Skipping the Dressing Makes Your Salad Less Healthy (and Less Tasty)

by | Apr 26, 2016

Photo by juanpablo.santosrodriguez

When I was a teenager salad dressing was the enemy.

Sure I knew salads were the best choice for losing weight. But dressing, that evil temptress, tried her best to undo all the pain and suffering I just knew was necessary to get the body I wanted.

I remember once getting into an argument with my dad (the poor man had endured years of my refusing even a drop of fat on anything I ate).

He had made a substantial (and delicious) Cobb salad for dinner, and was offering me a bottle of low-fat ranch dressing to top it off.

I self-righteously retorted, “Salad dressing defeats the purpose of eating a salad.”

“No it doesn’t,” he explained with exasperation. “The purpose of eating a salad is to get your vegetables and leafy greens in for the day.”

Clearly we were speaking different languages.

I ignored his offering and forced down an enormous bowl of lettuce, egg whites, and non-fat ham. My dad took his salad and his dressing, and we went our separate ways.

In retrospect, neither of us were eating particularly healthfully or particularly unhealthfully. Sure we were eating salad, but we were also both observing the insane nutritional recommendations of the time to different degrees. Seriously, WTF is non-fat ham?

But clearly my dad understood something that I didn’t. That fat content wasn’t the only thing to consider when choosing food. That nutrition––and god forbid, taste––were also important.

I cringe when I think back to how Draconian I was about weight loss advice that has now been so thoroughly debunked. Not that 15-year old Darya stood a chance against dieting industry logic, but it is still painful to think about.

Yet even though that was 20 years ago, to this day I see self-proclaimed health conscious people throwing low-fat bottled salad dressing into their shopping carts and demurely asking for the real stuff “on the side.”

Please stop.

Salad dressing isn’t fattening or unhealthy. Yes it has calories, but you’re eating a freaking salad. You need some calories on there somewhere.

Having a bit of oil on your salad isn’t just acceptable, it’s actually healthier. The bioavailability (i.e. how much of a particular nutrient you can absorb from your food) of several vitamins, particularly carotenoids, are significantly increased in the presence of full-fat salad dressing, as opposed to reduced-fat or non-fat dressings.

Is it a coincidence that the way raw vegetables have been eaten for hundreds (maybe thousands) of years is the healthiest? Maybe. But it doesn’t really matter.

A fresh salad is delicious, and dressing makes it even better. Don’t serve it on the side, spend some time tossing it in a large bowl to be sure that every piece gets coated.

If you want it to be even healthier, stop buying the bottled stuff and make your own. It takes about two minutes and tastes worlds better. (You’ll also save money).

Remember that you need to enjoy the salads you eat if you want it to become a habit. That’s reason enough to make salad dressing your friend.

How long have you avoided salad dressing?

Originally published March 11, 2015.

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29 Responses to “Skipping the Dressing Makes Your Salad Less Healthy (and Less Tasty)”

  1. Dave says:

    i avoid bottled dressing but always make my own.
    when i’m a guest somewhere i do without dressing and have salad plain. that’s probably over doing it but…

  2. Alice says:

    Yes for making your own salad dressing! I stopped buying the bottled stuff a couple years ago and haven’t looked back. It’s so easy to make and also easy to alter the flavors depending on what kind of salad you’re eating. Also, at home I always toss the salad with dressing in a big bowl before plating. I’ve found I actually use less dressing this way rather than piling the salad on my plate and then putting dressing on top. Tossing it first gets everything coated, and I definitely use less dressing in the process.

  3. La says:

    I also make my own, though I’m more of a “drizzler” than a “tosser.” You make a good point about tossing, though – I should try that. At restaurants, I usually ask for the dressing on the side because I don’t like my salad drowned in dressing and many places over-dress their salads (high-end restaurants are usually better about this).

  4. Samantha says:

    The fat in salad dressing actually helps your body absorb the vitamins and minerals in the vegetables and fruits in your salad, so it is actually good for your body!

