When I go grocery shopping with my clients or sort through what’s in their fridge, one of the items they’re often surprised to learn about is salad dressing. Even gourmet-looking dressings can be loaded with sodium, sugar, and unwanted ingredients. One popular brand marketed as ‘healthy’ contains artificial preservatives and packs seven grams of sugar (almost two teaspoons worth) and 230 milligrams of sodium per two tablespoon serving. And even the type of fat your dressing contains matters, perhaps more so than the amount.
A new Purdue University study concludes that a dressing’s fat type plays a role in the amount of antioxidants you’ll absorb from your veggies. Researchers fed subjects salads topped with dressings made with saturated fat, monounsaturated fat, and polyunsaturated fat, then took blood samples to test for the absorption of antioxidants known to fight cancer, heart disease, and age-related vision less.
In the test, each salad was served with 3 grams, 8 grams, or 20 grams of fat from various dressings. Butter served as the saturated fat source, canola oil as the monounsaturated fat, and corn oil as the polyunsaturated fat. They found that the dressing made with monounsaturated fat required the least amount of fat to absorb the most antioxidants while the saturated fat and polyunsaturated fat-based dressings required higher amounts of fat to achieve the same results. In other words, with the right type of fat a little goes a long way at helping antioxidants hitch a ride from your digestive system into your bloodstream.
Fortunately, there are many delicious salad dressing options free from excess sodium, sugar, and artificial additives. In a recent post I shared out of the box ways to enjoy hummus, one being as a salad dressing, but I have a few other favorites as well. And each is a great source of monounsaturated fat, or MUFA for short.
A common ingredient in hummus, tahini is a paste made from ground sesame seeds. You may have enjoyed it with falafel, but it also makes a satisfying alternative to creamy dressings on salad. Look for options made from just a single ingredient: sesame seeds.
I sometimes refer to avocado as butter that grows on trees because of its creamy texture and rich flavor. You can actually use avocado in place of butter in baking, and it makes a fantastic base for a vegan green goddess dressing. Just add garlic, vinegar, lemon juice, and herbs like basil and cracked black pepper, and blend. Or simply place your salad in a sealable container along with some chopped ripe avocado, close the lid, and gently shake to let the avocado coat the leaves.
The standard ingredients in this delicious paste are green or black olives, or both, along with olive oil, parsley, lemon, garlic, and pepper—yum! I use it as the dressing in the Mediterranean minted turkey salad from my newest book S.A.S.S! Yourself Slim.
Oil and vinegar
You just can’t beat the combination of a high quality balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil. But if you crave a little more flavor add a squeeze of lemon juice and some fresh or dried herbs. Or, whip up a simple vinaigrette by adding some minced raw or roasted garlic. And mix things up by using a variety of fruit infused vinegars, from fig or cherry to pomegranate or pear.
Cynthia Sass is a registered dietitian with master's degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV, she's a SHAPE contributing editor and nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays. Her latest New York Times best seller is S.A.S.S! Yourself Slim: Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches.