A fresh salad is a wise addition to any healthy eating plan. Especially with spring produce coming into full swing, now is a great time to start enjoying the fresh flavors of salad varieties. But with produce popping up on plates everywhere, how can you healthily enjoy salad’s most popular accessory – dressing?
There’s nothing wrong with using dressing to bring out the flavors in a healthy meal option, but using it correctly is key. Dressing can either be an unhealthy indulgence of calorie-laden fats, salt, and sugar, or it can play an important role in the success and satisfaction from a healthy meal.
Regular vs Lite
Regular cream dressings will always be higher in fat content. Although some fat does aid the absorption of beta-Carotene and other fat-soluble vitamins found in salad components, a two-tablespoon serving of a typical cream dressing (not low-fat or low-calorie) can add 200 calories or more to your intake.
Lite ranch or other lite cream-based dressings will save you 30% to 40% of those calories and also lower your intake of saturated fat. But watch out for added sugar and sodium.
If you usually put dressing on the side or carefully drizzle it, you’ll feel more satisfied if you opt for the full-fat variety. You can also add a little yogurt or water to decrease the calorie level and make it easier to drizzle.
Refrigerated vs Shelf Variety
Refrigerated salad dressing found in the produce department is made of fresher ingredients. In the case of creamy dressings such as ranch, Blue cheese, and Caesar, ingredients will include milk, cream, and cheese, which have a short expiration date. Often these dressings don’t have the same preservatives as the shelf variety. However, the sodium and sugar content can be the same in both varieties with a very high saturated fat content in the refrigerated type.
Look for the choice that has the fewest number of ingredients and the least amount of salt. You may be pleasantly surprised to find a comparable creamy ranch, Blue cheese, or Caesar on the grocery shelf that is less expensive and tastes just as good as the refrigerated dressing.
Italian Dressing vs Oil and Vinegar
Commercial Italian dressing is the second most popular dressing choice with many varieties available. Italian dressing can be a flavor cornucopia of spices like garlic, ginger, and paprika. It can also add real nutritional value to your salad if made with quality oils and vinegars.
But use caution with this variety, as just two tablespoons can contain up to 20% of your daily sodium needs. Read the label to find the type of oil used. Opt for a virgin olive oil as the first ingredient, and avoid soybean or vegetable oils.
The healthiest choice would be an emulsion of quality olive oil, sea salt, and balsamic vinegar, which you can prepare at home or request at your favorite restaurant. You can also add a variety of seasonings to this base to customize the flavor.