Whether it's a backyard barbecue, cocktail party, company picnic, or wedding reception, there's one food you're almost guaranteed to find: dip. Whether it's served with sliced vegetables, potato chips, pretzels, or pita chips, dip is a "must have" menu item for getting a party started. And thanks to the varieties of dips at supermarkets, it's an incredibly easy addition to your menu.

However, all dips are not created equal. They range from vegetable-heavy, fat-free salsas to cheesy, creamy concoctions with upwards of 10 grams (g) of fat and 5 g of saturated fat per serving. Fortunately, there are many options that fit into a healthy eating plan, allowing you to have your carrot stick or pita chip - and eat it (with dip), too.

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A little bit of dip can help enhance the flavor of a simple chip or veggie stick. Follow these suggestions to help you stay within your healthy eating guidelines:

1. Don't be heavy handed. The standard serving size for dips is two tablespoons. While it's an adequate amount to satisfy, it's easy to go overboard and double - or even triple - your portions, increasing the amount of calories, saturated fat and sodium. Instead of repeatedly dipping into the serving bowl, spoon out your portion onto a plate to help control your intake.

2. Check the ingredients. Many dips are made with all-natural, real food ingredients, but a few include additives, such as monosodium glutamate (a flavor additive), cultured dextrose (a preservative), and carrageenan (a thickening agent). Be sure to read the ingredient list to be sure youre not getting more than you expect.

3. Watch the sodium. There are many dips that contain only small amounts of sodium. However, there are several with nearly as much sodium as a medium-sized order of fast food French fries. Check the nutrition facts label to look for healthier levels of sodium (no more than 180 milligrams per serving).

4. Do-it-yourself. Grocery stores are packed with various dips, but you can make a healthy version on your own. Try mixing one-half cup of nonfat Greek yogurt with one-half cup reduced fat mayonnaise, chopped scallions, and a sprinkle of garlic powder. Stir in roasted red peppers, chopped (thawed, drained) frozen spinach and herbs, as desired.

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