Homer Simpson once said: “You don’t win friends with salad.” It’s a good thing we don’t take health advice from cartoon characters (especially ones whose spirit animal happens to be a donut) because we couldn’t disagree more. We think salads can be fun and what’s more impressive in this world than an extremely healthy low carb salad that is packed with a flavorful and healthy dressing? Can salads get boring? Absolutely. This is definitely one reason many go to unhealthy versions of salads and salad dressings. They get sick of having the same salad over and over again.
Many also might not understand the amount of incredibly tasting salad dressing alternatives there are out in the universe. Having options to keep salads enticing and fun to eat is the key. We wanted to explore the art and science of healthy salads and salad dressings to help you know what’s healthy, what’s not healthy, what to avoid when making salads, and if you really can lose weight by eating these unique green meals.
What Is The Healthiest Dressing For A Salad?
Consider for a moment that the standard serving size of salad dressing is only 2 tablespoons. That’s it. And those 2 tablespoons are one of the most important things you can add to your salad. Essentially, those 2 small tablespoons can make or break the success you have if you are trying to eat healthily through salads. Yes, they are important.
Instead of giving you a list of the healthiest dressing for a salad, we’d rather equip you with what to look for. First off, if you’re going to opt-in for store-bought salad dressings get used to reading and understanding the nutritional labels. What do you want to look for in a healthy salad dressing? Less than 300mg of sodium per serving, zero artificial colors, zero artificial flavors, modest amounts of fat and oils (zero trans fat if you can avoid it), 100 calorie benchmark (per serving, about 2 tablespoons), and less than 3g of sugar (the lower the better). Do not fall for the “fat-free” salad dressing trick. In most cases, if the salad dressing is fat-free it’ll compensate for flavor by adding more sugars. In the next section of this article, we have some delicious, healthy homemade salad dressing alternatives that put any store-bought version to shame when it comes to healthy dressings.
Typically speaking, when on a low carb diet or the keto diet, vinaigrettes are the most popular and most of the time going to have the least amount of calories and have the most flavor. The problem is many people opt-in for a vinaigrette dressing only to realize that most store-bought brands love to add sugars to vinaigrettes. Be mindful of that. Our low carb chicken salad recipe has one of the best and healthiest homemade salad dressings that are packed with flavor and zero additives and zero added sugars! You’re going to want to check it out!
What Is A Healthy Alternative To Salad Dressings?
You have to think outside of the bottle. You can easily convert vegetables, fruits, herbs, spices, oils, and vinegar to create your own unique spin on salad dressings. In our low carb chicken salad with homemade dressing, we detail how easy it is to convert basic vegetables into a mouth-watering salad dressing that is healthy, natural, and loaded with delicious, wholesome flavors.
Five Healthy Alternatives to Salad Dressings
Avocado’s are amazing. Do they have fat? Yes. But the amount of fat included in an avocado isn’t going to sabotage your diet. In fact, avocado’s are considered a staple food for those on the keto diet. The added benefit of using avocados as a salad dressing is you get a healthy amount of polyunsaturated fat, which will stave off hunger cravings later in the day. An avocado salad dressing is really simple. You’ll want to remove the avocado flesh from the peel and mash it with a ⅛ teaspoon of Himalayan salt (because of the added minerals, but regular salt is okay), 1 tablespoon of lime juice freshly squeezed, and a little bit of crushed garlic (about one clove). If your dressing seems too thick for your liking you can add a little bit more lime juice or (if you are on the keto diet) try adding a tablespoon of olive oil to loosen up the consistency.
Oil And Vinegar
Oil and vinegar are hands down the easiest and healthiest salad dressing alternative. Granted, there are a lot of store-bought brands that utilize these two ingredients, but many don’t realize that just these two raw ingredients are a powerful duo when trying to find a quick, easy, and healthy salad dressing alternative. There are a couple of tricks though. First, you’re going to have to get your taste buds ready to figure out which oil to vinegar ratio you prefer. It’s best to use a little more vinegar than oil as a rule of thumb. You can do this in one of two ways: pour the ingredients individually on your salad or mix them together in a mixing dish prior to putting on a salad. For vinegars: Balsamic vinegar typically works the best and has the most flavor, but apple cider vinegar can add a nice compliment if using cabbage in your salad. For oils: olive oil. Don’t add more than two tablespoons of olive oil. Start small and figure out those ratios to your liking. To really amp up this alternative, try adding minced garlic and/or diced green olives.
