These days, it’s not uncommon to see people opting for a just a salad in even the most fancy restaurants. Savory dishes are sacrificed for lean salads in the quest for a leaner physique. However, here’s a reality check—sometimes, you might actually be better of eating that rib-eye steak.

Most of us don’t realize that a lot of the bad stuff in what we eat comes from hidden ingredients. Salads can actually pack as much as a whopping 2,000 calories in a single serving. The greens and produce that make the salad so colorful and appealing could actually add up to a lot of sugar and bad fats. So before you ditch the filet mignon for the fancy salad, check out these sneaky culprits that could be doing your diet more harm than good.

1. The Dressing

This is probably the sneakiest one. You don’t know exactly what goes into that sweet, tangy, or creamy dressing. ready-made dressing, which means you’re probably consuming extra calories. For example, bottled Caesar salad dressing could pack as much as 600 calories in half a cup, while that creamy sesame sauce has about 640 calories in the same serving size. Non-creamy bottled strawberry vinaigrette? Try 120 calories. We’re not telling you to ditch the dressing altogether, though—just pour it sparingly over your greens, or opt for vinegar and olive oil-based varieties. Also, check the base of your dressing. According to the nutritionists behind the book Foods That Harm, Foods That Heal: An A-Z Guide to Safe and Healthy Eating, extra-virgin olive-oil-based dressings is what you should have in moderation. When eating out, ask for it to be served on the side so you can control how much you use.

2. Your Choice of Protein

Protein is essential for keeping you strong, building muscle, and keeping you full and satisfied. But add it in its deep-fried or breaded form, and it defeats the purpose. This is a mistake many people make especially when eating out. Go for baked or grilled lean meats like chicken breast or fish to stay in the clear.

3. Crunchy Ingredients

The croutons, crispy noodles, and cornflakes that give salads crunch and texture also carry extra calories. Half a cup of croutons is worth more than 50 calories toasted, and even more when deep-fried. Crispy noodles contain up to 100 calories in the same serving size. Skip them to ditch all those extra carbs.

4. Cheese

Dairy products are good for you in small quantities. When you let chefs dictate how much cheese should be in your salad, however, they tend to go overboard. Make sure you get low-fat varieties like cottage, ricotta, and feta, and limit the serving to a quarter-cup. The crumbly textures go well with your greens, too. For a rough estimate, half a cup of cottage cheese has about 120 calories.

5. Sneaky Nuts

Nuts are rich in protein and the good kind of fat, but eat them in their caramelized form and it’s like you’re eating a salad topped with candy. Candied walnuts are especially common in many restaurant salads—they taste great, but they pack 200 calories per quarter cup. Stick to the plain, unsalted variety and limit intake to about a handful. To stretch this amount, crush them to make it seem like there’s more.

6. Dried Fruits

To add sweetness and flavor to your salad, throw in some fruits, but make sure it’s the fresh kind. Most dried and preserved fruits are loaded with sugar and preservatives, so just stick to the fresh kind. Crunchy apples and pears add texture, berries and some sweetness, while citrusy oranges and pomelos add a tangy taste and vitamin C.

Trisha Bautista is a freelance writer, food and product stylist, social media manager, and violin teacher. She was formerly editorial assistant and social media editor for Women’s Health Philippines, and the assistant lifestyle editor and social media editor for Cosmopolitan Philippines. She enjoys discovering easy recipe hacks, working out by herself and trying out DIY workout programs, traveling outdoors, and enjoying wine and whiskey.

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