Salad Dressing: The Healthiest and Unhealthiest of Them All

When you think about salads, you immediately think it’s the best food option when you’re watching your weight. Since it’s made up of mostly greens, your mind labels it as the healthier choice. However, there are other factors that you have to take into consideration. Aside from the greens, what are the other ingredients in the salad? And most importantly, what is your salad dressing of choice?

That’s right, salad dressing plays a big part in making a meal healthy or not. Sure, you fill your plate with healthy green vegetables, but when you top it all off with a dollop of fatty and calorie-filled salad dressing, then your road to healthy eating is blocked right away. If you continue with choosing fatty salad dressing to accompany your salad, it will lead to a variety of health complications, such as overweight and obesity, heart troubles, diabetes, etc.

A salad a day is an important starting point toward a healthier life. Each additional serving further improves nutritional status. The greens you use in the salad provide calcium, potassium, iron, and B vitamins. In addition, these vegetables also have a healthy amount of dietary fiber, antioxidants to fight off harmful free radicals, and protein.

In the salad dressing world, there are basically two types of dressings: creamy and vinegar and oil (also called vinaigrette). For the creamy dressings, some examples are blue cheese, ranch, thousand island, Caesar dressing. For the vinaigrette, there are Italian dressing, balsamic vinaigrette, red wine vinaigrette, and Greek dressing.

Healthy Salad Dressing

Of course, the obvious healthier choice here is to go for the vinegar and oil–based salad dressings. And the healthiest way is to make your own at home. You can choose what kind of oil to use, and you can skip the added preservatives and sugars.

According to Mario Feruzzi, an associate professor of food science, salad dressing containing olive oil, canola oil, or another monounsaturated fat is ideal. This is because you will be able to get all the heart-healthy benefits of the vegetables you use in your salad without having too much fat. Monounsaturated fat best absorbs the most carotenoids from the vegetables you use in your salad.

The best kinds of vinegar to stock up on are balsamic, red wine, and white wine. They can be easily mixed with canola oil or olive oil.

The best oil to use is olive oil, especially virgin or extra-virgin olive oil. They have a huge amount of an antioxidant called polyphenols. Since they are naturally occurring and unhydrogenated, they don’t contain trans-fatty acids. These oils also have polyunsaturated or monounsaturated fats. These lower the LDL “bad” cholesterol levels. At the same time, it also increases HDL “good” cholesterol.

This type of salad dressing also improves the blood sugar levels of people with Type 2 diabetes. This is because of the acetic acid in vinegar.

In addition this type of salad dressing paired with your salad will produce the effect of weight loss that you want. It only has a little bit of calories, it does not have refined sugar, and it keeps you feeling fuller longer.

Unhealthy Salad Dressing

That’s right, not everything in your salad is made up of nutritious elements. Most, if not all, of cream-based dressings can be pretty harmful to you. Creamy salad dressing usually have a base of mayonnaise, sour cream, or buttermilk. That means they are loaded with calories and unhealthy fat. In addition, they also have high levels of sodium and very little nutritional value. If you add in the factor that you buy them at the store, then you’re in for a super unhealthy meal.

Let’s discuss a few of the more famous creamy salad dressings.

Those that have “low fat” on their labels are doing you harm in other ways. These kinds of salad dressings usually have fillers and more added sugar to maintain the flavor without the fat.  

The two main ingredients of ranch dressing, mayonnaise and sour cream, are dead giveaways of its unhealthiness. Just a quarter of a cup contains 220 calories and 22 grams of fat. In addition, it is high in sodium content as well, which is bad for people who suffer from heart disease or those with high blood pressure. Ouch. And you still have the gall to pour that over a supposedly healthy salad? Nope, I don’t think so.

Blue cheese salad dressing is loaded with calories. It has mayonnaise, sour cream, and blue cheese as the main ingredients, along with some other flavors. Also, it contains sodium, and eating too much sodium increases the risk of kidney damage, certain types of cancer, and heart disease.

Salad Dressing Recipes

Without a doubt, the one way you can ensure you are using the healthiest ingredients for your salad dressing is if you make them yourself. You get to choose what you use exactly. You can also customize the flavor and taste that you prefer.

Below are some super easy (and healthy!) salad dressing recipes you can make at home. Each recipe yields around ¼ cup of salad dressing. Take note that you can go ahead and experiment with other seasonings, oils, and flavored vinegars. Be sure to properly mix all the ingredients of each recipe.

Also, remember to place each dressing in a tightly lidded container afterward. Give them around 10 minutes to stand alone in order for the dried herbs to rehydrate and for the flavors to properly blend. Enjoy!

Basic Vinaigrette

  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons vinegar of your choice
  • salt
  • black pepper

Balsamic Vinaigrette

  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • ½ teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1 pinch Italian seasoning

Italian Vinaigrette

  • 1 serving of basic vinaigrette
  • ½ teaspoon minced garlic
  • ½ teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • 1 pinch crushed red pepper flakes

Lemon Dressing

  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • ½ teaspoon oregano
  • ½ teaspoon minced garlic

Basic Creamy Vinaigrette Dressing

  • 1 serving of basic vinaigrette
  • 2–3 tablespoons of either mayonnaise, sour cream, or plain Greek yogurt

Creamy Garlic Dressing

  • 1 serving basic creamy vinaigrette dressing
  • 1 garlic clove, pressed
  • fresh ground black pepper
  • 1 pinch Italian seasoning

Mustard Dressing

  • 1 serving Italian vinaigrette
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1–3 teaspoons honey

Light Bacon Dressing

  • 1 serving basic vinaigrette (using canola oil or corn oil and cider vinegar)
  • 1 tablespoon bacon crumbs
  • ½ tablespoon finely minced onion
  • ¼ teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 pinch celery seed
  • 1–3 teaspoons brown sugar

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