    [Link removed]

  5. Sherry A. says:

    I love making dressing in a mason jar! Especially dressing that has a nut butter because you can secure the lid and really give it a good shake. Then I store it in the fridge for a few more uses:)

  6. lynda m says:

    Even when I put myself on a very strict diet to lose 30 lbs. I just could not give up oil on a salad. I still cannot eat any kind of bottled dressing from the store either. I’m glad to know this was a good decision.

  7. Once you start making your own dressings routinely, and realize how simple and easy it is, you’ll never go back. In fact, my wife won’t LET me go back!

  8. Rebecca says:

    I must admit, I still eat light salad dressing. I’m currently tryin. To lose those last 5-10 pounds post baby #3 and salad dressing has so many calories!

  9. Inaya says:

    I find that I rarely even want dressing on a salad. Instead, I use flavorful ingredients like berries, cheese crumbles (feta primarily–not a huge fan of bleu), or smoked fish. When I’m stuck with boring salad (ie mostly greens with other green veggies), I will use a little (low/non-fat) dressing, but a lot goes a long way for me.

  10. Diana says:

    My favorite “salads” contain a small amount of Romaine or other lettuce, but the bowl is filled with raw veggies: zucchini, summer squash, onions, sweet peppers, mushrooms… Then drizzled with flavor infused vinegar or fresh lemon juice. We’re just heading home from vacation where eating out really convinced me of the wonderful flavor of lemon juice, and it is cheaper than the vinegar. I do make it a point to get healthy oils, just not on my salad.

  11. Jennifer says:

    I’m not a big oil on salad person. I honestly like it with just vinegar. But, I make sure to put nuts or avocado so that I am getting some kind of fat.

  12. ha this one really gets me going – more than it should :) – since I see so many bad eaters at work. Once I heard that tip on fat helping absorb nutrients better I’m always telling people to drizzle that olive oil!!
    I can’t stand when I see people eating lame salads made of… just lettuce. And then complaining they’re hungry and “salads don’t work for diets” . Throw a healthy protein on there guys!

  13. I just fell in love with you!!!!

    Wow, you couldn’t have written a better post about this topic. I will reference you often now and use these deliciously, curated words to shed light on the fat-phobic world we live in when speaking to the masses!

    Rock on!!

  14. Ferg says:

    I tend to avoid dressing but this makes sense and I think you converted me haha.

  15. Marj says:

    I’m actually one of those people. At least when I go out to eat. I started maybe around 10 years ago when I read something about all the extra stuff that restaurants have on their dressings.

    At home though, I make my own dressing and drizzle on top. Though sometimes go overboard because they taste so good.

    I love your point on the fat soluble nutrients and how having fats increases absorption. That’s something I didn’t really think about.

    At the end of the day, I think your dad’s point made the most sense in that we aren’t going to get the nutrients if we don’t eat something because the taste, or lack thereof turns us off.

  16. Irene says:

    The secret is in the tossing. If you toss properly, you can use much less dressing than if you just pour it over the top. The French expression is to fatigue the salad, and that’s what you do: toss gently and persistently until every leaf is glossy.

  17. John Fawkes says:

    I agree in principle, but this is one area where portion control becomes extremely important. Dressing isn’t inherently fattening, but it is calorically dense. I’ve seen people slather five hundred calories of dressing on a one hundred calorie salad. People need to be aware of what a healthy quantity is.

    It seems people who overuse dressing always pour it straight on top so it trickles down to the bottom of the salad, like butter on movie theater popcorn. I like Irene’s advice- properly tossing the salad allows a small amount of dressing to provide flavor to every piece.

  18. Wendy Laubach says:

    I always get my dressing on the side in a restaurant unless I know I can trust their taste. I agree that high-end restaurants are better about not over-dressing a salad. At home I nearly always make my own, a simple vinaigrette with Dijon mustard, olive oil, and whatever acid is handy, such as citrus juice or vinegar. I eat a humongous salad to start my dinner every night, 5 cups or so of salad with carrots, jicama, and 3-4 other vegs. If I put a half-cup of calorie-dense oily dressing on it, it would monopolize my calories for the meal. A tablespoon of dressing is enough to make my salad taste great, along with a generous sprinkling of salt. The salad fills me up, makes me deliriously happy every night, and leaves room for something more substantial like beans or meat.

