What is the healthiest salad dressing?

As important as your main salad ingredients, healthy salad dressing should top it all off.
healthiest salad dressing

Salads are a great way to consume your daily recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables, but what you add to them can either boost or decrease their nutritional value. Fried foods such as bacon, fried chicken, and croutons may add more flavor and texture to your salad, but they lower the overall healthiness of your meal — even if your salad includes lots of fruits and vegetables. Unhealthy salad dressings made from low-quality and highly processed oils (containing high sodium, high calories, added sugars, and food additives) are another easy way to ruin a healthy salad. In this report, we’ll cover the qualities to look for in the healthiest salad dressing and some of the best store-bought options you can find. 

Unhealthiest salad dressing: Weeding out the bad apples

The salad dressing aisle is littered with unhealthy products. Most store-bought salad dressings contain a high amount of sodium, saturated fats, and calories per serving — and most people pour on more than the quoted per-serving size of 2 tablespoons. Conventional salad dressings also contain a substantial amount of added sugars (such as high-fructose corn syrup), which can cause blood sugar levels to rise, as well as genetically modified ingredients (because they are more cost-effective for mass production).

Many salad dressing brands use low-quality vegetable oils (soybean, canola, or corn) that have been sourced through chemical and high-heat extraction, which alters the structure of the fatty acids into trans fat and may increase the amount of saturated fats in the dressing.

To help keep the product stabilized (homogenous) and to preserve and extend shelf life, store-bought salad dressings will also include food additives (such as preservatives and unhealthy emulsifiers), including carrageenan, known to cause gastrointestinal issues and promote glucose intolerance. So with that long list of unhealthy ingredients, it’s wise when shopping for salad dressings to try to steer clear of those with these profiles:

  • “Expeller-pressed” vegetable oil, albeit healthier than conventional vegetable oil, is still considered a lower-quality oil in the grand scheme of things. Unlike the conventional method of extracting vegetable oil, the expeller-pressed method does not use any chemicals or solvents to extract the oil. It does, however, still involve heat — as the pressing creates high pressure and friction, which produces heat at a range of 140-210°F that still may or may not convert fatty acids into trans fat. 

  • “Fat-free” or “light” salad dressings are often light on health. While these terms may seemingly indicate a healthier salad dressing option, reflected in a lower calorie amount, a fat-free or low-fat option isn’t necessarily the most beneficial. Dietary fats support the body’s absorption of nutrients from the food you eat. Salad dressings containing fat, especially monounsaturated fats, can help your body better absorb the phytonutrients in the fruits and vegetables in your salad. Also negative, low-fat or fat-free options often include the use of high-fructose corn syrup, artificial flavoring, and more sodium than their fat-containing salad dressing counterparts.

Qualities to look for in healthy salad dressings

We’ve covered what’s wrong with most store-bought salad dressings. Here are some green flags to look for in healthier salad dressings. Keep in mind, these are not hard and fast rules, but general guidelines to help you choose a healthier dressing for your salads. Some dressings might score better in one area than another, so it’s best to take into account the overall profile of a salad dressing when deciding whether or not it’s healthy. 

  • Healthier salad dressing options will generally keep to under 250 milligrams (mg) of sodium per serving. Many popular brands of salad dressing tend to have large amounts of sodium which decreases the healthiness of the dressing. For example, Olive Garden’s Italian Kitchen Signature Salad Dressing has a whooping 520 mg of sodium per two tablespoons of dressing. If you’re using more than two tablespoons of salad dressing, you’re consuming a lot more sodium than you think.

  • Better dressing options will keep to under 2 grams (g) of sugar per serving, which effectively rules out a dressing such as Kraft’s Honey Mustard Salad Dressing (containing 7 g of added sugar, even though it contains only 250 mg of sodium). 