Tajin Clasico Chile Low Sodium Lime Seasoning
It’s not always about creamy sauces or flavorful oils and vinegar. Spices are a healthy alternative to traditional salad dressings. Be mindful of the sodium content. This is why this low sodium version of Tajin is a great option. Tajin is full of flavor and adds a fun (and slightly spicy) twist to your salads. It’s made with lime, mild chili peppers, sea salt, and more. In just one serving, there is only 140mg of sodium, so you’re not going to be breaking the bank in your daily sodium levels. Bonus: Tajin is also a great addition to eating vegetables and fruit.
Cream (Sour Cream, Cottage Cheese, or Yogurt) And Dill
This is an interesting alternative, but a very effective salad dressing for those who crave the more creamier store-bought versions. You’ll want to use a blender for this one because you’ll be mixing and trying to incorporate the herbs together with the creamy sauce. Mix between ½ cup and 1 cup of sour cream, cottage cheese, or plain yogurt and freshly chopped dill in a blender. You’ll want to blend it for around 20-30 seconds. Another great twist to this version is to use dijon mustard with a little bit of minced garlic (about one clove) instead of the dill. What’s nice about this alternative is you can mix and match with other spices and herbs such as cilantro, basil, or chives.
Roasted Vegetables Dressing
This healthy salad dressing alternative is one of our favorites. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Chop peppers (2, green, yellow, red, whichever you prefer), onions (1 onion), and two cloves of garlic and place on a sheet pan with sides. You’ll want to drizzle about 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil over the vegetables and roast in the oven for 25 minutes. Add rosemary (1 teaspoon), chicken broth (¼ cup), and water (¼ cup) to the pan. Cover with tinfoil and allow to roast for another 20 minutes. Add the entire thing to a food processor with red wine vinegar and puree until smooth.
What’s The Worst Salad Dressing For You?
Instead of pointing out a list of the most unhealthy salad dressings, we wanted to give you a framework of what to look for so you can determine which salad dressings are the worst for you. Knowledge is power and instead of gifting you with a list of brands and products, gifting you with information is going to be much more impactful.
Most of your store-bought salad dressings are packed with unhealthy amounts of calories, sodium, added sugars, and saturated fats. Face it, almost the entire intent behind eating a salad is to lose weight or to try and eat healthy. When we eat a salad, we feel good about our choice. When we feel good about what we eat and we begin seeing weight loss results, a powerful bond is created between us, our goals, and our food. So salads are really important. For the most part, making your own salad is quick and nutritious. We reach for those store-bought salad dressings because we are pressed for time and we want this “healthy” meal we’re about to eat to taste delicious. And therein lies the trap.
While many of the store-bought salad dressings are made with healthy unsaturated good fats, most of them are also loaded with artificial flavors, artificial coloring, added sugars (corn syrup and high-fructose syrups), unhealthy trans fat, and sodium-heavy preservatives. You can easily find all the details if you look at the back of these bottles and quickly observe the nutritional information. Here’s what to look for in salad dressing that is unhealthy for you:
Pay special attention to added sugars, you’d be surprised how much extra sugar is in just 2 tablespoons of salad dressing; sometimes as much as 15 grams of sugar are added. If you are on the low carb or a keto diet, this will sabotage all your hard work and effort. If you see high fructose corn syrup or any combination of those, choose an alternative. Managing blood sugar is vital when trying to choose healthy options for losing weight. A sugar spike may make you hungrier later in the day.
This one is a little tricky because a little bit of sodium isn’t bad for you. In fact, sodium (4 to 7 grams per day) is recommended if you are on the low carb or keto diet. With that said, if a salad dressing serving of 2 tablespoons is above the 500 milligrams of sodium per serving, exercise caution and find an alternative. A good rule of thumb is: 500mg per 1 gram of salt. If you’re aiming for 4 grams of sodium per day, you’ll get 25% of your daily allowance in just 2 tablespoons of salad dressing. The biggest thing here is to be mindful of those sodium levels. Eating too much can increase the risk of a heart attack or stroke from some individuals.
For the record and as stated before, fat is not bad. Fat is not the enemy. It’s actually good to have a little fat in your salad dressing. But too much-saturated fat in your regimen could ramp up your cholesterol levels and potentially cause issues down the road. Some experts suggest limiting saturated fats to around 12 to 20 grams per day. On the other hand, if a salad dressing says “Fat-Free” this should raise a flag for you. Usually, fat-free salad dressings are accompanied by more sugar and/or more sodium
Artificial Flavoring and Coloring:
Other additives especially the kinds where you can’t pronounce them. Yellow 5, Yellow 6, Red 3, Red 40, Blue 1, and a list of others. Artificial coloring and flavoring run rampant in many store-bought salad dressings, even the ones dubbed “healthy”. Why do they add them especially when these synthetics provide zero nutritional value? One reason is because they want their salad dressings to look the part. The other reason is using artificial flavors and coloring are cheaper, brighter, and more stable than natural food flavoring from plants, minerals, or animals. The biggest thing here is again to be mindful and aware of what you are putting into your body.
