Published: Aug 15, 2014 10:11 AM EDT
Updated: Aug 15, 2014 10:13 AM EDT

FORT MYERS, Fla. - Salads can and should be an important part of a healthy diet for promoting weight loss but some salad ingredients can really add up in terms of calories if you don't make your selections wisely.  WINK News Fitness Expert Mike Drumm is here today to help you refine your salad bar habits with some practical tips that will keep your salad healthy and nutritious instead of a diet disaster.

Mistake #1: You Don't Realize Salad Isn't "Free"

You might avoid the iceberg and head straight for romaine, kale, spinach, and mixed greens, but it doesn't take much to ruin what could be a healthy meal. Calorie-dense add-ons like shredded cheese, pasta, or croutons won't cause your spare tire to inflate… if you are mindful that they are much higher in calories. If you are looking for quantity, choose nutrient-packed veggies like cucumbers, peppers, Romaine lettuce, broccoli, tomatoes, and raw mushrooms that are rich in antioxidants and other healthy biochemicals.

Mistake #2: You Eat Too Much "Good" Fat

Fats are essential. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats found in fish, eggs, olive oil, avocados, and nuts can help fight disease and regulate cholesterol levels. But an ounce of fat also contains more than twice as many calories as an ounce of carbohydrates or protein, so a truck-sized load of "good" fat on your plate still spells bad news for your gut. Don't avoid fats entirely. Use the thumb rule. When you're adding a serving of a fatty food, use about a thumb's worth. Generally, you don't need more than two thumbs' worth of fat on a salad, so maybe a wedge of avocado and a small spoonful of chopped nuts.

Mistake #3: Choosing pasta based salads.

Most salad bars have a variety of pasta based salads that can wreck havoc with your calorie count and your healthy diet. Many of these salads are flavored with large quantities of mayonnaise which makes them even more calorie unfriendly. Steer clear of these if you’re trying to lose weight or count calories.

Mistake #4: Your Plate is Monochromatic

No need to hit every shade on the color wheel, but a hodgepodge of reds, oranges, yellows, and greens does more than pretty up your salad; it adds variety to your diet and delivers a variety of essential nutrients—particularly phytonutrients, which are unique to fruits and veggies—when consumed.

Darker color veggies like broccoli, spinach, peppers, and carrots have the most nutritional value, but each color—red cranberries, white onions, orange carrots, green peppers—has different antioxidant properties and different ways to protect against things like cancer or heart disease.

Mistake #5: You Avoid Carbs

If you've turned your back on carbs, fearing they'll make you fat, it's time to apologize to them. Carbohydrates don't make you fat (hint: lettuce, and all other vegetables, are carbs); consuming too many calories does. So if you're training hard, you most likely want to go heavier on the healthy carbs, given they're your body's primary fuel source. Your body weight can increase after a carbohydrate-rich meal because carbs hold water in the body. When you carbo-load, for every ounce of carbohydrates you store in your muscle as glycogen, you store about three ounces of water. So when someone eats a bunch of pasta and wakes up the next day feeling like they've gained two pounds, they more likely have gained water weight, not fat.

Mistake #6: You Really Love Dressing

We've all done it; after pouring our blood, sweat, and tears into making a perfectly balanced salad, the whole operation goes down the drain after we drown it in an inch of dressing. Don’t go blow it with a high fat, high calorie salad dressing. Many dressings on salad bars are loaded with fat and sugars making them a diet disaster. Opt for a vinegar based salad dressing, or put the dressing in a side dish, dip your fork into the dressing, and then stab a forkful of salad.  A little bit of dressing on a big salad can be a lot of dressing.

Say three tablespoons of dressing is 200 calories. If you have six tablespoons worth of dressing, that's 400 calories. So if you're using all of it, you could have had a piece of pizza for the same amount of calories.