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By Janis Jibrin, R.D.

Marie Claire magazine logo

It's not just the fries. Many diet nightmares can be traced to the seemingly virtuous salad.

Myth #1: It's Just a Salad!

There's nothing "just" about the 490 calories and 41 grams of fat in a Subway BMT salad with ranch dressing. That adds up to even more calories and fat than a Burger King Bacon Cheeseburger (360 calories, 18 grams of fat). At Ruby Tuesday, the Carolina Chicken Salad packs — brace yourself — 1,300 calories and 72 grams of fat (275 fewer calories without dressing).

Myth #2: Fatfree Dressing Is Healthiest.

Not quite. You do save on calories when you take out the fat, but many such dressings are loaded with sugar — more than 2 teaspoons per serving — and offer zero nutrition. Plus, they block your ability to absorb the carotenoid antioxidants in salad greens and tomatoes — important compounds that reduce the risk of heart disease. In one study, people eating fullfat salad dressing absorbed twice the nutrients of those using reducedfat dressing. Fatfree dressing allowed for virtually no absorption of these good guys.

Myth #3: Celery Has Negative Calories, so It Will Compensate for the Extra Cheese!

At six calories per stalk, celery is unquestionably a weightfriendly food. But, alas, the body doesn't expend more calories than that to chew and digest it, according to David Baer, Ph.D., a research physiologist at the USDA Beltsville Human Nutrition Research Center in Maryland. "No negativecalorie foods have been discovered yet," he says.

Myth #4: Lettuce Is Lettuce.

Not when it comes to nutrition (or flavor): Arugula and watercress are superstars, loaded with cancerfighting compounds. In fact, a chemical in watercress has been shown to deactivate one of the cancercausing toxins in tobacco smoke. Spinach is another hero because of its cache of lutein, thought to protect against cancer and blindness. And baby versions of kale, mustard greens, and turnip greens are less sharp, tough, and bitter than the grownups but are outfitted with the same cancerfighters. Dark leaf, mildtasting greens, including romaine, redleaf lettuce, and many mesclun mixes, don't have a wealth of phytonutrients but have respectable levels of betacarotene. Light greens, like iceberg and endive, are pretty much all nutrition duds.

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