Salad dressings
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Salad dressings

Eating salads is great but some salads are better than others. Beside the actual salad ingredients, salad dressings make a huge difference and can become an issue for people with certain health issues.

We have all heard that a salad in a fast food restaurant is “worse for you” than a burger. These “claims” are made on the basis of energy (kilojoules/kilocalories) and/or fat content alone, without taking into account actual nutrient content. To be clear, a “salad” made with pasta, bacon and mayonnaise is not great for you, but a vegetable salad that is high in fat and energy coming from extra virgin olive oil, olives and/or avocado is probably very healthy.

Commercial salad dressings

Commercial salad dressings come in two major categories: regular and 99% fat-free. All of them contain some type of vegetable oil, most of them contain sugar, most of them contain preservatives, colours and/or flavours. Below are the ingredients lists for sample commercial dressings.

  • Balsamic Dressing: Water, sunflower oil, balsamic vinegar, sugar, lemon juice concentrate (food acid (330), sulphites), white vinegar, salt, vegetable gums (407, 410, 415, 440), garlic (food acid (330)), food acid (332), red capsicum, parsley
  • Balsamic Dressing: Water, vegetable oil (soybean and or canola oil), balsamic vinegar, sugar, extra virgin olive oil, garlic puree, salt, distilled vinegar, pepper, herbs (oregano, basil, marjoram, chives, parsley), vegetable gum (xanthan), red bell pepper, onion puree, paprika extract
  • Caesar Dressing: Water, sunflower oil (antioxidant (320)), white vinegar, sugar, Parmesan cheese, salt, free range whole egg, maize thickener (1412), lemon juice concentrate (food acid (330), preservative (223) (sulphites)), Worcestershire sauce (colour (150c)), garlic, vegetable gum (415 from soy), flavour (milk), onion, black pepper
  • Caesar Dressing: Vegetable oil (soybean and/or canola oil), water, egg yolk, salt, Worcestershire sauce (distilled vinegar, molasses, corn syrup, water, salt, colour (caramel IV), garlic powder, spices, anchovies, tamarind and natural flavour), Parmesan cheese, lemon juice concentrate, distilled vinegar, mustard flour, garlic powder, pepper, minced garlic, onion powder, vegetable gum (xanthan), oregano
  • Caesar Dressing: Filtered water, canola oil (cold pressed), Parmesan cheese powder, crushed mustard seeds, sugar, egg yolk powder, food acids (citric, acetic), anchovy powder, natural thickeners (vegetable gums), cracked black pepper, roasted garlic granules, salt, spices, potassium sorbate (202)
  • Coleslaw Dressing: Water, sunflower oil (antioxidant (320)), sugar, white vinegar, free range whole egg, salt, maize thickener (1442), mustard flour, vegetable gum (415 from soy), flavour, natural colour (161b)
  • Coleslaw Dressing: Sunflower oil (contains antioxidants (320)), sugar, water, vinegar, salt, mustard, thickener (1442) (from maize), egg yolk powder, whey powder, vegetable gum (xanthan gum), spices, natural flavour, natural colours (carotene, riboflavin)
  • Coleslaw Dressing: Water, sugar, white vinegar, maize maltodextrin, maize thickener (1412), salt, vegetable gums (415, 460, 466), mustard flour, sunflower oil (antioxidant (320)), colours (161b, 171)
  • French Dressing: Water, sunflower oil (antioxidant (320)), sugar, white vinegar, food acids (330, 332), salt, vegetable gums (407, 410, 415, 440), garlic (food acid (330)), parsley, colours (paprika extract, carrot extract)
  • French Dressing, 99% fat-free: Water, vinegar, sugar, salt, acidity regulators (citric acid, sodium citrate), garlic, vegetable gum (xanthan gum), parsley, natural colour (riboflavin)
