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Salad Dressings, Which Ones are Healthiest?

Salad dressing, which is healthiest?

The delicious vegetable salad you just ordered or prepared for yourself looks like it's packed with nutrition, but it's possible you won't get the most benefit from the nutrients if you use the wrong salad dressing. A new study found that not all salad dressings are equal when it comes to releasing the healthy carotenoids from vegetables.

How to choose the healthiest salad dressings

When you sit down to eat a salad chock full of nutrient-rich vegetables, you want it to not only taste good, but to be good for you. If you're watching your weight, you may even avoid using any type of oil and just stick with vinegar and herbs or choose a no-fat salad dressing.

But if you really want to take advantage of the health benefits offered by vegetables, especially the fat-soluble carotenoids such as alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, lutein, lycopene, and zeaxanthin, then you need to eat some type of oil with your salad, because fat-soluble nutrients require dietary fat to be properly absorbed through the digestive tract.

Which salad dressings are the healthiest? Researchers at Purdue University tackled this leafy task in a study that involved 29 volunteers who ate salads with various types of dressings:

  • Saturated fat: butter-based dressing
  • Monounsaturated fat: canola oil-based dressings
  • Polyunsaturated fat: corn oil-based dressing

The salad eaters enjoyed their vegetables with either 3 grams, 8 grams, or 20 grams of fat from salad dressing. Here's what the researchers discovered:

  • Salad dressings made from monounsaturated fat needed the least amount of fat to allow the body to absorb the most carotenoids. Therefore, less is more when it comes to monounsaturated salad dressing.
  • Salad dressings rich in polyunsaturated or saturated fat needed higher amounts of fat grams to make the carotenoids beneficial.
  • Salad dressings based on canola oil and olive oil led to the same level of carotenoid absorption at 3 grams of fat as did 20 grams from corn oil and butter
  • "If you have a salad with a fat-free dressing, there is a reduction in calories, but you lose some of the benefits of the vegetables," according to lead author, Mario Ferruzzi, professor of food science at Purdue

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Therefore, if you want to maximize the carotenoid nutritional benefit from your salad and enjoy a lower fat dressing, monounsaturated salad dressing is the way to go. Carotenoids have been associated with a lower risk of heart disease, macular degeneration, and vascular disease, and to extend life.

Good choices of oils rich in monounsaturated fats are olive, canola, avocado, peanut, and almond. Oils that have a higher amount of polyunsaturated fat include corn, soybean, safflower, and sunflower. Salad dressings based on butter, cream, palm kernel, and palm oil are high in saturated fat.

A monounsaturated salad dressing
A lower fat, monounsaturated salad dressing can be made in just a few minutes. Combine 1/2 cup red wine vinegar or balsamic vinegar with 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, 2 tablespoons water, and 1/2 teaspoon each of dried oregano, basil, and coriander. Shake well and enjoy with your salad.

When you have a bowl of nutritious greens and other vegetables, don't miss out on all the healthful benefits they can offer. Choose salad dressings that provide lower fat, great taste, and the ability to deliver those nutrients.

Goltz SR et al. Meal triacylglycerol profile modulates postprandial absorption of carotenoids in humans. Molecular Nutrition & Food Research 2012 Jun; 56(6) 866-77

Image: Wikimedia Commons