The Best of the Light Salad Dressings

Keep your salad luscious and low-fat

From the WebMD Archives

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.

Continued

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

But the list certainly doesn't end there. In the table below, you'll find dozens more bottled dressings that meet our "light" criteria of 8 grams or less of fat per serving, along with calorie counts (dressings with more sweeteners are higher in calories) and sodium tally (look for those with 300 mg or less). We've also listed the type of oil used to make the dressing. If you choose types with canola or olive oil, you'll be getting the healthier monounsaturated fat, and, in the case of canola oil, good-for-you omega-3 fatty acids as well.

Of course, choosing the right salad dressing is only half of the battle. It's just as important to pay attention to the amount of dressing you add. The serving size on the label of your salad dressing may say 2 tablespoons, but lots of people use twice that amount. (If you're eating out and order your dressing on the side, use the small spoon and measure about three spoonfuls over your salad. This will get you about 1 1/2 tablespoons of dressing.)

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Salad Dressing
Calories
Fat (g)
Sodium
Type of oil
Light Creamy Dressings
Hidden Valley Ranch
*Ranch Light
80
7
1
280
canola and/or soybean
Wishbone
Ranch Up! Light
90
7
1
300
soybean
Just 2 Good Ranch
40
2
0
290
soybean
Just 2 Good Blue cheese
45
2
0.5
310
soybean
Just 2 Good Thousand Island
50
2
0
290
soybean
Kraft
Thousand Island
80
6
1
330
soybean
Light Done Right Golden Caesar
70
6
1
350
soy and/or canola
Light Done Right Ranch
70
4.5
0.5
370
soybean
Light Done Right Thousand Island
60
2
0
340
soybean
Girard's
Light Champagne
60
5
0.5
500
soybean
Caesar Light
90
8
1.5
360
soybean
Newman's Own Lighten Up!
*Lowfat Sesame Ginger
35
1.5
0
390
sesame, canola
Light Honey Mustard
70
4
0.5
290
soybean and/or canola
Light Caesar
70
6
1
520
soy and/or canola
Tresso
Sesame Miso (.67 oz)
35
2
0
130
sesame and canola
Light Vinaigrette Dressings
Bernstein's Light Fantastic
Restaurant Ranch
45
2
0
240
canola
Roasted Garlic Balsamic
45
3.5
0
320
canola
Oriental
60
1.5
0
310
sesame, canola
Briannas
Blush Wine Vinaigrette
100
6
0
370
canola
Ken's Steakhouse
*Lite Raspberry Walnut Vinaigrette
80
6
0
120
canola
Lite Olive Oil Vinaigrette
60
6
1
240
olive oil, soy and/or canola
Kraft
Special Collections Roasted Red Pepper Italian with Parmesan
35
2
0
340
soybean
Special Collections Classic Italian
50
4
0
420
soybean and/or canola
House Italian
70
6
1
310
soy and/or canola
Zesty Italian
80
8
1
310
soy and/or canola
Light Done Right House Italian
40
3
0.5
270
soy & olive
Light Done Right Zesty Italian
25
1.5
0
470
soy & olive
Newman's Own Lighten Up!
*Light Balsamic Vinaigrette
45
4
0.5
470
canola and/or soybean
Light Raspberry & Walnut
70
5
0.5
120
soybean and/or canola
Wishbone
* Red Wine Vinaigrette Light
80
5
1
240
soybean
Balsamic Vinaigrette
60
5
0.5
280
soybean
Russian
110
6
1
360
soybean (corn syrup is the first ingredient)
Caesar with Aged Romano
60
5
1
560
soybean
*Raspberry Hazelnut Vinaigrette
80
5
0.5
260
soy and olive
Just 2 Good
Sweet 'n Spicy French
50
2
0
250
soybean
Italian
35
2
0
490
soybean
Safeway Select
Tuscan Style Basil & Herb
80
7
1
430
soybean
Fat Free Dressings
Ken's Steakhouse
Raspberry Pecan
50
0
0
280
(high-fructose corn syrup is a main ingredient)
Safeway Select Enlighten
Honey Mustard
40
0
0
65
Herb & Balsamic Vinaigrette
35
0
0
270

*Tested and recommended.

Make Your Own Dressings

If you've got a few extra minutes, dressings you make yourself can be even more delicious than the store-bought kind, and you have total control over the ingredients. Here are recipes for two light salad dressings you probably won't see on the supermarket shelf.

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Japanese Restaurant Salad Dressing

Journal as: 1 teaspoon oil

1/4 cup chopped onion

2 tablespoons canola oil or peanut oil

2 1/2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar

2 tablespoons water

1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger root

2 tablespoons minced celery

1 tablespoon ketchup

2 teaspoon light soy sauce

2 teaspoons light corn syrup or honey

2 teaspoons lemon juice

1/2 teaspoons minced garlic

1/8 teaspoon salt (add more to taste if desired)

1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper

  • Add all the ingredients to a small food processor or blender. Pulse on high speed for about 30 seconds, or until well-pureed.
  • Pour into serving container, cover, and refrigerate until needed.

Yield: 14 tablespoons (7 servings)

Per 2-tablespoon serving: 48 calories, 0.3 g protein, 3.1 g carbohydrate, 4 g fat, 0.3 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 0.2 g fiber, 79 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 73%.

Roasted Red Pepper Vinaigrette

Journal as: 1 teaspoon oil

3/4 cup bottled roasted red pepper pieces, drained

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons fat-free sour cream

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1 tablespoons light mayonnaise

1 tablespoon shredded Parmesan cheese

1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic

1/2 teaspoon dried basil

Salt and pepper to taste

  • Add all ingredients to a small food processor or blender. Pulse about 20 seconds, until mixture is mostly smooth and ingredients are well-blended.
  • Pour into serving container, cover, and refrigerate until needed.

Yield: 1 1/4 cup (10 2-tablespoon servings)

Per 2 tablespoons: 36 calories, 0.4 g protein, 1.6 g carbohydrate, 3.2 g fat, 0.5 g saturated fat, <1 mg cholesterol, 0.2 g fiber, 16 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 79%.

WebMD Feature

Sources

SOURCES: American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, September 2003. Bonnie Liebman, MS, nutritionist, Center for Science in the Public Interest. Jennifer Anderson, managing editor, Allrecipes.com.

© 2005 WebMD, Inc. All rights reserved.

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