This evidence-based content is written by a registered dietitian nutritionist. Scientific references are from trusted sources.
When you’re trying to create a healthy salad, the healthiest salad dressing will be the most important part of the salad.
Salads are popular because they are pretty much an “anything goes” food. This means you can add many types of food and toppings to your salad without too much judgement.
In fact, it’ll probably still taste pretty good! This versatility lets us eat salads often and pack a different taste and nutrition profile each time.
Fruits, vegetables, nut, and seeds are toppings that give a salad the sweet, salty, crunchy, or whatever salad “vibe” you are feeling that day.
But, in my opinion, a good salad is never complete without dressing. Your salad dressing choice can easily make your salad more nutritious or a healthy eating flop.
What Qualifies for a Healthy Salad Dressing?
Here are the criteria to qualify to be the healthiest dressing for salads:
- Less than 120 calories per serving – Getting the majority of the calories from other salad toppings should be the goal as they will provide more fiber, protein, vitamins, and minerals.
- Saturated (“bad”) fat amount less than 3 g per serving – Diets high in saturated fat can lead to high cholesterol, which is no good for a healthy heart.
- Sugar content less than 5 g per serving – Too much sugar in a meal spikes your blood sugar and will have you hungry again sooner.
- Sodium content of less than 220 mg per serving – Pro tip: If you can easily pronounce most of the ingredients, it’s a sign there is not much preservatives to jack up the sodium level.
Let’s take a look at four of the healthiest dressings for salads right now:
Low Sodium Vinaigrette Dressing
The slightly sweet and tart taste is everyone’s initial attraction to this dressing, but studies have found the main ingredient, balsamic vinegar, to contribute to lowering cholesterol, improving skin complexion, and weight loss.
With balsamic vinegar, canola oil, stoneground mustard, and a small amount of other ingredients, Annie’s Organic Balsamic Vinaigrette is created and is a top healthy salad dressing.
Annie’s Organic Balsamic Vinaigrette
Nutrition label enthusiasts will appreciate there only being 6 total ingredients in the making of this dressing, which means less sodium-filled preservatives.
In addition, it is low in saturated fat, sugar, and sodium. With total fat of 10 g (or 13% daily value (DV)), most of the fat comes from unsaturated “good” fat, which is shown to have numerous heart health benefits.
Here’s a look at the nutrition profile per 2 Tbsp of dressing:
- 100 calories
- Total Fat 10 g (Saturated Fat 1 g, Trans Fat 0 g)
- Sodium 60 mg
- Total Carbohydrate 2 g (Sugars 1 g, Fiber 0 g)
- Protein 0 g
Low Calorie Vinaigrette Salad Dressing
Many of us love Italian dressings for the zesty Italian flavors that are great for not only salad, but for sandwiches and marinade as well.
But, some Italian dressings are not as healthy as others. When comparing Bolthouse Farms Italian Vinaigrette to the very popular Olive Garden Italian dressing, we notice some big differences.
First off, the sodium amount in Olive Garden’s is nearly triple the amount of Bolthouse Farms. Calories and total fat are also significantly more with the Olive Garden dressing.
While Olive Garden Italian dressing is not the unhealthiest dressing you’ll find at a favorite restaurant, sticking with Bolthouse Farms at home for use more often would be the healthier dressing choice.
Bolthouse Farms Italian Vinaigrette
Here’s a look at the nutrition profile for Bolthouse Farm’s Italian Vinaigrette (per 2 Tbsp):
- 25 calories
- Total fat 1.5 g (Saturated fat 0 g, Trans fat 0 g)
- Sodium 140 mg
- Total Carbohydrate 3 g (Sugars 2 g, Fiber 0 g)
- Protein 0 g
Creamy & Healthy Salad Dressing
In many American households, 1,000 island dressing is a favorite. It’s great with salads, sandwiches, and burgers as it is usually made with both mayonnaise and ketchup.
Cindy’s Kitchen Creamy Yogurt 1,000 Island Dressing
Cindy’s Kitchen Creamy Yogurt 1,000 Island is one that we can feel better about eating though.
With nonfat yogurt being the main ingredient, you can still expect the creaminess we love about 1,000 island dressing. In addition, it’s also flavored with relish and gives us a “kick” with a bit of hot sauce.
When compared to standard 1,000 island dressings, Cindy’s Kitchen has around half the calories, fat, and saturated fat. Also, it has a significant less amount of sodium and added preservatives.
Here’s a look at Cindy’s Kitchen Creamy Yogurt 1,000 Island Dressing:
- 70 calories
- Total fat 5.5 g (Saturated fat 1 g, Trans Fat 0 g)
- Sodium 180 mg
- Total Carbohydrate 4 g (Sugars 3 g, Fibers < 1 g)
- Protein 1 g
Create Your Own Healthy Salad Dressing
Let’s be honest, creating your own healthy salad dressing will not only be healthy but can be fun. Plus, it’s easy – you mix a healthy base(s) then add herbs and spices you like for flavor and VOILA, you got a salad dressing!
Here’s a couple tips to consider when making your dressing:
- A healthy base would be a mix of a vegetable oil (olive, avocado, and canola oils are popular) and vinegar (consider white wine, red wine, or apple cider), or if you prefer a creamy base, try using Greek yogurt instead.
- As you flavor your dressing with herbs and spices, taste as you go to make sure you like it.
- Once finished, store in a glass jar and cover tightly before putting in the fridge.
Bottom Line for The Healthiest Salad Dressing
Choosing a salad dressing should only enhance the flavor of what is already in your salad, not be the reason why you’re eating it.
Insider tip: A healthy salad dressing can be ‘unhealthy’ if you overdo it and drench your salad in dressing.
The limitless variety of toppings you can mix-in is the best part of a salad. In fact, this is what provides the most nutrition.
So, on top of a good healthy dressing, don’t forget to include a healthy protein, nuts, seeds, fruits, and/or vegetables!