Diet Surprise: Could Your Salad Bar Choices Be Sabotaging Your Diet?

(ABC News) — You may think of the salad bar as an oasis of healthy choices, but think again. We play games with ourselves at the salad bar by starting healthy with a base of lettuces and vegetables but cheating a little here and a little there to reward our good behavior. In three to four small scoops, we could be sabotaging our healthy eating goals.

Mistake 1: Straying too far from the vegetables. Salad bars have gotten so much more elaborate. A 400-calorie salad should be primarily composed of dark green lettuces, vegetables, a lean protein, some beans, and two tablespoons of vinaigrette type dressing. But a few substitutions like pre-dressed salads, proteins off the hot bar (hello fried chicken), cheese and wonton strips as condiments, and white dressings can double that calorie count to well over 800.

Protip: If a mix of vegetables is shiny, it has added oils in it, increasing fats and possibly sugars.

Mistake 2: Scooping in some rewards. This is the thinking that gets me in trouble. “I’m eating healthy, a few scoops of premade salads (like my beloved macaroni salad) won’t hurt me.” Wrong! “GMA” took samples off the salad bars at five different establishments in New York City and sent them to Sani-Pure Food Laboratories to be analyzed. The results made me rethink my rationalizations. The shrimp asparagus salad supplied 106 percent of the recommended daily fat intake (based on a diet of 2,000 calories per day), while the kale tuna and smoked mozzarella pasta supplied 59 and 31 percent respectively.

Protip: If it has a white base in the salad it’s probably not fat-free yogurt; it’s likely mayo or sour cream.

Mistake 3: Condiments leading to sugars. If you top your salad with two tablespoons of dried cranberries, 10 glazed nuts and two tablespoons of fat-free dressing, you have just added 25 grams of added sugar to your salad. The World Health Organization suggests just 15 grams of added sugar daily for women. I was shocked when I saw how few condiments could totally blow my sugar content, and honestly they didn’t make a huge flavor difference.

Protip: Beans and grains add texture and fiber without a lot of sugar.

Special thanks to Andronicos Supermarkets in San Francisco for letting us film there. They had a particularly healthy salad bar!

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