Unfortunately, a lot of us believe salads are the only healthy option when dining out. While salads can be a healthy, nutritious option, not all salads are created equal. Some salads are low in nutrients yet higher in calories, which is the exact opposite of what you want when you are pursuing a healthy lifestyle. In this article on salad mistakes, we explore what makes a salad healthy and what to look for when ordering a salad so that you can make the best choices for your health.
Can You Lose Weight By Eating Salads?
Replacing just one high-calorie meal loaded with carbs and/or sugars a day with a healthy salad may be one of the most effective ways to lose weight by eating salads. You have to be mindful though of what is considered “healthy”. If you are adding high-calorie or a high-sugar salad dressing you’re defeating the purpose of swapping the heavy meal for the salad in the first place. Aim for nutritious, diet-friendly salad toppings and ingredients: those packed with flavor, nutrients, lower in fat (zero saturated fat), and always be mindful of portions. You’ll be surprised how flavorful of salad can be when you rely on the natural flavors from vegetables, some fruits, and seasonings low in sodium.
To answer the question if you can really lose weight eating salads? Absolutely! Here’s what you’ll want to avoid adding to a salad if you are trying to lose weight: croutons, anything fried (chicken, shrimp, onions, all of it), dried fruit (unless it’s organic with zero added sugars), processed toppings (bacon bits is the main culprit here), and fat-free dressings. We know we want to avoid, what about what we can add?
Five Nutritious Options For Ultimate Healthy Salad
There are a TON of options for healthy greens. The best advice is to find the ones you love and always be willing to experiment with new types of greens to keep your taste buds entertained and not bored. Arugula, spinach, chard, iceberg, romaine, leaf lettuce, beet greens, and watercress.
Here’s the thing about vegetables: they’re nutritious, they’re flavorful, they’re colorful, they’re fun. Don’t go overboard on the veggies because some are more carb-laden than others. Tomatoes, radishes, cucumbers, carrots, red peppers, green peppers, jalapenos, squash, zucchini, onion, shallots, garlic, jicama, cauliflower, mushrooms, beets, asparagus, cabbage, eggplant, peas, broccoli, chickpeas, celery, and brussels sprouts are all amazing additions to a healthy salad.
Adding herbs to your salad is the most effective way to keep it super healthy. Generally speaking, you can add less salad dressing if you add just the right amount of herbs. Be careful with adding herbs because not all herbs pair well with certain types of veggies and dressings. Dill, cilantro, basil, thyme, parsley, chives, and tarragon are very popular herbs to add to salads. You will get the most out of your herbs if you can get them fresh from the grocery store. One of the biggest mistakes people make with herbs is opting for the spice rack versions. Trust us, there is a major difference between fresh herbs and the ones in a jar.
Newsflash: you don’t always have to be adding meat to a salad. It is, however, a solid way to get more protein into your diet. If you are going to opt-in for protein, you’re going to want to avoid the mistakes. First, stay away from deli meat. Are all deli meats bad for you? No. But most are extremely processed and heavily laden with preservatives and sodium. Get your protein whole. Grilled steak (lean as possible), grilled chicken, roasted turkey, ground turkey, shredded pork, baked salmon, grilled tuna, shrimp, and even sardines are really good protein options for a healthy salad.
For the most part, most of your fat in a salad is going to come from the dressing. Coincidentally, most store-bought dressings that have fat in them aren’t going to be as healthy. Off-setting some of the bad fats commonly found in most store salad dressings (high in saturated and trans fats) for fats found in whole food is going to amp up the benefits. Some of the better options for fats include: olive oil (1-2 tablespoons), olives (no more than a dozen), seeds (chia, sunflower seeds), avocado (2-3 tablespoons), and nuts (walnuts, almonds, pine nuts ~ no more than a ¼ cup)
When it comes down to the art and science of a healthy salad and salad dressing, having a base understanding of what makes salad healthy and unhealthy is the key. Be aware of what you are putting in your body. Salads are great vessels of nutrition and an incredible source of nutrition if done correctly.
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*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.