Fat-free Salad Dressings are Ridiculous. Here’s Why

A salad without the dressing is like a _________ without ___________ [Fill in the blank]

A good dressing helps accentuate flavors, helps some of those greens go down easier – and as you’ll see in a minute – improves the nutritional value of the salad.

If we’re to judge by the hundreds of varieties of dressings available at the supermarket, most shoppers agree. Salad dressings historically include some form of fat, such as olive oil or canola oil as a base. Even a mayonnaise base is actually a form of oil (mixed with raw eggs). In the past few years, many dressings have been re-formulated as fat-free, a means to tempt weight conscious consumers to continue buying them.

What you need to know:

A fat-free salad dressing is actually a bad nutritional decision. You see, a little bit of fat goes a long way in helping the body absorb the nutritional goodness of the salad. This is because some vitamins are fat-soluble.

Vitamins A, D, E, and K (ADEK for short) are absorbed in the intestinal tract with the help of fat molecules. Which means that having a fat free salad dressing will actually decrease the bioavailability of these nutrients as you munch on your salad.

Just as an FYI: good sources of vitamin A include carrots, broccoli, kale, and spinach. Vitamin E can be found in asparagus, avocado, eggs, nuts and seeds, and spinach. Vitamin K is present in parsley, cabbage, swiss chard, cauliflower, and brussels sprouts.

So what’s a non-fat dressing made from?

Mostly water.

That’s right, you’re paying for water. Additionally, in order to maintain the semblance of an oil based dressing, emulsifiers and thickeners are added. Just look for example at the ingredient list for Kraft’s Fat-Free Italian Dressing:


That’s quite a lengthy list for what should be a simple dressing. Some highlights:

High fructose corn syrup and corn syrup are the 3rd and 4th ingredients, used to round off the flavor of the highly acidic vinegar.

Phosphoric acid is used to add more acidic flavor, but why not add more lemon instead? (answer: it’s cheaper).

Calcium Disodium EDTA is a preservative with a mildly salty taste. It may cause kidney damage, and blood in urine. It’s on the FDA’s priority list for more health effects research.

Here’s some news: Nobody in Italy dresses their salad like this!

Nor should you. The 20 calories per serving of 2 tablespoon of this water dressing are nice, but a 50 or even 100 calorie dressing based on real ingredients such as olive oil, lemon juice and spices will probably serve you better both gastronomically and nutritionally.

What to do at the supermarket:

Here’s a simple and effective suggestion. Buy a bottle of good extra virgin olive oil. Also a few lemons.

At home, make your own dressing as follows: in a mixing bowl add equal parts olive oil and fresh squeezed lemon juice. Salt and pepper to taste. Pour over salad and toss just before serving.

If you’re more courageous, you can try adding any combination of a teaspoon of dijon mustard, a minced clove of garlic, and balsamic vinegar. Sometimes a teaspoon of honey or sugar can help take the acidic bite off, especially if the salad contains strong tasting greens such as arugula.


  • Brian

    I’ve been making my salad dressings like this for over a year now, and I find the taste much better, and the salad more satisfying then the low fat counterparts! It’s also somewhat surprising that you can’t find many salad dressings made of real ingredients. To create them on your own is super easy, though, so not a big deal. Nice post!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Monique-Cheney/182700408 Monique Cheney

    I make my own salad dressing. Its cheaper than buying a bunch a junk in a bottle. I just use 2 tbl spoons of extra virgin olive oil, about 1 1/2 table spoons of white wine vinigar, and sea salt & cracked pepper to taste. When eating a Kale salad I like to squeeze a lemon in it. You can find all kinds of recipes online for dressings that a much healthier than the store bought stuff.

    • Shelly

      This taste just like french dressnig and its fat free
      1 c ketchup
      1/4 c white wine vinegar
      2 Tbs worchester sauce
      1 tsp paprika
      1 tsp white pepper
      1/2 c water
      2 tsp onion powder
      1 tbs honey

  • Alicia

    As a student I rarely have free time to make anything, so I buy prepared and frozen and all the terrible things that you shouldn’t.  However I often choose the fat-free or low-fat dressings because some brands do not use high fructose corn syrup, as well as including extra-virgin olive oil only in the low-fat versions.

  • Laffin1

    Occasionally, I’ll make my own dressing but when I buy bottled, I go for the full fat dressings that have no added sugars.

  • Leanne

    I always thought I hated dressings, but now that I’ve started cooking for my family (and following the instructions by making homemade vinaigrettes), I’ve learned that I don’t dislike dressings– I dislike the store-bought, fat-reduced/free variety.  It really does make such a difference, and experimenting with different acids has been very tasty.

