It’s like a candy apple. An apple a day may keep the doctor away, but once you drizzle on the sugar and caramel, you will be going to the doctor’s. You started munching on those greens to cut down on fat and calories, but once you pair it with a bad salad dressing, you’ll be gaining, not losing, pounds.
How do you figure out if a salad dressing’s healthy? Look at the ingredients list, for one. How do you tell if the ingredients are healthy? See what kind of fats they contain. How do you see what fats they contain? Well–the questions are endless. So, below, we’ve broken everything down and introduced 10 of our favorite yummy, nutritious dressings.
How to Choose a Healthy Salad Dressing – Buying Guide
The human body is a complicated piece of machinery. Nutrition theories, even credible ones, are constantly getting turned on their heads. And the advent of the internet, where anyone can post anything at any time, hasn’t helped matters much. We could barely separate truth from semi-truth from fiction, so asked the Web Dietitian to help us cut to the chase.
Sangeeta Pradhan is a registered dietitian and a certified diabetes educator. It's her job to delve into the complexities of nutrition, distill the information until it's something we lay folk can understand, and feed it back to us. It's her job, but it's also something she loves doing.
That's one of the reasons she started her blog, the Web Dietitian. It's a little corner of the internet where nutrition is presented plainly and frankly, with assertions that are backed by research and a simple desire to help. Expect lovely writing and apt metaphors, as well as some great recipes to round everything out.
・The Web Dietitian: https://webdietitian.wordpress.com/
How Much of Each Nutrient Should I Be Getting Per Serving?
First things first: look at the serving size. Let’s say that you pick up a bottle of dressing, and you see 100 calories splashed across the top of the label. Don’t get excited yet–this is amount per serving. If the serving size is only 1 tbsp. and you need to dump 4 tbsp. onto your salad before you’re satisfied, then you’re actually taking in 400 calories.
Some companies make serving size super small, so their stuff looks healthier. Don’t be misled. With salad dressings, for the most part, you need a minimum of 2 tbsp to feel any zest–so that’s the serving size that we and Sangeeta recommend (each of which should pack 100-120 calories).
The Culprit behind High Blood Pressure: Make Sure There’s Less than 250 mg of Sodium per Serving
So, what should you be avoiding? First on our list: sodium. You want less than 250 mg a serving. That’s because in a day, a healthy adult should be consuming (ideally!) 2,300 mg, according to The American Heart Association.
If you are part of at-risk populations–these include, but are not limited to folks over 50, African Americans, and people with hypertension, diabetes, or kidney disease–the AHA lowers the cap to 1,500 mg (that means you should be shooting for about 200 mg per serving). And before you wave your hands and claim you’re fine, know that around half of the US population falls into this group.
Finally, if you live with children 15 or younger–or if you are one–sodium intake needs to be further limited relative to their energy requirements. But we wouldn’t stress out too much about doing calculations; basically, if your daughter eats half the amount of salad you do, she should also get half the amount of salad dressing.
Basically, sodium makes your body hold on to water. As more blood flows though your blood vessels, blood pressure increases. You can get something called edema—water retention—and what that means is your heart, which is pumping blood throughout your body, now has a higher blood volume to contend with. So it has to work harder to pump that extra fluid, and if unchecked, it can lead to congestive heart failure.
Your heart’s a muscle, and you know what happens when you overwork a muscle—it gets larger, so you can end up with something called cardiomyopathy. So, overall, it is very important that we watch the sodium in our diet, even for the average consumer. The US Dietary guidelines advise limiting Na intake to 2300 mg/day for the average adult and 1500 mg/day to those with HTN (hypertension) and pre-HTN (pre-hypertension).
Avoid Saturated Fats and Emphasize Mostly Unsaturated Fats in Your Diet
Avoid saturated fat as much as possible. It’s not poison–the American Heart Association says that around 16 g a day is just fine–but eat too much, and you’re left with high cholesterol and heart disease. That’s because saturated fat has got a super stable chemical structure. That’s how they stay solid at room temperature. That’s also why, when you consume them, they clog up your arteries.
You want, ideally, just 2-4 g of saturated fat per serving.
