The Pitfalls of Bottled Salad Dressings


Photo by: DirkRietschel


What you pour on your super-food green salad may not exactly measure up to be health food. "I’ve been known to have tantrums in the salad dressing aisle of the grocery store," says chef, registered dietitian and author of Whole Cooking and Nutrition, Katie Cavuto. “Many of the store-bought salad dressing options contain ingredients that I would never use at home. They’ve got ingredients that we don’t need to be consuming on a regular basis. Plus, salad dressing is so, so easy to make yourself.

Cavuto suggests grabbing a jar with a lid (even a used-up peanut butter jar) and adding just three ingredients: 1 part extra virgin olive oil, 1 part vinegar or citrus juice, and a squirt of mustard.

If you’re still curious about how to pick a healthy bottled dressing, or, if you want more delicious dressing recipes, keep reading.

Avoid ‘Fat-Free’ Altogether

Fat is okay. In order for the body to absorb the beneficial carotenoids found in dark green spinach and bright red- and orange-colored vegetables, fat needs to be consumed with those veggies. In fact, researchers at Iowa State found that people who poured regular dressing on their salads absorbed more of the antioxidant carotenoids than did those who poured on fat-free or even low-fat dressings. Additionally, fat-free dressing makers often add sugar to make up for the fat removal; and most of us don’t need more added sugar.

Make it yourself: Light Blue Cheese Dressing

Steer Clear of ‘Sugar-Free’

Claims of ‘sugar-free’ on dressing bottles are misleading. This often means artificial sweeteners have been added. If you are making dressing at home, a pinch of sugar or a small drizzle of maple syrup can make a tangy vinegar-based dressing taste just right. But if you’re trying to eat more whole foods, artificially sweetened dressings don’t seem to sit well atop whole grape tomatoes and other fresh produce.

Make it yourself: Light Italian Dressing

Keep Sodium in Check

The amount of sodium in your bottled dressing should stay around 250 mg per serving, recommends Cavuto. In homemade dressing, mustard can provide the salty kick we love with greens; if you need more saltiness, add just a sprinkle of salt over the entire salad, instead of mixing it into the dressing. Then your tongue tastes the grains of salt on the veggies, instead of having salt end up in the pool of dressing at the bottom of the bowl.

Make it yourself: Cumin-Lime Vinaigrette

What about Additives?

Ingredients added to dressings to give them a richer, thicker ‘mouth-feel’ such as xanthan gum, carrageenan and maltodextrin are safe according to the U.S. Food and Drug Association (FDA.) However, if you want to avoid any of these ingredients, the easiest way to do so is to grab a jar with a lid, some oil, vinegar and mustard, and shake.

Make it yourself: Light Ranch Dressing

Stay Away from Soybean Oil?

Despite the hype, soybean oil when consumed as part of a healthful diet has not been proven to lead to inflammation. In fact, in August 2017, the FDA approved a qualified health claim linking consumption of soybean oil to reduced risk of coronary heart disease. But, if you like the taste of extra virgin olive oil on your salad, it’s probably impossible to find a shelf stable dressing with the ‘fruity’ olive oil flavor of volatile EVOO. Again, make your own.

Make it yourself: Simple Salad Dressing

Serena Ball, MS, RD is a food writer and registered dietitian nutritionist. She blogs at sharing tips and tricks to help families find healthy living shortcuts. Follow her @TspCurry on Twitter and Snapchat.

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