  • http://www.UrbanOrganicGardener.com Mike Lieberman

    My favorite go to dressing is minced garlic, olive oil, raw honey, lemon and sea salt. Hits all the flavors and mad good. Can add other seasonings as you see fit.

  • http://twitter.com/YogaPantsCoffee Barbara

    Fat free dressing is ridiculous!  Coconut milk, peanut butter, onion powder, cayenne pepper and a dab of cilantro and salt.  Real food, no preservatives…perfect!

  • Anonymous

    Really glad you are getting the word out about this! Poor American consumers are so mixed up and they buy such shit thinking they are doing the right thing. Also they are totally intimidated by actual cooking.

    Off topic but did anyone see Jamie Oliver asking little kids to identify vegetables? THEY COULD NOT IDENTIFY A POTATO – or anything else “real.”

  • J in VA

    Homemade mayo mixed in equal parts with good sour cream and seasoned with parsley, seasoned salt, garlic and onion powders–then dilute with a bit of milk.

    Viola!! homemade tasty “ranch”

  • acnarf

    Never liked bottled dressings, let alone Fat-Free.  I usually stick to basics E.V.Olive Oil & Balsamic or Lemon and if I want creamy I add avocado, delicious and natural. What ever happened to simple good food.

  • foodista!

    Salads should only be eaten raw and without any “dressing” as the Lord intended. Pouring fat over a salad undoes the value of veggies — turns them into nothing more than a fiber source as they slide through your dressing-greased gut. To say nothing of the terrible, terrible calories in the fat of the dressing — a heart attack lurking there! Anyone who “needs” to eat dressing on their salad is a hopeless dietetic imbecile. Too bad this blog expresses so few sensible points of nutrition and so much popularized nonsense.

    • Anonymous

      Oh, yes, FAT is BAD BAD BAD, fat is EEEEEEEEVIL.  Read Barbara Ehrenreich’s essay “Got Grease?”  You can find it at http://articles.latimes.com/2002/aug/11/opinion/op-ehrenreich11, if you’re willing to face a challenge to what Ehrenreich calls “the low-fat dogma”.

      Did you know that the entire nervous system, including the BRAIN, is made up primarily of fat?

    • Brian

      It’s true that many fats are bad, but it’s also true that there are some that are very beneficial for our health. To classify all fats as bad is the same as saying all carbs are bad. Most people need a nice balance of all the macronutrients to thrive. It’s all about the quality of the ingredients.

    • Lisa

      Umm. Well. Maybe if that fat drenched dressing is a commercial, sugar based one with trans fats. Is that what you mean?

    • DDDW

      You sound insane. Get a grip. Show me any research about olive oil and lemon juice hurting you on a salad. BTW God also made olives and their oil and is a very Holy item in his creation.

  • Marieliana973

    I was raised in a Country where all the ingredients were home made so I didn’t know what a dressing was until I came to U.S. I always make my dressing at home, Olive oil, mustard, honey, lime, garlic, vinegar, etc, whatever I have at home is what I use, my child won’t eat salad if it is served with store dressing, and in her own words those are gross! I am glad I am teaching her to eat as well as I can.

  • punkin2930

    Thank you for this piece of advice.  I tend to stay away from fat-free because I have learned manufacturers tend to add more sugar to the product to make it taste good.

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  • Lisa

    I’m over the fat phobia. You need some fats to absorb the fat soluble vitamins of your salad, anyway. Some nuts, avocado, coconut or olive oil, whatever strikes your fancy. I’ve used home made guacamole for dressing with some nuts and it’s yummy.

  • Mamasuza1958

    Great article. Ive made my own dressing for years but had to sweeten it because of the vinegar. Next time instead of using sugar, I’m going to try honey.

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  • http://youtu.be/Z9AsCquSl7k StanStarsky

    Great post…I usually use a combination of olive oil and balsamic vinegar with a dash of salt and cayenne pepper.  I had not thought of lemon juice so I will give that a try as well. 

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  • Stefanie Hsu

    Wow! Very informative. I’ve been pestering my family to stay away from fat-free, really, anything.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Fistukm Mayan Orgel

    Finally! A sensible article on this blog that actually looks at all the different aspects of what is being discussed (the good, the bad and the toxic), instead of just making a single point – which if you look at the whole picture, is actually invalid. Just when I was about to “unlike” you. :)

    • http://www.fooducate.com/ Fooducate

      Hey Mayan, thanks for the “compliment”.
      We make sure all our posts are sensible.
      You don’t need to agree with them, but please don’t offend.