You also want to steer clear of trans fats. These crank up the amount of bad (LDL) cholesterol floating around in your blood and drive out the good stuff (HDL cholesterol). Trans fat has been linked to heart failure, diabetes, inflammation, and other chronic diseases.
There are, however, good fats–the unsaturated stuff–which come with a host of health benefits. You can find them in the oils of most plants. (More on this below!) So, even if you see that a serving packs 20 g of fat, don’t reshelve just yet. Look for healthy fats, stick with the suggested serving size, and try to stay within the recommended guidelines for total fat as noted below.
You definitely want to avoid saturated fats and, of course, hydrogenated vegetable oils, also known as trans fats, which are slowly being phased out of the food supply as per FDA guidelines. But the key takeaway is this: you want to replace saturated fats with unsaturated fats, either mono- or polyunsaturated fats, and not refined carbohydrates.
From a historical perspective, fats got demonized in the 90s, and so food manufacturers started indiscriminately removing fat from many of their foods. But to compensate for the flavor, food manufacturers started adding added sugar (or salt, in some cases) to their products. The consumption of refined carbohydrates went up, and that was disastrous because then obesity rates, diabetes, heart disease rates, and so on started to go up as well.
So you want to make sure that there is a moderate amount of fat at every meal, and that includes some healthy fats in your salad dressing as well. Fat carries flavor; fat promotes satiety. You need fat, by the way, for the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins. All kinds of hormones are made from fat. You absolutely need it as part of a healthy diet.
I would suggest limiting saturated fat intake to 1.5-2 grams per serving, while watching the actual number of servings as well. The US Dietary Guidelines recommend limiting saturated fat intake to ~10% a day, while the AHA recommends even lower intakes of 7% a day and 5-6% of total calories—or 11-13 grams—per day on a 2000 kcal diet for people who need to lower their cholesterol.
What Kind of Oils Do We Want in Our Dressings?
Oil’s the number one ingredient in most salad dressings. But there’s so many different types, from so many different fruits, vegetables, and seeds–and they’re processed in so many different ways. So let’s talk about a few key terms that will hopefully help you make head and tails of everything.
You Want Non-Hydrogenated Oils Rich in Monounsaturated and Polyunsaturated Fat
When you hydrogenate a liquid fat, you turn it into a solid fat–by adding hydrogen. This keeps the oil from going rancid quickly, but it also unfortunately produces trans fats, which you know by now are not good. When reading the ingredients label, make sure there is no partially or fully hydrogenated oil. Steer clear of shortening as well, which is made from partially hydrogenated oil.
Instead, look for liquid oils, which are brimming with healthy (unsaturated) fats. They do just the opposite of hydrogenated oils–that is, they lower cholesterol and the risk of heart disease. But here’s where it gets confusing. There’s a lot of theories being thrown apart about nutritional differences between monounsaturated (MUFAs) and polyunsaturated (PUFAs) fats.
But here’s what Sangeeta wants you to know–you need both as part of a healthy diet. As long as you are consuming salad dressing in moderation (sticking to the 2 tbsp. rule!) and all the oils are liquid, you will be taking in a healthy amount of fat, be they mono or poly. Most plant-based oils are full of unsaturated fat, so look out for nut, avocado, peanut, sesame, and olive oil.
But I haven’t seen studies to support whether monos are better or superior than polys, per se. I would simply say because the research keeps going back and forth like a pendulum, we want to proceed with a common-sense approach. And that would be to just replace those solid fats with liquid oils, be they mono or poly, or to replace them with whole plant fats, such as the fats found in nuts, seeds, and avocados.
And we don’t want to just keep focusing on the fatty acids in the diet because, ultimately, it’s not isolated nutrients that matter. It’s whole foods and whole dietary patterns that count. So, every so often, I think we just need to take a step back and look at the big picture so that we don’t miss the forest for the trees.
Got Vegetable or Nut Oils? Look for “Expeller Pressed” or “Extra Virgin”
Many oils are drawn out chemically using hexane, which is toxic. It’s heated out later, of course, but we aren’t sure how much is left over. And the heating process changes the make up and flavor profile of the oil. You may lose some nutrients. In a nutshell, you’re left with less high-quality, less healthy stuff. If the bottle doesn’t tell you how an oil was harvested, assume it was chemically processed.
