Some people put ranch dressing on everything in sight, others favor a classic Italian, or something sweeter, like the ever-popular raspberry vinaigrette. But what all of these salad dressings have in common is that they’re often high in calories and fat.
And we mean high; nutrition studies show that some of the most beloved choices can have as much as 20 grams of fat in just two tablespoons. Before you turn to the light dressings in search of a solution, be aware that many nutritionists loathe these even more.
For one thing, many light dressings go heavy on the salt and sugar in an effort to make up for the flavor lost with the fat. And believe it or not, some are whitened with titanium dioxide, the primary ingredient in sunscreen, to make them appear similar to their creamy full-fat counterparts. Sadly, light salad dressing doesn’t equal healthier salad dressing.
So what’s a salad-lover to do? Luckily, there are as many healthy choices out there, you just need to do a little label sleuthing.
The best choice of all? Make your own by following these tips for healthy goodness.
Look to Olive Oil
Unlike many dietary trends, the fad for olive oil makes perfect nutritional sense. A monounsaturated fat, olive oil is heart healthy and good for the brain, too. But here’s something you probably don’t know: olive oil also helps your body absorb the nutrients from the vegetables in your salad.
Nutrition researchers at Iowa State University found that students who ate low-fat salad dressing didn’t absorb carotenoids and other important phytochemicals that are one of the main reasons we eat salad in the first place. Other studies have shown that dressing greens like spinach with olive oil aids the digestion of the fat-soluble vitamins A, E and K.
Juice It Up with Fruit
Citrus fruits like lemon and orange lend freshness and pizazz to salad dressing, while cranberry, raspberry and other sweeter fruits can add sweetness without resorting to sugar. Not only that, but juice – in particular lemon juice – is a calorie-counter’s friend, as its stronger flavor allows you to use less dressing. Variations on watermelon and mint salads are a summer staple, and if you’ve never had one, here’s our favorite: Sarah Menanix’s recipe for mint, jicama and cantaloupe salad tossed with pepitas and feta is truly a mouth-watering concoction. New to the wonderful world of jicama? We’ve got you covered.
Experiment with Herbs & Seasonings
Salt and pepper are the basis for pretty much any salad dressing, but the sky’s the limit after that. To an oil and vinegar dressing, try adding minced garlic, a pinch of fresh ginger, or a bit of dijon or whole grain mustard. To a creamy dressing, add chopped cilantro or parsley. And if you like it spicy, stir in some cayenne or a bit of Sriracha. When in doubt, go with something fresh. Your tastebuds will thank you.
Color it Creamy
If you’re partial to Thousand Island, Ranch, or other creamy dressings, you might like this trick. Instead of using dairy to get that creaminess, use a ripe avocado. Just scoop out the soft flesh and toss it right in with your oil and vinegar mixture. Use a mason jar or other closed bottle and shake the dressing hard to blend in the avocado. Adding a little lemon juice will prevent the avocado from turning brown so it lasts longer. Another swap for creamy dressing is yogurt; substitute it for cream in green goddess dressings. Hummus is another option that will provide that rich mouthfeel you crave.
Favor Flavored Vinegars
Apple cider vinegar is a very common fruit vinegar, but specialty shops and farmers markets stock blackberry, cherry, plum, strawberry, raspberry, persimmon and many other fruit vinegars. Each fruit vinegar has its own distinctive flavor and lends itself to particular combinations. For example, both blueberry and cherry make tasty balsamic vinegars, while – odd as it sounds – persimmon vinegar tastes great with mustard. Certain fruit vinegars are also commonly used in global cuisines; pomegranate vinegar is a staple of Persian and Turkish sauces and dressings. And did you know that you can make your own fruit vinegars? It’s quite easy; most are some combination of fruit scraps, water and sugar. Mix in a tightly sealed wide-mouth mason jar and ferment your artisanal creation.
What’s your go to salad dressing recipe? We’re always seeking new combos to taste so next time you whip up a batch, tag us on Instagram or mention #PlentyFarms.