A salad is often regarded as the gold standard of a “healthy” meal. Whether you’re trying to lose weight or just improve your overall health, tossing together leafy greens and veggies is a great way to start. But what you dress your salad with can actually make or break the nutrition value of the meal—and impact your goals.
Most salad dressings you find in the grocery store are packed with added sodium, high amounts of preservatives, and sugar. Oftentimes, salads at a restaurant can be one of the unhealthiest items on the menu. For example, the Southwest Chile Lime Ranch Salad with Chicken from Panera Bread has 650 calories, 34g fat, and 1,270mg of sodium. Comparatively, the BBQ Chicken Flatbread sandwich only has 380 calories, 15g fat and 730mg of sodium. The good news is, more and more restaurants are labeling the nutrition facts on their items, which can help guide you to make the healthiest choices.
So how do you keep that salad “healthy”—and flavorful? Look at the serving size first, keep the sodium low, and try to avoid high-sugar dressings. Flavorful herbs and spices should be the focus. Don’t worry too much about the fat content—as long as the dressing consists of healthy oils, like olive oil, sunflower oil, and avocado oil. Try these tips when reading the ingredient label.
- Serving Size: 2 Tablespoons
- Sodium: less than 400 mg
- Sugar: less than 5g
The best option? You can easily make your own at home and store it in a bottle just like the store-bought kind. Here’s my recipe for a vinaigrette that’s especially great for summer:
Citrus Blood-orange Vinaigrette With Poppy Seeds
- 3 blood oranges, juiced (~1 cup)
- 1 1/2 Meyer lemons, juiced
- 1 Tbsp. orange zest
- 1 ¼ Tbsp. fresh thyme
- 1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
- 1 Tbsp. honey
- 5 garlic cloves, minced (or 1 1/2 Tbsp. finely minced shallots)
- Sea salt and pepper to taste
- 2 cup avocado oil or EVOO olive oil
- ½ Tbsp. poppy seeds
Don’t have time to make your own? Have no fear, we’ve done the research and found the healthiest dressings available at the store.
Jordan Mazur, M.S., R.D., is the coordinator of nutrition and team sports dietitian for the San Francisco 49ers.