Then you’ve got expeller pressed oils. Here, the fruits or nuts were stuck into a giant machine, which literally squeezed the oil right out of them. But you need a lot of pressure to wring oil from a peanut. So expeller pressing, while better than chemical processing, still generates a lot of heat.
In Europe, cold-pressed oils are oils that haven’t been exposed to any temperatures above 90 degrees Fahrenheit. (So no chemical reactions, no flavor changes.) In the States, however, we don’t regulate this stuff as strictly. But, long story short, if you want the healthiest stuff possible, look for “expeller pressed” or “cold pressed” oils in the ingredients list.
The “extra virgin” you see before olive oils, by the way, also refers to the extraction process. In a nutshell, “extra virgin” is the purest stuff. It’s got the strongest flavor and keeps the most nutrients (and health benefits!).
Obviously an oil that is minimally processed to some extent would be preferred, but the problem with extra virgin olive oil is that its smoke point is really low. So for sautéing, you may want to use the lighter, yellow olive oil which has a higher smoke point, and use the dark green, extra virgin only for cold preparations such as dips and salad dressings.
In addition, when you buy olive oil at the grocery store, get the one thatʼs at the back of the shelf that hasn’t been exposed to light, keep it in a dark place, away from heat, and make sure itʼs tightly capped. Oxygen, light, and heat can cause oils to spoil quickly.
What the Ingredients List Should Look Like: Short and Easy to Pronounce
Short ingredients lists are good. You want them to start off with any of the oils from up above, water, or vinegar, followed by a bunch of seasonings that sound like they were plucked out of an Italian kitchen. Nothing chemical that you can’t read.
You also want, of course, no high fructose corn syrup. In excess amounts, high fructose corn syrup is stored preferentially as fat in the liver, leading to fatty liver and insulin resistance.
weeks, but if the rest of your diet consists of whole and unprocessed foods, that would be considered a negligible amount. But if your diet is predominantly high in processed foods, and in addition, you are choosing salad dressings with artificial ingredients, you may want to re-consider.
A general rule of thumb is to try to eat foods that are as close to their original source as possible. We want to bear in mind that industrial processing is relatively new—perhaps 100-150 years old at best. Before that, our ancestors pulled food out of the ground and from trees.
While our modern, fast paced lifestyles would certainly not allow us to slave over a hot stove all day long, there is a strong case that one can make for consuming foods that are whole and minimally processed to optimize one’s nutrient intake.
Sweet, Savory, Zesty, or All of the Above: Make Sure the Dressing Complements Your Salad
A good dish is like a marriage, right? All the flavors, the ingredients, and the textures have got to be compatible. So make sure your dressing pairs well with your favorite kind of salad. Of course, a lot of this is up to preference, but here are some of our favorite blends.
All-green salads and seafood are refreshing with a slightly sour vinaigrette or a dash of Italian. Lean protein goes well with something a little creamy or cheesy (ranch or Caesar.) That chicken, ham, or tuna salad would appreciate something sweet–maybe fruit-based, or honey mustard.
Greek dressing is light, so it’ll enhance the flavor of fresh ingredients (cucumbers and tomatoes), without detracting from stronger personalities (like that of onions and cheeses). Sangeeta makes her salad dressings from scratch, by the way, but you can still draw inspiration from her creations when you throw together your next salad and are looking for a new dressing to try.
refreshing twist. So you might notice that I use freshly squeezed orange juice or strawberry puree as the acid in salad dressing to give it a tangy flavor. And sometimes, I use honey to give it a naturally sweet flavor.
I actually like to add fresh fruit to my salads as well. Thus, I might throw in some pomegranate, strawberries, blueberries, or peaches to a regular garden salad just to give it a slightly unexpected twist. In addition, it also adds a very important nutrient—Vitamin C, an antioxidant, not to mention other phytonutrients.
Top 10 Best Healthy Salad Dressing to Buy Online
Now, it’s time to introduce our picks for the 10 best healthy salad dressings to buy online. We picked these salad dressings out based on the guidelines that Sangeeta helped us establish above, but we want to make it clear that the Web Dietitian does not endorse any brands or products, and the dressings below were determined by the team here at mybest.
