions, which can be higher in sugar to make up for the lack of fat. An even better bet is to ask for a drizzle of olive oil and vinegar or lemon juice. Or, try going dressing-free by opting for a healthy protein salad, instead. Willow Tree makes a pre-made chicken salad that’s lower in fat and calories than traditional ones because it’s made with an avocado-based mayo and all white meat. Check out these healthy salad dressing recipes that add more than just flavor.


You overdo the cheese

Cheese isn’t a bad salad topping—it’s a good source of calcium and contains protein—but the wrong type can easily sabotage your salad. “Cheese is a big culprit of hidden calories and fat, particularly if you’re ordering out,” says Mills. Stick to grated varieties like Parmesan, which go further and are better distributed throughout, or look for low fat mozzarella or feta. “Even though feta can be a little high in sodium, it’s a lower fat cheese with more flavor, so you can back off the quantity,” she says. Don’t miss these other 10 sneaky reasons your diet isn’t working.


Say “no” to the tortilla bowl

“Beware of the tortilla bowl! You’re adding in countless calories and definitely going to blow the day,” says Mills. Instead, consider adding a few tortilla strips on top. Try Good Health’s organic black bean and rice tortilla chips for flavor and crunch with some sneaky added veggie nutrients you won’t even know are there. If you want to mix it up, try these 20 healthy lunch ideas that aren’t salad.