Why You Should Think Twice Before Eating An Undressed Salad

Healthy eating typically involves including salads in your everyday diet. For one, they are a good way to get in the recommended daily amount of leafy greens (2 to 3 cups a day). Salads give you the fiber, vitamins, and minerals your body needs. And quite frankly, putting together different concoctions of vegetables and fruits is always a fun and creative exercise. 

But when you think of salads, you often visualize the ones with dressings in them — those tasty sauces that add a delightful element to the entire dish. Undressed salads, on the other hand, are often bland, boring, and sometimes even difficult to eat. This is one of the reasons why you might understandably think twice about eating salads without dressings, per experts. Moving toward a healthier diet doesn't have to be arduous, after all. If you're looking for motivation to stay consistent and get the many nutritional benefits of eating salad every day, throwing in different dressings can do the trick. But this is not the only reason why salad dressings rule. 

Salad dressings help you better absorb the nutrients in salads

Salad dressings aren't just for show and taste. They also serve an important function when it comes to helping you absorb the vitamins and minerals present in your leafy greens, shared APD dietitian and nutritionist Rachel Scoular. "Adding salad dressing helps our bodies absorb the fat-soluble nutrients (Vitamin A, D, E, K) that are found in the vegetables ... Salad dressings also help us feel fuller for longer as fat is more satiating... This might mean you're less tempted to overeat or pick at foods afterwards."

What's more, the antioxidant carotenoids (lycopene, lutein, and zeaxanthin) found in vegetables like spinach, kale, orange bell peppers, tomatoes, broccoli, and carrots — are also better absorbed when salads are drizzled with salad dressings that contain fat. Carotenoids, also fat-soluble, are what give vegetables their hue; they lower inflammation in your body and combat health conditions like macular degeneration, heart disease, and cancer (via Healthline). Now that you know why undressed salads aren't the way to go, what kinds of salad dressings (and how much of them) should you be consuming?

Things to consider with salad dressings

Just because a salad dressing benefits a salad doesn't mean you have to go overboard with the stuff. You can easily veer off your diet by smothering a healthy Greek salad with too much fatty dressing. 

Registered dietitian nutritionist Bonnie Taub-Dix shared (per Everyday Health) that adding vinegar to a dressing can help curb the calories. "If you have a salad dressing you love, combine it with an equal amount of balsamic vinegar, or any kind of vinegar." Also, you're better off making a healthy salad dressing at home than buying something from the store. Store-bought brands don't always strictly limit the amounts of saturated fat, salt, sugar, and other additives in them. 

As for fat content, researchers in a 2012 Purdue University study fed 29 participants salads with different salad dressings and then tested their blood for carotenoid absorption. They found that monounsaturated fat-rich salad dressings fared a lot better than saturated fat and polyunsaturated fat ones. More specifically, canola and olive oil-based dressings only required 3 grams of fat for optimal carotenoid absorption, while soybean oil and butter required more fat for the same effects. That's one more reason to turn to extra virgin olive oil as a go-to for salad dressings.