How to Choose the Right Salad Dressing

We've all heard the news that low-calorie salads turn into high-calorie meals when we load on lots of salad dressing. As a result, many salad eaters have turned to lowfat dressings or no dressing at all to enjoy their greens and get their vitamins without loading up on fats. It turns out though, that going dressing-free may not be the healthiest way to approach your salad. In fact, salad dressing can make a big difference in how well your body absorbs salad nutrients.

In a study published in the journal Molecular Nutrition and Food Research, researchers investigated how fat in salad dressings affects the absorption of nutrients from salad veggies, specifically carotenoids and other fat-soluble vitamins. Twenty-nine test subjects were given a salad dressed with either saturated, monounsaturated, or polyunsaturated fats. Monounsaturated fats include canola and olive oils and polyunsaturated fats included soybean and corn oils. 

Each salad was served with 3, 8, or 20 grams of fat as dressing. The subjects' blood was then tested for how well they absorbed fat-soluble vitamins with different quantities and types of fats. 

What researchers learned was that subjects absorbed the most nutrients from their salad when consumed with monounsaturated fats. And, they required the least amount of fat to maximize absorption when that fat was monounsaturated. Plain salads didn't facilitate nutrient absorption as well as dressed salads.

When you're shopping for salad dressings, the healthiest choice might be to make your own.  Here's how:

  • Pick up a bottle of good quality olive oil or inexpensive canola oil. 
  • Add some red wine or balsamic vinegars or invest in something fancy like sherry vinegar or a vinegar infused with herbs. 
  • Crush a little garlic, and add some mustard, salt, pepper, and herbs.
  • Drizzle it lightly over your salad. 

If that's too much trouble, don't worry. There are plenty of healthy, ready-made dressings on the mark, but be sure you read labels thoroughly. Know your oils. Oils that are high in monounsaturated fats include:

  • Olive oil
  • Canola oil
  • Safflower oil

Nuts and seeds also provide a healthy dose of "good" monounsaturated fats so don't hesitate to sprinkle a few over your salad. What dressings should you avoid? Anything loaded with cream, mayonnaise, cheese, or trans fats. And skip the croutons and extra blue cheese crumbles, too. While adding some healthy dressing is important, adding the wrong salad ingredients can sabotage the healthy benefits that salad provides. 



Molecular Nutrition & Food Research
Volume 56, Issue 6, pages 866-877, June 2012
Meal triacylglycerol profile modulates postprandial absorption of carotenoids in humans
Shellen R. Goltz, Wayne W. Campbell, Chureeporn Chitchumroonchokchai, Mark L. Failla, Mario G. Ferruzzi