It might seem obvious, but there are some important facts to consider.

By Melinda Page and Ashley Tate
Updated September 27, 2006
a hamburger and a salad
Credit: Kirsten Strecker

You ordered a salad, but since you drenched it with blue cheese, you wonder if you should have followed your friend's lead―and your cravings―and gone for the burger instead. It's got lots of protein, right?

Not so fast: Yes, the burger is protein-packed, but "that doesn't compensate for the burger's calories and saturated fat," even if it's topped with healthy fixings, says Katherine Tallmadge, R.D., a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association, in Washington, D.C. "In the salad, the antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals help neutralize some of the negative effects of the saturated fat in the dressing."

The right way to dress a salad: Alice H. Lichtenstein, D.Sc., a professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, in Boston, says slathering on lots of dressing is a "no-no" but adds, "if it's the only way you'll enjoy the salad, choose a reduced-fat dressing." Elisabetta Politi, R.D., a nutrition manager at the Duke University Diet and Fitness Center, in Durham, North Carolina, suggests getting the dressing on the side: "Dip your fork in it before picking up the lettuce. You'll use less and still have the flavor." Add-ins can pile on calories, saturated fat, and salt, so sprinkle with caution.

The bottom line: Even with two tablespoons of creamy dressing, a meal-size green salad (plus a few vegetables) has less saturated fat and fewer calories than a quarter-pound hamburger on a bun. The burger has about the same amount of saturated fat as a quarter cup of blue cheese or a third of a cup of ranch dressing.