  19. Jim Varhegyi says:

    I do battle with my wife about this all the time. I even started buying my own salad dressing because she refuses to buy the full day with full flavor stuff. Maybe this article will help to convince her to not fear the fat.

  20. luisa says:

    When I first came to the U.S I was so surprised of seeing market aisles full of different kind of bottled dressings. In Italy we use oil , salt and vinegar. If on a diet only one table spoon of oil. that`s it. Bottled salad dressing don`t even exist.

  21. Melissa says:

    Hi Darya,

    If I eat nuts with my salad and vegetables, do I still get the benefits of nutrition absorption through the fat + vegetable combination? Because I love toasted walnuts, almonds and seeds on my salads, I wonder how much additional healthy fat and oil is necessary to get the nutrition benefit.

    Thanks for the article!

  22. Brad says:

    While I used to go full fat ranch dressing on frequent salads, I’ve cut way back on eating them after reading about salad greens being one of the most horrendously unsustainable foods for the environment. And not particularly nutritious to boot.

  23. Shannon C says:

    I tend to use my own dressings these days (even just olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, and pepper is delicious)! I find store-bought is either processed (weird tasting low-fat or packed with refined sugar/corn syrup) or more ‘natural’ (but tastes bland). My immersion blender has made experimenting with new dressing combinations a lot easier! Throw in some lemon juice and fresh herb like parsley/cilantro and it’s better than anything you can buy! :)

  24. Lynn Baldwin says:

    Way back when, my professor in introductory foods taught us about the evils of bottled pre-made salad dressings…..simply… They taste horrible! A proper salad dressing can be made in under a minute….. There is nothing in cuisine that can take the ordinary to extraordinary with so little effort; sadly a perfectly splendid salad can be ruined with goo that is pre-made and readily available in every supermarket in North America……. When it comes to bottled dressing….. JUST SAY NO!!!! ….. For those worried about calories….. It is amazing how little real dressing one needs when using the good stuff…

  25. Mimi Hodgkins says:

    Darya,

    I still have a lot to learn about eating properly to maintain my fairly healthy eating habits and losing some unwanted weight.

    However, I agree wholeheartedly with you about the many reasons not to skip salad dressing on a delicious salad. I’ve been making my own salad dressing for years because I dislike bottled dressing and prefer fresh, wholesome ingredients for a delicious taste and healthy consumption. It takes me so little time to prepare homemade salad dressing, and the results of tossing it thoroughly through my salad are so worth the effort.

    Mimi

  26. Wendy Laubach says:

    I don’t know about the environmental dangers of commercially grown salad greens, but I do know that they’re one of the easiest things to grow in a home garden. Not iceberg lettuce, maybe, but all kinds of lovely mesclun greens. You can start eating them as soon as they sprout up and need thinning, and continue until it gets so hot that they bolt and turn bitter. It’s like falling off a log, it’s so easy, nothing like the challenge of, say, producing tomatoes.

  27. Suzanne Goldberg says:

    I prefer to make my own dressing using nuts or avocado as the source of fat in the dressing. You get all benefits of increasing the bio availability of the greens’ nutrients PLUS all the benefits of the protein, fiber, lignans and healthy (non-processed) fats. Remember, oil (even olive oil) is a processed food that has very little nutritional merit and is 120 calories, 100 fat, per tablespoon.

  28. Andy says:

    Thank you for this article! I always try to keep convincing my friends it’s okay to add dressing to their salad provided they don’t soak all the veggies in it. Fat is your friend, people! At least the good kind. A lot of the vitamins and minerals in those salads are fat-soluble, meaning they’ll need the good fat so they can be absorbed into your body. So unless you drizzle some dressing over that salad, you’re not getting the most out of it. Waste of a perfectly good salad if you ask me.

  29. I used to hate dressing but now I had read this I think I have to find a way to love dressings. Is there a dressing for my me something taste flavorful. :)

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