How to Choose a Healthy Salad Dressing

How to Choose a Healthy Salad Dressing (Fresh Start Nutrition)

We’ve covered nutritious ways to top your salad, including salad dos and don’ts and some healthy salad swaps.  But what about salad dressings?  Can you really sabotage your salad by choosing the wrong dressing?

General tips when selecting a salad dressing:

  • Fat: Two tablespoons of dressing can have as much as 200 calories and 20 grams of fat.  However, since most dressings are plant oil based, much of that fat is the healthier unsaturated type.
  • Avoid fat free dressings.  First, they often contain sugar or additives to make up for the flavor, thickness and mouth feel of the fat.  Plus, your body needs fat to absorb fat soluble vitamins, such as vitamins A & K, as well as the phytonutrients (specifically, carotenoids) found in the very greens & vegetables with which you’re making your salad. (Of course, other toppings, such as nuts or olives, can contain the fat necessary for absorption of these nutrients.)
  • Sodium: “Light” dressings tend to be higher in sodium; refrigerated dressings tend to be lower in sodium.
  • Creamy vs. vinaigrettes: Vinaigrettes are NOT necessarily lower in fat & calories than creamy dressings. It depends on which type of oil, and how much, they are made with. But people tend to use less, so it often does end up being a better option.

When eating a salad at a restaurant:

  • Order dressings on the side.
  • Drizzle, don’t pour.  And stir/toss the salad so that the dressing is mixed in; this way, you won’t have to put on more for each “layer”.

Other ideas:

  • Dip the fork in your dressing first, then your salad OR…
  • Grab a fork full, then dip the edge.

When eating a salad at home:

  • Dress your salad simply with a small amount of high quality extra virgin olive oil, which contains heart-healthy monounsaturated fats and antioxidants + a favorite vinegar, or even a spritz of citrus juice. Good oils & vinegars (such as balsamic, champagne or red wine vinegars) are great pantry staples to keep handy.  Try adding ground pepper or fresh or dried herbs.
  • If using a premade or store bought dressing, thin out the dressing.  Use low fat milk or plain yogurt for creamy dressings, vinegar, lemon juice & water for vinaigrettes.
  • Dress your salad in the serving bowl before taking it to the table. People tend to pour more dressing on individual salads.
  • Whip up a homemade dressing (it’s quicker & easier than you think).  Check out these four healthy, real food salad dressing recipes…

As featured on the Charlotte Today show (April 2012):

Melanie Zook, Registered Dietitian & Owner/Founder of Fresh Start Nutrition: How to Make Your Own Healthy DIY Homemade Salad Dressings or Choose One at the Store or Restaurant
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