She would also like readers to note that any info she has provided in this article is strictly for informational purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice. Please consult your physician or Registered Dietitian for recommendations tailored to your specific needs.
10. Mantova Flavored Extra Virgin Olive Oil Variety Pack: Garlic, Basic, Chili Lemon
All the Antioxidants from the Olive Oil and Zest from the Spices
You know oxygen makes iron rust. Did you know it also corrodes our bodies, damages our cells? Over time, oxidation can lead to heart disease, cancer, and Alzheimer’s. Olives–maybe because they grow up on trees, in the air–contain a huge amount of antioxidants, which protect our cells. We aren’t sure if it’ll keep us wrinkle-free, but it’s a theory. That may be why people who subsist on a Mediterranean diet live for so long (and look so good).
These bottles are packed with flavor–the pepper, in particular, has got some bite. They work as stand-alone salad dressings, marinades, and bread dips. The ingredients are seriously just olive oil and some spices, so–yes–a tablespoon contains 14 grams of fat. Use sparingly.
9. Primal Kitchen Greek Vinaigrette with Avocado Oil
Tastes Like Oregano and Packed with Body-Healthy Nutrients
Do you love oregano? If you do, then you’ll love this dressing–that’s where it draws most of its flavor from. It’s also tart (not sweet), clean, and refreshing. (But some have found it too vinegary.) It goes great with savory salads (fish or lean protein), or you can use it as a marinade.
The main ingredient is avocado oil. Avocado oil’s packed with lutein, which is good for aging eyes, and oleic acid, which reduces inflammation and helps with cell regeneration. For those who want the reap the benefits of avocado oil, but aren’t fans of Greek dressing, Primal Kitchen has 10 other flavors, including Caesar and Honey Mustard. A 2 tbsp. serving has 16 g of fat (but it’s the good stuff from avocado oil) and 190 mg of sodium.
8. Annie’s Naturals Lite Honey Mustard Vinaigrette Dressing
A Tangy Honey Mustard Dressing with Almost No Fat or Sugar
The top two ingredients are water and Dijon mustard. Yes, that means it’s going to be more runny than your traditional dressings, but it’s still got a full, tangy flavor that goes well with everything (more sour than sweet or spicy). It pairs especially well with meats–pour it over ham salads, use it as a marinade on chicken, or drizzle it into turkey sandwiches.
Two tablespoons of the stuff has got a total of 3 grams of fat, 125 mg of sodium, and 3 g of sugar. The sugar, by the way, comes from cane sugar and honey.
7. Annie’s Organic Vegan French Dressing
Tangy, Sweet, Savory, Featuring Expeller-Pressed Heart-Healthy Canola Oil
The number one ingredient, canola oil, has got heart-healthy monounsaturated fats. If the thought of aging scares you, it also contains vitamin E (an antioxidant that fights free radicals and makes your cells heal faster). And, yes, it’s expeller pressed–none of that chemical processing.
It’s creamy and flavored with apple cider vinegar, tomato paste, mustard flour, garlic, and a touch of sugar and salt. It’s a mix of tangy, sweet, and savory, so it can add life to even a completely green salad. Two tablespoons has got 11 g of fat (1 of which is saturated) and 3 g of sugar.
6. Skinnygirl Raspberry Vinaigrette Salad Dressing
A Little Tart, A Little Sweet, and Fat and Sugar Free
We had to include this one for the flavor. You’d think raspberry and cider vinegar would make the dressing sour, but it’s not too tart, actually. It light, pairs well with summer salads, and tastes divine with lean protein. There’s no fat, no sugar, and a mere 180.0 mg of sodium per 2 tbsp.
There’s a catch to the flavor, though. The dressing’s got sucralose–a low calorie, artificial sweetener–in it. But it’s approved by the FDA and has no known health risks. It’s also the second-to-last ingredient, so there’s barely any. But if you can’t bring yourself to trust it, then steer clear.
