A noble, giant salad filled with greens, grilled protein and avocado slices can turn into the equivalent of a burger and fries if it’s drenched in 600-plus calories of dressing that carries with it a day’s worth of sodium and two days’ worth of added sugar.
A standard serving of dressing is pretty tiny: two tablespoons, or about 1 ounce. Many restaurants serve three to four times this amount, and many of us pour it on at home without measuring at all.
Creamy dressings like ranch and Caesar get tagged as the nutritional bombs, but many of the seemingly lighter vinaigrettes also are fully loaded.
Brianna’s Home Style Blush Wine Vinaigrette Dressing, for example, looks innocent, but 420 mg sodium and 14 grams of added sugar are squeezed into every 1-ounce serving.
And olive-oil based vinaigrettes can easily have 200 calories per 1-ounce serving. Yes, they’re good-for-you calories from olive oil, but a generous pour can add 600-plus calories.
Build a better-for-you salad that avoids the calorie bombshell
Seven steps to build a better, more healthful salad, plus a simple recipe for a locally-sourced blueberry vinaigrette.
Our best bet is to make our own lightened-up vinaigrettes by using ingredients that are naturally low in calories, sugars and salt, such as vinegars, citrus juices, fruit purees, herbs and spices. Try reduced-fat (not fat-free) Greek yogurt in place of mayo or sour cream for rich and creamy dressings.
For storebought options, look for dressings with ingredients that you recognize and could have in your own kitchen. I generally look for dressings with no more than 100 mg sodium per serving and as close to zero sugar as possible. Look closely at the ingredient list to avoid addedsugars.
I’m less cautious about calories, especially if one is happy with moderate pours, but I still typically look for less than 100 to 150 calories per 1-ounce serving. If you want a liberal pour and are watching calories, then cut that to about 40 or 60 calories per serving.
Dip or toss?
There are two main options for salad dressing volume control:
· Option A: Dressing on the side and dip just the edges of salad for flavor.
· Option B: Toss a serving of dressing with salad in a mixing bowl so that it’s evenly coated.
The first often is the best option in restaurants. I prefer the second option at home because I feel like I get more of the flavor throughout the salad without adding more dressing.
When it comes to bottled dressings, here’s a rundown of my current favorites on shelves. These are fantastic additions to any salad, and add flavor to lettuce wraps, Greek yogurt chicken salad and grilled or roasted lean meats, fish and vegetables.
Hanley’s Dressings & Vinaigrettes. I like the entire line of Hanley’s salad dressings and vinaigrettes because they’re made with clean, simple ingredients we would all have in our kitchen, and – added bonus – they’re local. Their Strawberry Vinaigrette is always a crowd-pleaser, with just 30 calories, 100 mg sodium and 5 grams carbs (1 gram sugar) per serving – and strawberries are the first ingredient. Available at a range of stores from Walmart to Robert Fresh Market to Whole Foods.
Trader Joe’s Almond Butter Turmeric Salad Dressing. It’s so delicious, you might be tempted to sip it. Almond butter is the first ingredient after water, followed by lemon juice, ginger puree, garlic and turmeric. It has just 60 calories, 90 mg sodium and 4 grams carbs (2 grams sugar) per serving. Even if you’re not a Trader Joe’s shopper, it’s worth stopping in for this dressing.
Whole Foods Market Vegan Caesar Dressing. Lemon juice, mustard and horseradish give the flavor and thick texture that we expect from a Caesar dressing, but this one also happens to be vegan and naturally gluten-free. It has just 15 calories, 20 mg sodium and 0 sugar per serving (compared to 190 calories and 300-plus mg sodium per serving of traditional Caesar dressing). Look for it in the produce section of Whole Foods, and if you don’t see it, you can always ask the produce manager to carry it.