Most people hear the word salad and automatically think “healthy.” Unfortunately this isn’t always the case. In fact, more often than not, it isn’t. Don’t get me wrong, salads have the potential to be one of the world’s healthiest and most well-balanced meals. A heaping pile of fresh fruits and veggies topped with lean protein, a little bit of dairy, and some healthy fat? This is what dietitians’ dreams are made of! How could you go possibly go wrong? The problem is, we’re smothering this should-be nutritious meal with unhealthy trans fats, sugar, chemicals and other harmful additives when we use store-bought salad dressing.
Most store bought salad dressings are made with highly refined oils that are full of harmful trans fats. As always, the truth lies in the ingredients so turn the bottle around and read. The following oils should be avoided: canola oil, vegetable oil, soybean oil, corn oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil, grape seed oil & cottonseed oil. You may be wondering how an oil made from seeds and vegetables could be bad for you. The problem isn’t the seeds and vegetables themselves- its HOW the oils are derived from them. The process creates trans fats and they are extremely detrimental to your health.
Sugar is another popular ingredient in store bought salad dressings. Sugar can be disguised using about 60 different names on food labels so use the guidelines in my blog post Identifying Hidden Sugar to make sure you’re familiar with all of them.
Lastly, the components of salad dressings are not designed to be in a perfect emulsion nor should they be shelf stable for years. Nothing a solid dose of chemicals, preservatives, stabilizing agents and sweeteners can’t take care of!
Here are a few other harmful additives to avoid:
Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)
Calcium Disodium EDTA
High Fructose Corn Syrup
Okay, I feel your frustration. But there’s good news!! I have been enjoying salads for years and haven’t purchased a single salad dressing! First of all there are several ways to dress your salad without using salad dressing at all. A few of my favorite alternatives are: guacamole, salsa, cottage cheese, hummus, olive oil & lemon and olive oil & vinegar. If you’re still not convinced to ditch your dressing, here are some simple, healthy recipes that may mimic a few of your bottled favorites:
(6 servings, 24 calories per 2 Tbsp serving)
½ cup nonfat plain Greek yogurt
1 ½ Tbsp yellow OR dijon mustard
1 Tbsp honey
1.Whisk ingredients together until well combined.
Refrigerate for 1 hour before serving.
*Works well as a dressing, dip, or spread
Ranch (8 servings, 20-25 calories per 2 Tbsp serving)
2/3 cup nonfat plain Greek yogurt
3 Tbsp parsley
1 tsp dill
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1 clove garlic (or ½ tsp minced garlic)
¼-½ cup buttermilk
Salt & pepper to taste
1. Stir together all ingredients (except for buttermilk) in a bowl. Slowly add buttermilk until desired consistency is reached. For the best flavor, refrigerate for 2 hours before serving.
Ceasar (10 servings, 40 calories per 2 Tbsp serving)
¾ cup 2% plain Greek yogurt
2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
¼ cup grated parmesan cheese
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
1 garlic clove
½ tsp dried oregano
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Combine all ingredients in food processor and blend until smooth. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before serving.
(8 servings, 15 calories per 2 Tbsp serving)
¾ cup nonfat plain Greek yogurt (I highly recommend using Fage– it gives the perfect thick and creamy consistency)
1 clove garlic (or 1/2 tsp minced garlic)
½ baby cucumber (about 4”)
1 Tbsp dill
1. Cut cucumber in half lengthwise and scrape out seeds using a spoon (no need to peel)
2. Add all ingredients to a food processor and mix until well combined and desired consistency is reached (I like mine chunky).
*Makes a great veggie dip or salad dressing. Leave out the cucumber and experiment with different herbs and spices for limitless creamy herb salad dressing options.
Balsamic Vinaigrette (6 servings, 120 calories per 2 Tbsp serving)
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup white or regular balsamic vinegar
1 clove garlic, crushed (or ½ tsp minced garlic)
½ tsp ground mustard
1 Tbsp Honey (*optional- if you like sweeter vinaigrettes)
Salt & Pepper to taste
1. Whisk ingredients together in a bowl.
Keep in Mind:
1. These salad dressings do not contain preservatives like bottled dressings from the store. They will last 1week in your refrigerator so only make what you plan to use.
2. There aren’t any chemicals or additives in these dressings keeping the ingredients in a perfect emulsion. It is normal for ingredients to separate, just shake or whisk well before using.