Is Your Salad Dressing Actually Making Your Salad Unhealthy?

picture of salad with creamy salad dressing drizzled on top

For many of us, it’s the salad dressing that makes salad tolerable to eat. That and crunchy toppings like bacon bits and croutons, of course. But is your salad dressing actually making your salad unhealthy and derailing your nutrition goals?

What’s the Problem?

Not all salad dressings are created equal, and the first problem lies with portion size.

Regular salad dressings can be very high in calories. Most dressings have up to 200 calories per two tablespoons. However, you’re probably not eating only two tablespoons, but more like a fourth or a third of a cup. That can easily rack up the calories to more than 500.

Then there’s the type of fats that are in the dressing. Cream-based dressings, such as Ranch or Blue Cheese, have high amounts of saturated fats that can raise cholesterol, clog arteries and increase inflammation. Oil-based dressings, on the other hand, such as Italian, tend to be higher in unsaturated fat. This can help lower cholesterol and keep your arteries clean.

What about Fat-free Dressing? They may not always be the best options. Healthy fats help the body absorb vitamins and nutrients. Certain vitamins, like A and D, are actually better absorbed with a little fat. Fat also helps increase satisfaction and satiety (fullness) while eating. In addition, oftentimes when fats are taken out of something during processing, it is compensated for with extra sugar and salt. So while there may be less fat in your salad dressing with a fat-free option, it might be even higher in other unwanted ingredients.

Choosing a Healthier Salad Dressing

None of this means that putting dressing on your salad will automatically make it unhealthy. Instead, use these tips to choose options that are healthier and more nutritious.

  • While dining out, ask for your dressing on the side so you can control portion size. Some people like to dip their fork in the dressing first before putting it in their salad.
  • Look for oil-based dressings with healthy monounsaturated fats such as olive, avocado or nut oils.
  • If you’re wanting a creamier dressing, use Greek yogurt as a base for extra protein, calcium, potassium and vitamin D.
  • Look at the ingredients on store-bought dressings. If they sound like they’re coming out of a chemistry lab, that dressing may not be the best option.
  • Rather than focusing on taking things out (like fat or sugar), look for ways to bring things in – i.e. vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber.
  • Eat the rainbow! Add color pops to your salad such as leafy greens, bright red tomatoes, orange carrots, purple cabbage, yellow peppers and white mushrooms.
  • Make your own salad dressing when possible!

For more tips on making healthier salads, click here for a past Your Weight Matters blog post. For the original article about salad dressings, click here to read it from the Obesity Action Coalition, Producer of the Your Weight Matters Campaign.

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