Dressed to thrill

When you sit down to eat a salad you are probably thinking that you are making a healthy food choice. You are right of course, the vegetables and fruits (yes, tomato is a fruit) in salads contain many health-giving nutrients. You might even avoid using a dressing on your salad thinking that you are being healthier still. If you do allow yourself a dressing maybe you console yourself with choosing a low-fat alternative. The good, or bad news depending on how you look at it, is that you if you choose the right dressing then a full-fat version could make your salad even healthier.

Many of the healthy nutrients found in vegetables are fat-soluble (they dissolve in fat). Among these fat-loving health promoters are betacarotene, vitamin A, vitamin E, lutein, lycopene, and zeaxanthin. Aside from vitamin E these nutrients are known as carotenoids and they lower the risk of developing diseases like cancer, heart disease, and macular degeneration. So the more of these fat-soluble nutrients you are able to absorb, the better off you are.

In theory fats will help these nutrients be absorbed by your body. To test how the addition of salad dressing affected the absorption of carotenoids researchers fed people salads with a variety of dressing and then measured carotenoid blood levels. The dressings used were a butter based dressing (saturated fat), a canola based dressing (monounsaturated fat), and a corn oil dressing (polyunsaturated fat).

All of these fatty dressings led to higher levels of carotenoids in the blood than having the salad alone. However, much less of the monounsaturated fat from canola oil was needed to achieve this effect (only three grams compared to 20 grams). It should be said though, that canola oil is not the best option as a monounsaturated dressing.

Canola was created in the late 1970s by Canadian plant breeders who were able to create a variety of rapeseed which produced a monounsaturated oil that was low in a troublesome ingredient called erucic acid. This new oil was originally called LEAR oil (Low Erucic Acid Rapeseed). Neither “rape” nor “lear” created an appealing image and so Canola (Canada and oil) was born. The process of making Canola oil is cause for some concern. The procedure involves a combination of high-temperature mechanical pressing and solvent extract, usually using hexane. Even after considerable refining, traces of the solvent remain. This and other process involved in Canola oil manufacture can alter the omega-3 content in the oil and increase trans fats.

By far the best source of monounsaturated fat for your salad dressing is extra virgin cold pressed (not just “first cold pressing”) olive oil. The empirical evidence of the benefits of the Mediterranean Diet along with the clinical evidence makes olive oil your best monounsaturated fat for your salad dressings.

This study also shows that the full-fat version, if used moderately, is your best option. It adds another dimension to the joke of course and now we know that the tomato blushed because it saw the salad dressing with full fat.

Terry Robson

Terry Robson

Terry Robson is the Editor-in-Chief of WellBeing and the Editor of EatWell.

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