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?
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:
WATER, VINEGAR, HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP, CORN SYRUP, SALT, CONTAINS LESS THAN 2% OFPARMESAN CHEESE* (PART-SKIM MILK, CHEESE CULTURE, SALT, ENZYMES), GARLIC, ONION JUICE, WHEY, PHOSPHORIC ACID, XANTHAN GUM, POTASSIUM SORBATE AND CALCIUM DISODIUM EDTA AS PRESERVATIVES, YEAST EXTRACT, SPICE, RED BELL PEPPERS*, LEMON JUICE CONCENTRATE, GARLIC*, BUTTERMILK*, CARAMEL COLOR, SODIUM PHOSPHATE, ENZYMES, OLEORESIN PAPRIKA. *DRIED.
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.