For Best Results, Don't Eat Your Salad with a Fat-Free Dressing

Fat-free dressings make it more difficult for an important class of nutrients to make their way into your bloodstream.

The Doctor Will See You Now
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One reason people eat vegetable salads is because they are low in calories. Another reason is to reap the health-protecting benefits of the nutrients and phytochemicals found in those vegetables. Well, if you are not eating the right type of salad dressing, you may be cheating yourself out of some of that good nutrition.

Researchers at Purdue University fed 29 people salads that were topped with salad dressing made from three different types of fat: butter, a saturated fat; canola oil, a monounsaturated fat; or corn oil, a polyunsaturated fat. The amount of fat in the dressing was either three, eight, or 20 grams.

In order to get more from eating fruits and vegetables, they need to be paired correctly with fat-based dressings. While a salad with fat-free dressing is lower in calories, the absence of fat causes the loss of some of the benefits of eating vegetables.

The subjects' blood levels of fat-soluble carotenoids were then tested, and the researchers found that dressings made from monounsaturated fat -rich dressings required the lowest amount of fat to get the most absorption of carotenoids. It took greater amounts of saturated and polyunsaturated fat salad dressings to get the same benefit.

Mario Ferruzzi, the lead author of the study and an associate professor of food science at Purdue, said that in order to get more from eating fruits and vegetables, they need to be paired correctly with fat-based dressings. While a salad with fat-free dressing is lower in calories, the absence of fat causes the loss of some of the benefits of eating vegetables.

Researchers also found that some fats are dose dependent. Soybean oil, a polyunsaturated fat, was the most dependent on dose, i.e., the more dressing on the salad, the more carotenoids the subjects absorbed. Butter, a saturated fat, was also dose-dependent but to a lesser degree.

Dressing made with monounsaturated fat, like canola and olive oil, promoted nearly as much absorption of carotenoids at three grams of fat as it did at 20 grams of fat, so these may be the best dressings for people wanting both a low fat dressing and the benefit of health-promoting carotenoids from their salads.

Carotenoids are phytochemicals found in plant foods. They include such compounds as lutein, beta-carotene, and zeaxanthin. Carotenoids give plant foods their color and act as antioxidants in the human body. The body produces free radicals which are harmful compounds during normal metabolism as well as when infection is present. The harmful effect of free radicals is considered a major cause of cancer, cardiovascular disease, immune-system dysfunction, and macular degeneration. The antioxidant properties of phytochemicals stop free radicals from damaging the body. Carotenoids seem to be one of the more important types of phytochemicals

So if you're looking for a reason to quit buying those less-than-tasty fat-free salad dressings, this could be it!

The study was published early online in the journal Molecular Nutrition & Food Research.


This article originally appeared on TheDoctorWillSeeYouNow.com, an Atlantic partner site.

Presented by

Beth Fontenot is a registered dietitian and a licensed dietitian/nutritionist. She serves on the Louisiana Board of Examiners in Dietetics and Nutrition and writes for TheDoctorWillSeeYouNow.com.

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