Is Your Salad Dressing Killing Your Weight Loss?

Is Your Favorite Salad Dressing Unhealthy?

You may be wondering why your weight loss plan isn’t working even though you’ve made salads a mainstay in your diet. Certain kinds of saboteurs are easy to recognize. Loads of meats and cheeses, too many dried fruits or candied nuts, salads laden with sour cream or creamy, rich dressings can obviously derail weight loss. But what if you’re watching what goes into your salad, using “light,” “low-fat” or “fat-free” dressings and the weight still won’t come off? It’s the kind of fat in your salad dressing that matters.

Many commercial salad dressings are made with processed oils that sabotage your healthy intentions in many ways. In fact, many of these oils are actually rancid fats. Manufacturers use high heat and high pressure to create processed and refined oils. This denatures fat molecules in ways that destroy their nutrient value and leads to chronic inflammation in the body. The myriad of chemicals and preservatives found in many bottled dressings are used to camouflage the flavor and smell of these hydrogenated fats and trans fats which have been linked to countless health conditions. You can read more about this process in my article “Are You Eating Rancid Oils?”


You Want Healthy Fats in Your Salad

Have you been going with a squirt of lemon juice and skipping the oils altogether? Avoiding meats, cheeses and nuts? Using low-fat or fat-free dressings? These aren’t good ideas either.

Your body can’t absorb and utilize many vitamins and nutrients found in plant foods without a fat accompaniment.  As traditional foodist Dr. Cate Shanahan explains on Dr., vitamins A, E and K are fat-soluble vitamins: they only dissolve in the presence of fat. Essential nutrients choline, lecithin and phospholipids are also fat-soluble.

We can’t make use of vitamin A directly. Our bodies utilize it through carotenoids, the compounds that give carrots and red bell peppers their orange-red color and kale and spinach their vibrant green. A 2012 Purdue University study has found that monounsaturated fats, such as those found in cold-pressed olive oil and nuts are most effective at helping our bodies to absorb carotenoids. Saturated fats also contribute to carotenoid absorption while polyunsaturated fats are the least effective. Most vegetable oils in bottled dressings are polyunsaturated fats.

What about “Fat-Free” dressings? Take a look at the ingredient label. To make up for the flavor lost in cutting fat, manufacturers add high-fructose corn syrup, other sweeteners and much more salt. Ingredients are listed in order of their prevalence. What you’ll often find is that water makes up most of your bottled dressing and corn syrup takes a close second. Even if olive oil is an ingredient, it’s most likely of poor quality and quantity. The constellations of chemicals and preservatives on salad dressing labels is also a turn off.


Healthy Choices

Saturated fats are not to be feared. The Mediterranean Diet, for instance, is made up of about 70 percent saturated fats. Don’t be afraid to add raw cheese, nuts and other proteins to your salad but do so with moderation. Stay away from dried fruit because it’s concentrated in terms of sugar. Avocadoes and olives can also add healthy fats and flavors to your salads. Use cold-pressed and minimally refined olive oil, grapeseed oil or nut oils to dress your salad.

Avoid using low-fat dressings, and take your dressing on the side if you’re eating out. Then, rather than pouring it over your salad, try dipping the tines of your fork in the dressing before each bite.

Your best bet is to make your own dressing. It’s simple, healthy and fun. Try different oils and vinegars, different spices and blends to discover new favorites. Missing creamy dressings? Use avocado, tahini or amasai for your base.

Sample the many vinegars on the market today to vary your flavors. Rodale Institute’s Amy Ahlberg reports that vinegar can help reduce carbohydrate absorption, improving your blood sugar levels and helping you to feel more full and satisfied. Citric fruits can also add unique flavors to your salads.

You can find many salad dressing recipes on this website and in my book, The Real Food Diet Cookbook.


Lessons Learned:

  • Don’t forget the good fat. You need it to digest nutrients in your salad.
  • Don’t use “low-fat” or “fat-free” dressings as they’re laden with sodium, sugars and preservatives.
  • Read labels on store-bought salad dressings.
  • Dress your salad with your own healthy creations.
  • When dining out, ask for your dressing on the side.


Sources: Cate Shanahan, MD, “Salad Dressing: The Silent Killer,” Dr., June 1, 2008,

Brian Wallheimer, “Study: No-Fat, Low-Fat Dressings Don’t Get Most Nutrients out of Salads,” Purdue University News Service, June 19, 2012, 

Amy Ahlberg, “5 Quick Recipes for Tasty, Homemade Salad Dressing,” Rodale Institute, 2013, 

Josh Axe

Dr. Josh Axe is on a mission to provide you and your family with the highest quality nutrition tips and healthy recipes in the world...Sign up to get VIP access to his eBooks and valuable weekly health tips for FREE!

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