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Is your favorite salad really low in calories?

Everybody knows salads are healthy, right? People who are on a diet often opt for entrée salads, whether they're eating out or at home. But the truth is that a salad is not always your best calorie bet.

Consider: A chicken Caesar salad at Chili’s (loaded with salad dressing, croutons, cheese, and chicken) will set you back 1,010 calories and 76 grams of fat. On the other hand, a Chick-fil-A chargrilled chicken garden salad with fat-free honey mustard dressing has only 230 calories and 6 grams fat.

It's the fixings that make the difference when it comes to salad calories. If you're going to pile on the croutons, creamy dressing, cheese, bacon, avocado, mayonnaise-rich prepared salads (like coleslaw), meat, nuts, fried chicken strips, and wonton strips, you might as well order a double bacon cheeseburger and fries.

So what makes a diet-friendly salad? For a healthy salad, start with a variety of colorful veggies, fruits, beans, and mixed greens. When possible, opt for dark, leafy greens like arugula, spinach, and fresh herbs. (The darker the leaf, the more nutritional goodness it has.) Then, pile on grape tomatoes, shredded carrots, cabbage, broccoli, jicama, scallions, mushrooms, red bell peppers, roasted vegetables, or your other favorite vegetables.

For a filling entree salad, add small amounts of low-fat cheese or lean protein like grilled chicken, shrimp, or hard-cooked egg. Top off your salad with a small amount of avocado or chopped nuts to add some healthy fat. (Keep in mind that you need to control portions of healthful but high-calorie items like dried fruits, nuts, cheese, olives, and avocado).

But we're not done yet: Salad dressing can spell disaster if you use too much of the wrong kind. For a lower-calorie salad, dress with a tablespoon or two of light vinaigrette or salsa, or a flavorful vinegar (like balsamic) along with a little heart-healthy olive oil. If you love creamy dressing, try diluting it with a little water or vinegar -- or simply use less of it. A tried-and-true dieter’s trick is to order salad dressing on the side, then just dip the tines of your fork into the dressing before you grab each forkful of salad.

Follow these tips to create or order a delicious salad that is satisfying, low in calories, high in fiber, and full of nutrients. If you frequent a chain restaurant, check the web site to see which of their salads and salad dressings is healthier.

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