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The Best of the Light Salad Dressings

Keep your salad luscious and low-fat

WebMD Feature

Keep your salad luscious and low-fat

Ahh, salads. Cool, colorful, crispy, and super-healthy ... sometimes.

The truth is that not all salads are created equal, nutritionally speaking. There are basically two nutrition issues with salads:

  • Are they packed with high-nutrition, low-calorie goodies?
  • Are they loaded down with fatty, higher-calorie dressings?

Obviously, you want the answer to the first question to be a resounding "YES!" and the answer to the second to be "No way!"

Start building your better salad with darker-colored greens, like spinach, romaine lettuce, and chicory, which tend to have the biggest dose of important nutrients and phytochemicals. You can also tip the nutrition scales by adding other nutrient-rich fruits and veggies to your salad (kidney beans, carrots, broccoli, tomatoes, etc.).

Once you've put together a nutrient-rich salad, the trick is not to make it a high-fat one by adding fatty extras like croutons and cheese, or by drenching it with high-fat dressing. If you follow that rule, eating plenty of salads not only adds nutrition but helps to keep your diet ­ and you -- low in fat.

"The bottom line is that low-fat diets that are loaded with vegetables and fruits and other high-fiber, low-calorie foods may indeed help keep the pounds off," says Bonnie Liebman, MS, nutritionist for the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

Liebman puts regular salad dressing in the same category as other fat-filled "extras" like mayonnaise, cream cheese and butter. If you aren't convinced, consider these numbers:

  • Just 2 tablespoons of Girard's regular Caesar dressing has 150 calories and 15 grams of fat.
  • Just 2 tablespoons of Wishbone Chunky Blue Cheese has 160 calories and 17 grams of fat.
  • Just 2 tablespoons of Hidden Valley Ranch contains has 140 calories and 14 grams of fat.

So what kind of dressing should you use? According to Jennifer Anderson, managing editor of the Allrecipes.com recipe website, there are two basic types of salad dressings: creamy and vinaigrette.

"The creamy style has a base of sour cream, mayonnaise, buttermilk, heavy cream, yogurt, or some combination of ingredients, while vinaigrettes have a base of oil and vinegar," says Anderson.

Although a variety of dressings is always welcome, oil-and-vinegar based dressings, for the most part, have the nutritional advantage. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2003 found that women who used oil-and-vinegar salad dressings frequently (at least five times a week) had a 50% lower risk of fatal coronary artery disease than those who rarely ate this type of dressing. This link persisted even after the researchers adjusted for heart disease risk factors and consumption of vegetables.

The good news is that whichever type of dressing you prefer, you can find good-tasting, lower-calorie versions in every supermarket. Here are six tasty, store-bought dressings we tested, all with 8 grams or less of fat per 2 tablespoons:

  • Hidden Valley Ranch Light
  • Ken's Steakhouse Lite Raspberry
  • Wishbone Red Wine
  • Wishbone Raspberry Hazelnut Vinaigrette
  • Newman's Own Lighten Up! Light Balsamic Vinaigrette
  • Newman's Own Lighten Up! Lowfat Sesame Ginger

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