There’s a notion that the quintessential “health” food is a salad. And why not? They’re made primarily of nothing but vegetables, they’re easy to assemble raw, and if made correctly they’re even really tasty. But while many salads can be great for you, there are so many times when you must take a step back and analyze just what you’re eating. This is why you have to be careful with salads.

Many vegetarians have probably experienced a moment at a restaurant at least once where a salad is ordered and ends up showing up at the table looking scrumptious, only to then be tainted by a piece of chicken hidden under a few lettuce leaves. Before freaking out, remember that cooks and servers are capable of making mistakes and that there probably wasn’t any malicious intent behind it, so be kind if you decide to point this out to them, but do be aware that even a vegetarian salad needs to be checked for meat.

The problem is, we check for pieces of chicken or shrimp or something and then go to town, completely oblivious to the other things that are part of the salad, like cheese and dressing. Everyone assumes that salads have to somehow be inherently healthier than a burger or something purely because they’re salads, but no magic is involved when the salad is formed. A salad of lettuce, carrots, spinach, and tomatoes is indeed a healthy salad, but as soon as it gets clumps of cheese mixed in, croutons sprinkled on the top, and then drenched with dressing, suddenly the healthy aspect vanishes completely.

Of all the offenders to the healthy name, none are as powerful as the dressing. There’s a common misconception that a salad must contain a ton of dressing to be full of flavor, or have a very thick dressing at that, but that’s simply not true as not only are thicker dressings typically very fatty, but something simple can be just as tasty. Take vinaigrette for example. It’s light in calories but heavy on flavor, or my personal favorite, adding some dollops of Cholula hot sauce, specifically the chili lime variety. The sauce is virtually calorie free, but packs a powerful flavor, meaning you aren’t sacrificing taste for the sake of a healthier meal.

You’ll find it’s all-too easy to fall into the common trap of adding and adding and adding when a salad is presented, and just like any other meal it’s perfectly fine to do that once in a while. But mistaking a plate of ranch dressing with some lettuce in it for a salad is where things go from a simple enjoyable healthy meal to an extremely fattening entrée of empty calories. Do yourself a favor and look for lighter dressings or more flavorful foods to add to the salad. Arugula is great for this, as are a variety of peppers. I can’t help myself when sundried tomatoes are involved. Seek out healthy solutions even in salads. Don’t get caught in bad eating habits!

Now comes the really fun part: Salad suggestions! We feature a ton of healthy and not-so-healthy salads in our daily recipes, but there are bound to be some we’re missing. That’s why we need your help for more suggestions! Leave a comment and tell us what you like to add to your salad to give it some extra flavor. And do it fast because my stomach is growling and demanding I make up my mind for lunch! Help a veggie out!