Why You Should Add Full Fat Dressing to Your Next Salad

Adding a source of fat to your next veggie-based dish may make it even better for you.

November 03, 2022


Photo by: wenyi liu/Getty Images

wenyi liu/Getty Images

Opting for a nonfat dressing with your salad may not be the best choice — and not just because of how it tastes. Research shows that fat helps your body absorb certain nutrients from vegetables, so adding a full or reduced fat dressing or sauce to your next bowl of veggies could make it even better for your body. Find out which nutrients are best absorbed with fat and what kind of dressing you should be using on your next salad.

How Fat Makes Vegetables Better, According to the Research

Research shows that consuming raw vegetables with some source of fat helps with nutrient absorption. This is especially true with fat-soluble vitamins (vitamins that need fat in order to get absorbed into the body).

A small 2004 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found a moderate amount of fat aided absorption of carotenoids and fat-soluble vitamins. In the study, seven healthy men and women ate salads made from spinach, romaine lettuce, cherry tomatoes, and carrots that were topped with Italian dressings that provided 0, 6, or 28 grams of canola oil during a 12-week period. Data revealed that only negligible amounts of alpha- and beta-carotene and lycopene were found in the blood after eating a salad with fat-free dressing. Significantly more carotenoids were found in the blood after eating salads that were topped with reduced fat or full fat dressings. Researchers concluded that a minimum of 6 grams of added fat is needed to help the body maximize absorption of nutrients like carotenoids from salad.

Published research has shown that avocado and avocado oil helped absorb carotenoids (a form of vitamin A) from salad and salsa. Another small 2017 study of 12 women also found that adding up to 32 g (about 2 tbsp) of soybean oil on a salad aided in the absorption of eight fat-soluble nutrients.

There’s no need to go on a high fat diet, but the research shows it’s important to find ways to add a small amount of unsaturated fat to your veggie-based meals because these foods work better when consumed together.

What Type of Fat to Use on Your Veggies

The type of fat matters. Saturated fat has been shown to increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. The 2020-2025 dietary guidelines suggest swapping fat sources of saturated fat (like butter, lard, processed meats) for sources of unsaturated fats like olive oil, avocado, nuts and seeds.

When it comes to dressings and sauces, opt for vinaigrettes that use plant-based oils like avocado oil, olive oil or nut oil or avocado-based dressings. Use toppings high in saturated fat like mayo- and dairy-based ranch or Caesar dressing sparingly.

What About Cooked Vegetables?

While the research focused on raw vegetables in salad, it couldn't hurt to apply this logic to cookes veggies as well. Opting for a small amount of avocado oil or olive oil on roasted vegetables is certainly a healthful option, and adding some unsaturated fat to your next veggie-packed grain bowl or even soup can amp up flavor and provide some good-for-you macronurients, for a start.

How to Add Fat to Your Vegetables

Add avocado: Avocados provide monounsaturated fat and adding a few slices to your salad or using avocado oil in your dressing can help with nutrient absorption.

Go full fat: Add 1 to 2 tablespoons of full fat dressing to your next bowl of greens to help with nutrient absorption. You could also opt for reduced fat, especially if your salad or meal has other sources of fat like salmon, nuts or avocado.

Add nuts or seeds: Both nuts and seeds, like almonds, pistachios, peanuts, and sesame seeds, provide fat which can also help absorb nutrients in your veggie dishes.

Add a dip: Made from pureed chickpeas and tahini, hummus provides a healthy dose of unsaturated fat and is perfect for dipping carrots, celery, and other veggies. Guac is another good higher fat dip option. Olive oil-based sauces are also a great option for veggies.

Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian and consultant who specializes in food safety and culinary nutrition. She is the author of The Greek Yogurt Kitchen: More Than 130 Delicious, Healthy Recipes for Every Meal of the Day.

*This article was written and/or reviewed by an independent registered dietitian nutritionist.

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