Salads are versatile. You can experiment with different combinations of greens, toppings, and dressings. The latter is key since the right salad dressing can significantly boost the health benefits of your salad. In contrast, the wrong salad dressing can add extra calories, sugar, unhealthy fat, and artificial ingredients.
Here are some recommendations for the best ways to dress your salad, including a few less conventional options you may not have tried yet.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil Vinaigrette
Antioxidant-rich extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) is a true superfood. Research has found that EVOO may reduce inflammation and protect against heart disease, neurodegenerative diseases, cancer, and type 2 diabetes. What's more, some evidence suggests that EVOO may support weight loss and lower blood pressure.
Finding a bottled dressing made with EVOO is a little tricky. Despite the labels, many are mixed with corn and soybean. Those oils have high levels of omega-6 fatty acids, which tend to be inflammatory.
For salads, try one tablespoon each of EVOO and balsamic vinegar mixed with one teaspoon of stone-ground mustard and dried Italian herbs. Add a teaspoon of freshly squeezed lemon juice and a quarter teaspoon of minced garlic for extra flavor.
If you've been to a Mediterranean or Middle Eastern restaurant, you've probably seen tahini, as a dip or drizzled over falafel, on the menu. Despite its creamy look, tahini is traditionally made from ground sesame seeds, making it dairy-free.
A two-tablespoon portion of whole, dried sesame seeds contains 3.18 grams of protein and 2.12 grams of fiber. Also, sesame seeds are low in sodium and provide nutrients like:
Tahini makes the perfect base for a salad dressing, especially seasoned. Try two tablespoons of tahini thinned with half to one tablespoon of water, depending on your desired texture. Then, mix with one teaspoon of freshly squeezed lemon juice, a half teaspoon of minced garlic, and a dash of cayenne pepper.
You can find jarred tahini at nearly any market in the condiment aisle or near other nut or seed butter. Always look for brands that use sesame seeds as the only ingredients.
Mixing guacamole into your salad is another option for adding several nutrients. Avocado, the main ingredient in guacamole, is a "good fat" that has anti-aging, disease-fighting antioxidants.
Also, avocados pack nearly 20 different vitamins and minerals, some of which include:
- Vitamin C
Some evidence suggests that adding avocado to a meal curbs your appetite by keeping you full for long periods. For that reason, avocados are a good option for losing and maintaining body weight. Also, avocados may up the absorption of antioxidants, slash LDL, or "bad," cholesterol, increase HDL, or "good," cholesterol, and regulate blood pressure.
If you don't have time to make your own guacamole, buy a pre-made brand with simple, clean ingredients.
Also, try a tangy version if you prefer a creamy avocado dressing without the guacamole flavor. In a small food processor, combine the following ingredients:
- Half of a ripe avocado
- One tablespoon of apple cider vinegar
- Freshly squeezed lemon juice
- One-half teaspoon of minced garlic
- Three fresh basil leaves
- One-eighth teaspoon of black pepper
- One-sixteenth teaspoon of sea salt
Hummus is another creamy dressing option that's dairy-free and full of nutrients. There's no one standard way to make hummus. However, the typical recipe includes chickpeas, EVOO or tahini (or both), lemon, garlic, salt, and pepper.
Hummus will coat your greens and veggies and truly up the health benefits of your salad. One study published in 2016 in Nutrients found that people who regularly consume chickpeas or hummus have high intakes of several key nutrients, like:
- Vitamins A, E, and C
Add chickpeas, EVOO, tahini, garlic, and lemon to a blender or mini-food processor to make your own hummus. Then, top your salad with your pureed mix.
However, pre-made versions are available at grocery stores if you don't have time to make your own hummus. Keep an eye out for hummus made with EVOO instead of soybean oil. Also, you'll want to pass on versions with potassium sorbate, sodium benzoate, or any other unfamiliar words on the ingredients list.
Most people don't think of pesto as a salad dressing. Still, pesto is a perfect option when made with EVOO and other healthy ingredients.
Pesto will give you all of the benefits of EVOO, plus additional antioxidants from the basil and nuts. A two-tablespoon serving provides nutrients like calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium.
Place your salad greens and veggies in a sealable container with a small dollop of pesto, close it up, and shake it. Top the mixture with your lean protein of choice and a small portion of healthy carbs, like quinoa, sweet potato, or fresh fruit.
A Quick Review
When it comes to salads, you can build them in many different ways. Try one of these healthy dressings to top your next salad. Some tasty options include EVOO, tahini, guacamole, hummus, and pesto.
To avoid any inflammatory oils and preservatives, make your own salad dressing. However, pre-made versions of these healthy salad dressings are available at many grocery stores if you're short on time. Just keep an eye out for unwanted ingredients.
Gorzynik-Debicka M, Przychodzen P, Cappello F, et al. Potential health benefits of olive oil and plant polyphenols. Int J Mol Sci. 2018;19(3):686. doi:10.3390/ijms19030686
Galvão Cândido F, Xavier Valente F, da Silva LE, et al. Consumption of extra virgin olive oil improves body composition and blood pressure in women with excess body fat: a randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled clinical trial. Eur J Nutr. 2018;57(7):2445-2455. doi:10.1007/s00394-017-1517-9
DiNicolantonio JJ, O'Keefe JH. Importance of maintaining a low omega-6/omega-3 ratio for reducing inflammation. Open Heart. 2018;5(2):e000946. doi:10.1136/openhrt-2018-000946
Department of Agriculture. Seeds, sesame seeds, whole, dried.
Dreher ML, Davenport AJ. Hass avocado composition and potential health effects. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2013;53(7):738-750. doi:10.1080/10408398.2011.556759
Department of Agriculture. Avocados, raw, all commercial varieties.
Zhu L, Huang Y, Edirisinghe I, et al. Using the avocado to test the satiety effects of a fat-fiber combination in place of carbohydrate energy in a breakfast meal in overweight and obese men and women: A randomized clinical trial. Nutrients. 2019;11(5):952. doi:10.3390/nu11050952
Wallace TC, Murray R, Zelman KM. The nutritional value and health benefits of chickpeas and hummus. Nutrients. 2016;8(12):766. doi:10.3390/nu8120766
Department of Agriculture. Sauce, pesto, ready-to-serve, shelf stable.