  • French Dressing, 99% fat-free: Water, sugar, white vinegar, food acids (330, 332), salt, vegetable gums (407, 410, 415, 440), garlic (food acid (citric)), parsley, colour
  • Greek Dressing: Water, sunflower oil (antioxidant (320)), white vinegar, sugar, lemon juice concentrate (food acid (330), preservative (223 sulphites)), salt, garlic (food acid (330)), vegetable gums (407, 410, 415, 440), oregano, food acid (332), black pepper, colour (paprika extract)
  • Greek Dressing: Canola oil, lemon juice, water, extra virgin olive oil, salt, garlic, herbs & spices, vegetable gum (xanthan), onion powder, flavour, spice extract
  • Honey Mustard Dressing: Water, white vinegar, sugar, extra virgin olive oil, sunflower oil (antioxidant (320)), honey, Dijon mustard (food acid (acetic), colour (caramel III), salt, wholegrain mustard (food acid (acetic)), food acid (332), vegetable gum (415)
  • Honey Mustard Dressing: Water, olive oil, sunflower oil (antioxidant (320)) white vinegar, honey, Dijon mustard (water, mustard, vinegar, sugar, salt, food acid (260), spices), sugar, free range whole egg, wholegrain mustard, salt, maize thickener (1442), roasted garlic (food acid (330)), buttermilk powder, onion, vegetable gum (415 from soy), food acid (330), black pepper, natural colour (carrot extract), garlic
  • Italian Dressing: Water, sunflower oil (antioxidant (320)), sugar, white vinegar, free range whole egg, salt, garlic, vegetable gum (415 from soy), chipotle chilli, paprika, parsley, natural flavour, cumin, natural colour (160c), black pepper, food acid (330)
  • Italian Dressing, 99% fat-free: Water, vinegar, sugar, salt, lemon juice concentrate, garlic, acid regulator (citric acid), vegetable gum (xanthan gum), capsicum, oregano, parsley, natural flavouring, natural colour (annatto)
  • Italian Balsamic Dressing, 99% fat-free: Water, balsamic vinegar (colour (150d), sulphites), sugar, lemon juice concentrate (food acid (330), preservative (223) sulphites)), white vinegar, salt, garlic (food acid (330)), food acid (332), vegetable gums (407, 410, 415, 440), red capsicum, parsley
  • Italian Balsamic Dressing, 99% fat-free: Water, sugar, balsamic vinegar (wine vinegar, grape must), vinegar, salt, lemon juice concentrate, natural colour (caramel I), capsicum, garlic, vegetable gum (xanthan gum), parsley
  • Ranch Dressing: Water, sunflower oil (antioxidant (320)), white vinegar, sugar, salt, free range whole egg, maize thickener (1412), maize maltodextrin, garlic, vegetable gum (415 from soy), parsley, wheaten cornflour, black pepper, natural colour (carrot extract)
  • Ranch Dressing: Water, sunflower oil (contains antioxidant (320)), sugar, vinegar, salt, buttermilk powder, thickener (1442) (from maize), garlic, egg yolk powder, lemon juice concentrate, onion, food acid (citric acid), vegetable gum (xanthan gum), mustard, parsley, preservative (200)
  • Ranch Dressing: Vegetable oil (soybean and or canola oil), water, buttermilk powder, distilled vinegar, salt, egg yolk, garlic powder, sugar, lemon juice concentrate, onion powder, acidity regulator: (lactic acid), natural flavour, vegetable gum (xanthan), pepper, parsley
  • Thousand Island Dressing: Water, sugar, sunflower oil (antioxidant (320)), white vinegar, gherkin mix (cucumber, sugar, salt, food acid (260), vegetable gum (415) preservative (223)), tomato paste, salt, free range whole egg, maize thickener (1412), spices, food acid (330), vegetable gum (415 from soy), paprika

Homemade salad dressings

Compare the ingredients lists above with the following, taken from Samin Nosrat’s excellent book Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat.