5. Tessemae’s Organic Creamy Ranch
Dairy, Grain, and Sugar Free–But So Creamy
A quick stroll through the customer reviews’ll tell you this a mainstay of the Whole30 diet. For those that don’t know, the Whole30 diet asks you to banish all legumes, grains, sugar, and dairy from your pantry. (So, yes, this dressing doesn’t contain any of that.) Sticking to it clears up your mind and improves your mood and energy levels.
What this has got is sunflower oil, water, lemon juice, mustard, and salted egg yolks. (It does taste kind of eggy–in case you’re not into that.) The flavor’s full (there’s some dill in there), and the texture’s creamy. That’s why there’s 19 grams of fat per 2 tbsp. (1.5 g of which are saturated)–but at least you know healthy fats are what’s packing in all that flavor.
4. Tessemae’s All Natural 4-Pack Salad Dressing (Lemon Garlic)
Has Got a Lot of Good Fats–That’s Why It’s So Flavorful
A lot of Tessemae’s dressing are Whole30 approved, including this one. It’s so delicious and versatile–adds zest to fish, meats, and veggies as both a dressing and a cooking oil. Seriously, it’s perfect for stir frying spinach or pan frying salmon.
It’s almost a mystery how flavorful it is, seeing as the ingredients list is super short: sunflower oil (which has your anti-aging oleic acid), lemon juice, olive oil, mustard, garlic, and sea salt. Two tablespoons has got 20 g of fat (only 2 g of which is saturated), 105 mg of sodium, and no sugar. That’s why it’s the darling of so many health coaches.
3. Drew’s Classic Italian Vinaigrette Dressing (Pack of 6)
Less Greasy Than Your Typical Italians But Tastes Just as Good
Here it comes again: the first ingredient on the list is expeller pressed canola oil, which you know is heart-, skin-, and joint-healthy. Next up is water. It does make the solution lighter, but–don’t worry–it doesn’t really impact taste. The dressing just ends up less greasy. Two tablespoons of the stuff delivers 16 grams of fat (2 of which are saturated) and 216 mg of sodium.
It’s flavored with lemon juice, garlic sea salt, black pepper, sugar cane, basil, and bell peppers. It’s got a strong zest to it and tastes great with chicken, on all-green salads, or even drizzled over pasta.
2. Baja Precious Infused Balsamic Quartetto – Raspberry, Blackberry, Green Apple & Mango
Syrupy, Sweet, and Completely Versatile
First off, take everything you thought you knew about balsamic vinegar and throw it out the window. This stuff is closer to honey–thick, sweet, rich. They’re great mixed in drinks or spread on toast. They taste divine on cooked veggies and all-green or meaty salads (if you love that sweet and savory). You can drizzle them on by themselves, or mix with a bit of olive oil to lighten them up a bit.
All the flavors have got fans. You are getting 7 grams of sugar every tablespoon (no fat, though!)–but with this consistency, a little goes a long way. The ingredient’s list is two items long: aged white balsamic vinegar and natural flavoring. It is a foreign product–imported from Italy, but bottled here in the States.
1. Bragg Organic Vinaigrette Dressing
Organic Apple Cider Vinegar Warrior: Fights Infections and Cleanses Arteries
The first ingredient on the list is organic apple cider vinegar (followed by olive oil, water, and honey). You might’ve heard stuff about Bragg’s organic apple cider vinegar before–and how it contains “mother” (cue holy music), which is just a culture of good bacteria. This comes with a host of benefits, including clearing out your arteries, balancing blood sugar, and adding glow to your skin and hair.
Apple cider vinegar, in general, is antibiotic. It fights off infection, soothes sore throats, and heads off indigestion and diarrhea. Two tablespoons contains 9 grams of fat, only 1.5 of which is saturated, so you know most of it’s the cholesterol-fighting stuff from olive oil. It’s flavored with onion, black pepper, and garlic, so this dressing’s got a kick to it. (The garlic’s especially strong–just a warning.)
Pick the right dressing, and it might just end up making your salad healthier (not just fattier). And, actually, some vitamins are fat-soluble and can’t be absorbed without some elbow grease. Just make sure that the grease is coming from good stuff, like extra virgin olive oil or expeller pressed canola oil.
Do that much, and you can throw off some of the guilt that surrounds drowning your salad in dressing. Happy eating!
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