Is there a more quintessential “diet” food than salad? A well-built salad certainly earns its health food distinction — it can be a low calorie, nutrient dense meal that delivers veggies, fiber and protein, which keep you feeling full. However, one ingredient that can instantly change a salad’s nutritional profile is the dressing. It can sneakily add more calories, fat, sodium, and even sugar, than you bargained for. Luckily, there are many smart and tasty salad dressing choices. With a little knowledge, you’ll be able to pick them out in the grocery store.

Serving Size Matters

The typical dressing serving size is two tablespoons, and that can provide anywhere from 50 to 200 calories or more! Two tablespoons is a significantly smaller serving than many dressing ladles at salad bars and probably less than what we typically drench our salad in, so I recommend measuring out your dressing whenever possible.

Choose Oil Over Cream Based

It’s common for dietitians to recommend dressings made with oil, such as Italian, over cream based dressings like Ranch. This is because oils like olive oil are rich in heart healthy unsaturated fats. On the other hand, cream based dressings rely on dairy products like cream, which are high in saturated fat. Cream based dressings also tend to have more calories than oil based ones. This doesn’t mean you have to totally give up Caesar or Ranch. In fact, I’ll share some of my favorites a little bit later here.

Don’t be Surprised by Sodium

Many store-bought dressings add salt to enhance the flavor of their products. While a small amount of salt is fine, some dressings can have as much as 500 mg of sodium or more, which is 20% of the recommended daily value! Look for dressings with 300 mg of sodium or less.

Be Careful with Fat Free

You can find plenty of fat free dressings, though it’s probably a good idea to enjoy your salad with a little bit of healthy fat to absorb the fat soluble vitamins from all those veggies. Also, consider that fat does help to slow down digestion which will keep you feeling full for longer. Another point to think about is that fat is often replaced with sugar in fat free dressings.

Elizabeth’s Favorite Salad Dressings

In an ideal world, we would all have the time to make our own salad dressing. Homemade dressings are quick and easy to make with a few simple ingredients (plus, no preservatives or weird sounding ingredients!). If you’re inclined to make your own dressings, give one of the below recipes a try.

Recipes to try at home:

Simple Salad Dressing – 80 calories, 25 mg sodium

Healthy Greek Yogurt Ranch Dressing – 20 calories

Lemon Vinaigrette – 130 calories, 160 mg sodium

But if you don’t have the time to make your own dressing or there are too many different dressing flavor preferences in your household, there are plenty of good choices in the grocery aisle. Check out some of my favorites in the list below.

Dressings to look for in your grocery store:

  • Ken’s Steak House Light Honey Dijon – 70 calories, 220 mg sodium
  • Opa by Litehouse Cilantro Greek Yogurt Dressing – 50 calories, 170 mg sodium
  • Ken’s Steak House Lite Northern Italian with Basil & Romano – 45 calories, 280 mg sodium
  • Walden Farms Honey Dijon – 0 calories, 270 mg sodium
  • Marzetti Simply 60 Creamy Caesar – 60 calories, 250 mg sodium