A salad should be a healthy choice — plain and simple. If we’re being frank, nobody picks a salad to indulge. A great salad is colorful, fresh, and wholesome — yet a dollop of most commercial salad dressings is enough to undo much of the nutritious benefits of eating a salad in the first place.
Nikki Ostrower, HHC, and founder of NAO Nutrition, explains why the way we’ve been taught to evaluate nutritional facts is deceiving. “We’ve been taught to look at content — calories, fat, sugar — but when it comes to salad dressing, this is not the best approach." Ostrower advises clients to first look at the ingredient list. As many foods, look for shorter ingredient lists with names you can pronounce.
“Healthy fat helps to absorb vitamins and nutrients found in vegetables."
Naturally occurring oils such as olive oil contain healthy fats, which our bodies need. A leafy salad with a healthy fat is better than no dressing at all. “Healthy fat helps to absorb vitamins and nutrients found in vegetables,” Ostrower says. But stay away from anything advertised as "low-fat," as this indicates additional processing, and creamy or opaque dressings, which will be higher in saturated fat than a dressing you can see through.
Done right, of course, a colorful salad is one of the best meals we can put in our body. Here are some toppings we recommend.
"Olive oil is high in phenolic antioxidants, making it a powerful anti-inflammatory," Ostrower says. As such, "it helps protect against heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. It's truly one of the healthiest foods on the planet."
Apple cider vinegar is made from fresh, ripe apples that are fermented in a stringent process to get to the final product. "The vinegar contains a host of vitamins: beta-carotene, pectin, and vital minerals (potassium, sodium, magnesium, calcium, phosphorous, chlorine, sulphur, iron, and flourine)" Ostrower says.
This powerful vinegar is said to help with a long list of ailments: "Constipation, headaches, arthritis, weak bones, indigestion, high cholesterol, diarrhea, eczema, sore eyes, chronic fatigue, mild food poisoning, hair loss, high blood pressure, and more, not to mention that it is great for weight loss," Ostrower says.
Like apple cider vinegar, balsamic vinegar is made by fermenting grapes, making it another natural, whole-food option. One tablespoon has just 14 calories. Furthermore, studies show balsamic vinegar aids in normalizing blood pressure, stabilizing cholesterol levels, and keeping blood glucose levels stable.
Annie's dressings only use organic, natural, and non-GMO ingredients — a combination Ostrower stresses because it makes a product "the body knows how to process." The other best part? "They are delicious, affordable, and easy to find in almost any supermarket."
Ostrower calls these dressings, "just as good as homemade" (a high compliment from a nutrition expert). "This brand uses only organic ingredients, contains live active cultures [probiotics!], and aids in weight loss."
“Lemon has a cleansing effect on the liver and melts fat, which aids in weight loss,” Ostrower says. And, you don’t need to douse your salad with the juice of a whole lemon — even the squeeze of one wedge will do the trick.
Tahini is a great base for making salad dressing because, like olive oil, sesame (the main ingredient in tahini) contains healthy fats.