  • High-quality oils for salad dressings include olive oil, extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), and avocado oil. These oils are heart-healthy, containing monounsaturated fats, which help your body better absorb vitamins and nutrients from your food and slow the rate of digestion down, stabilizing blood sugar. (January’s metabolic health app can also be of help by predicting the impact of foods on your blood sugar levels, before you even eat them, so you can make smarter choices based on your body’s unique needs.) Expeller-pressed vegetable oil is better than conventional vegetable oil, but not preferred over the aforementioned olive and avocado oils. 

  • ​​Last, but not least, healthy salad dressings are made with simple and high-quality ingredients. You should be able to read all the ingredients on the ingredients list, as well as know, generally, what the ingredients are. Ingredients like sorbic acid or calcium disodium EDTA should make you put that bottle of dressing back where it belongs. High-quality and simple, organic ingredients guarantee a higher-quality end-product salad dressing.

Store-bought salad dressing brands that pass the test

Despite how common unhealthy store-bought salad dressings are, there are still a few good ones among them all. You may wonder, what is the healthiest salad dressing to buy? Here are five healthy salad dressing brands that pass the test.

  1. Primal Kitchen Caesar dressing made with Avocado Oil

Most, if not all, of Primal Kitchen’s dressings are among the healthiest salad dressings you’ll find at the grocery store. This dressing, in particular, has less than 250 mg of salt, is made with a high-quality oil (avocado oil), and contains all organic, clean, and simple ingredients. 

  1. Bragg Organic Vinaigrette dressing

Known far and wide for their apple cider vinegar, it was only a matter of time before Bragg came out with a vinaigrette dressing. It’s safe to say that their dressing doesn’t disappoint. Bragg’s Organic Vinaigrette dressing is made from a high-quality organic EVOO and mostly organic and simple ingredients. It also contains a lower saturated fat content than most other dressings you’ll find at the store. 

  1. Chosen Foods Lemon Garlic dressing

This one makes the list because it is made from a high-quality oil and contains simple and clean ingredients. One serving of this dressing contains 190 mg of salt and zero sugar. 

  1. Organicgirl Avocado Cilantro Vinaigrette

A creamy but fresh vinaigrette, this salad dressing is low in sodium, low in sugar, and contains all organic ingredients with absolutely zero preservatives. It does, however, use agave nectar or agave syrup, which is high in fructose and may contribute to increased health risks if consumed in excess. 

  1. Tessemae’s Green Goddess dressing

Like the previous option, Tessemae’s Green Goddess dressing is low on sodium and contains zero sugar. It also happens to be low-calorie. The ingredients used to make this dressing are almost all organic and simple. It easily passes the test. 

The healthiest salad dressing is homemade

Making your own salad dressing guarantees freshness you won’t get from the shelves of a grocery store. It also tends to be cheaper to make healthy salad dressings at home than to buy the healthiest salad dressings at the store. Besides, you know and can control everything that goes into your salad dressing when you make it yourself. Alter and adjust recipes to suit your palate and needs. If you have hypertension, you might use less salt. If you have diabetes, you might benefit from less added sugar. If you prefer thicker dressings, you might consider adding some chia or flax seeds that boost the nutritional value and fiber content of your dressing while thickening it. There are plenty of salad dressing recipes online; scour the internet for your new-favorite healthy dressing. 

Key takeaways

Salads can be a healthy addition to your diet, given that you avoid adding unhealthy ingredients such as fried foods and unhealthy dressings. Many store-bought dressings fall on the unhealthier side of the spectrum due to their high salt and calorie content, added sugars, genetically modified ingredients, and preservatives. Far worse, they use low-quality oils that contain trans fat, which increase cholesterol levels and the risk of developing heart disease. The healthiest salad dressing will generally contain less than 250 mg of sodium, less than 2 g of sugar, and use high-quality ingredients including high-quality oils (olive oil, EVOO, or avocado oil). It’s no surprise that the healthiest salad dressing is homemade, but if you’re looking for convenience, healthy store-bought salad dressing options do exist. Be sure to read the nutritional label and consider all aspects of the dressing before making your purchase.

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