  • Balsamic Vinaigrette: Extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, red wine vinegar, shallot, salt and pepper
  • Caesar Dressing: Mayonnaise, Parmesan cheese, lemon juice, anchovies, white wine vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, garlic, salt and pepper
  • Green Goddess Dressing: Avocado, mayonnaise, lemon juice, parsley, coriander, chives, red wine vinegar, anchovies, chervil, tarragon, garlic, salt
  • Honey Mustard Vinaigrette: Extra virgin olive oil, red wine vinegar, Dijon mustard, honey, salt and pepper
  • Lemon Vinaigrette: Extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice, white wine vinegar, lemon zest, garlic, salt and pepper
  • Lime Vinaigrette: Extra virgin olive oil, lime juice, garlic, salt
  • Red Wine Vinaigrette: Extra virgin olive oil, red wine vinegar, shallot, salt and pepper
  • Tahini Dressing: Tahini, lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil, water, garlic, cumin, cayenne pepper, salt

Obviously, the vinegar, mustard and Worcestershire sauce used in the homemade salad dressing versions will contain similar ingredients to those in commercial dressings. However, by using extra virgin olive oil, homemade mayonnaise, freshly squeezed citrus juice, fresh garlic and herbs, you can:

  • minimise intake of preservatives, flavours and colours, which can have detrimental effects in people who are sensitive to them
  • minimise added sugar intake
  • minimise intake of vegetable oils, which may increase inflammation
  • lower sodium intake, important for people with high blood pressure

Nutrients in salad dressings

The following tables show a nutrient comparison between the aforementioned commercial and homemade salad dressings, based on a serve size of 20ml.

Commercial

Dressing Average energy (kJ) per serve Average fat, total (g) per serve Average saturated fat (g) per serve Average carbohydrate, total (g) per serve Average sugars (g) per serve Average sodium (g) per serve
Balsamic Dressing 237.5 5.3 0.8 2.3 2.1 185.0
Caesar Dressing 285.3 7.1 1.0 1.5 1.1 119.1
Coleslaw Dressing 236.7 4.1 0.7 4.8 4.2 176.3
French Dressing 190.0 3.6 0.4 2.8 2.6 210.0
French Dressing, 99% fat-free 64.0 0.2 0.2 3.4 3.2 194.5
Greek Dressing 308.5 7.6 0.7 1.2 1.0 161.5
Honey Mustard Dressing 270.0 5.7 0.8 3.0 2.7 205.0
Italian Balsamic Dressing, 99% fat-free 58.0 0.2 0.2 3.2 3.0 189.5
Italian Dressing 240.0 5.1 0.6 2.5 2.4 185.0
Italian Dressing, 99% fat-free 52.0 0.2 0.2 3.0 2.9 175.0
Ranch Dressing 286.0 6.6 1.1 2.1 2.1 159.3
Thousand Island Dressing 220.0 3.4 0.4 4.9 4.3 190.0

Homemade

Dressing Energy (kJ) per serve Fat, total (g) per serve Saturated fat (g) per serve Carbohydrate, total (g) per serve Sugars (g) per serve Sodium (g) per serve
Balsamic Vinaigrette 749.4 19.6 3.0 0.9 0.9 75.7
Caesar Dressing 413.6 10.0 2.0 0.2 0.1 128.2
Green Goddess Dressing 229.3 5.8 0.7 0.1 0.1 38.7
Honey Mustard Vinaigrette 596.2 15.3 2.4 1.4 1.3 93.6
Lemon Vinaigrette 132.7 14.7 2.3 0.2 0.1 89.1
Lime Vinaigrette 554.6 14.7 2.3 0.1 0.1 89.1
Red Wine Vinaigrette 548.9 14.7 2.3 0.0 0.0 74.4
Tahini Dressing 664.0 15.5 2.0 0.4 0.2 105.1

Summary and recommendations

Commercial salad dressings can be high in energy, fat, sugar and sodium. In addition, they often times contain ingredients such as preservatives, flavours and colours that may cause health issues in some people. While homemade dressings can also be high in energy and fat, they are likely to be healthier for people with blood sugar, blood pressure or food intolerance issues.

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