You’ve just made a salad and it’s loaded with nutrient-rich veggies in all the colors of the rainbow – red peppers, raw carrot, an array of greens, ripe red tomatoes and shreds of purple cabbage. Now, what will you choose to put on it? Whether you absorb the nutrients and antioxidants that make a salad so healthy depends upon the dressing you put on it. Choose the wrong one and some of the fat-soluble nutrients will never reach your cells where you can enjoy their powerful health benefits.
Choose Your Salad Dressing Wisely
First, it’s important that a salad dressing not be fat-free. Fat-free salad dressings are not only higher in sugar, but they also make it harder to absorb fat-soluble nutrients from fruits and vegetables. Some salad vegetables like tomatoes, carrots, spinach, greens, kale, broccoli and romaine lettuce, to name a few, contain carotenoids such as beta-carotene, lutein, lycopene and zeaxanthin. These are strong antioxidants with a number of health benefits. These carotenoids aren’t going to be absorbed unless your salad contains a source of fat and that usually comes from the dressing.
According to a study carried out at Purdue University, the type of fat in your salad dressing is a factor in how much of the carotenoids you absorb. They compared carotenoid absorption when dressings made with various types of fats – saturated, polyunsaturated or monounsaturated – were put on a salad. They found that salad dressings containing monounsaturated fat enhanced the absorption of fat-soluble nutrients like carotenoids the most. Dressings made with monounsaturated fat resulted in good nutrient absorption even in small amounts. For dressings that contained polyunsaturated or saturated fat, larger amounts of fat were needed to maximize absorption of carotenoids and other fat-soluble nutrients.
What Are the Best Sources of Monounsaturated Fats?
Olive oil and canola oil are two oils that are rich in monounsaturated fat, so choosing a dressing that contains one of these two oils will maximize the health benefits of a garden salad. Some people are concerned about using canola oil since more than 90% of it is genetically-engineered, so olive-oil based salad dressings may be the best choice. You can buy olive-oil based dressings already bottled or make your own. Since so many salad dressings have added sugar, MSG, preservatives and artificial colors, making your own is a healthier option, and it’s simple to do. Mix three parts olive with one part vinegar, and add your favorite herbs. Use extra-virgin olive oil and choose from a variety of flavored vinegars to add additional flavor. Let your newly created salad dressing set for a few hours to let the flavors meld before using it.
Other Ways to Enhance Nutrient Absorption
Another way to increase the amount of carotenoids you absorb is to add sliced avocado to your salad and then sprinkle it with nuts. Avocado and nuts are good sources of monounsaturated fats that’ll help maximize the benefits you get from a salad. You can also use monounsaturated-rich avocado oil as an alternative to olive oil to make a salad dressing.
The Bottom Line?
Skip the fat-free dressings, and choose a dressing made with olive oil to get the most health benefits from your salads. Even better, take a few minutes to make your own at home so you can avoid the sugar and other additives that are usually hidden in a bottle of commercial salad dressing. Whatever you do, keep eating salad!
Medical News Today. “Salad Dressings May Improve Nutrient Uptake”