Salads are one of the healthiest lunch ideas, right? Well, mostly right. While salads are a great source of antioxidant-rich veggies, essential micronutrients, and fiber, they can also be made to be nearly as unhealthy as a fast-food burger depending on which salad dressing you choose to drizzle on top. In fact, some of the worst restaurant salads can contain upwards of 2,000 calories and 30 grams of saturated fat—that's over 150% of your daily value! (Related: 25 Unhealthiest Restaurant Salads in America.) But don't be dissuaded into skipping your lunchtime salad just because of these few bad apples. Just make sure you know the right salad dressings to use.
Lauren Manaker, MS, RDN, of Nutrition Now Counseling and member of the Eat This, Not That! Medical Expert Board, tells us that she's a big proponent of any kind of food or meal that helps people add more veggies to their diets. "And using salad dressings can make eating these nutrient-packed foods exciting and enjoyable," she says.
"Unfortunately, some salad dressings can be loaded with sodium, added sugars (even high fructose corn syrup!), and artificial colors and flavors," says Manaker. (Read more: 20 Worst Salad Dressings That Should Never Be In Your Shopping Cart.)
So what salad dressing should you be using? Manaker says that the best salad dressing is one that you make yourself.
The best salad dressing to use is one that's homemade.
"While the word homemade may sound intimidating, whipping up a homemade salad dressing can ensure that your salad topping isn't loaded with any ingredients that you don't want in your body," says Manaker.
"A simple oil and vinegar combo can be utterly satisfying and the recipe can't get any simpler. Using extra virgin olive oil instead of an oil blend ensures that the body is getting a boost of antioxidants and healthy fats along with a rich taste that can't be replicated," says Manaker, adding that "Including herbs and spices can elevate this simple dressing even more."
If you're going store-bought, here's what you should know.
While the best salad dressing is as easy as drizzling some oil and vinegar on your bowl of greens, sometimes we'd just like to grab something that's premade—which is totally fine.
So when you're shopping for bottled dressings, there are some general guidelines to follow, like looking for dressings with shorter ingredient lists, minimizing the amount of sodium and added sugar in each bottle, and making sure it has a source of healthy fats. You heard us right—you want fat in your salad dressing!
"I tend to avoid any fat-free salad dressings. In most cases, when the fat is removed from the dressing, the flavor is compensated by adding more carbs, oftentimes in the form of added sugars. Plus, fat helps the body absorb certain nutrients. In other words, eating veggies with a boost of healthy fats allows the body to utilize certain nutrients more efficiently," says Manaker.
"If a pre-made salad dressing is a must, Primal Kitchen Italian Dressing is a great option. It is made with all-natural ingredients—like avocado oil, organic red wine vinegar, konjac root, and organic thyme—and tastes great both on veggies and as a marinade for chicken," says Manaker.
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