Having a salad is a fantastically healthy choice, but dousing it with unhealthy dressing can work against you. Making your own dressing can be a simple solution. We’ll include several quick recipes in this article and also discuss what to look for when buying a healthy low-carb salad dressing.
The Value of Salad Dressing
Salad dressings are not only a tasty addition to your salad, but they can also bring added health benefits if you choose the right one. Along with flavor, the oils in salad dressing can make the nutrients contained in your food more accessible. Check out this study, which showed that when avocado oil was added to a salad it increased the body’s absorption of carotenoids.
You do, however, want to remain leery of additives in salad dressings, especially if you’re on a low-carb diet like the keto diet. Stay vigilant against added sugars, and pay attention to serving size, the quality of the oils contained in the mix, and any extra or added ingredients.
1. Added Sugars
You have to watch out for added sugars in just about everything, and salad dressing isn’t an exception, even though most dressings are more savory than sweet. When you glance down at the nutrition label, check under “Total Carbohydrates” first, then scan the ingredients to search for any hidden sugars, which you might spot by the use of words like “juice,” “syrup,” or suffixes like “-ose” and “-saccharide.”
Common sugars in disguise include:
- Cane juice
- Barley malt
- Fruit juice concentrate
- High fructose corn syrup
Also be wary of sugar-free products used to replace that sweetness, like sorbitol, xylitol, and aspartame.
Unfortunately for those keeping low-carb, fat-free and reduced-fat dressings can sometimes have way more sugar and carbs than the regular or original flavors. Look at some of these comparisons for proof.
- Hidden Valley Original Ranch: 2 grams of carbohydrates per serving, compared to the 4 grams in the light variety of the same flavor.
- Girard’s Caesar Dressing: 1 gram of carbohydrates per serving, compared to the reduced-fat light Caesar dressing which has 5 grams of carbohydrates per serving, and the fat-free option with 9 grams of carbohydrates per serving.
- Kraft Buttermilk Ranch Dressing: 2 grams of carbs per serving for regular, compared to the 11 grams of carbs in the fat-free version.
Even when they’re labeled keto-friendly do your own investigating of sugars and total carbs, and aim for dressings that have 1 gram of carbohydrates or less per serving size of 2 tablespoons.
2. Serving Size
Most people do not break out a set of tablespoons to measure their salad dressing. It might help to be a little more particular though, because it’s way too easy to use more than the intended serving size.
Once you measure out your salad dressing a few times, you’ll have a better visual understanding of the appropriate serving size for your low-carb needs. If you’re not measuring (or if you’re not practiced at approximating) the standard serving size, you could be adding to your net carbs without realizing just how much you’re consuming.
As an example, a dressing like Newman’s Own Balsamic Vinaigrette has 3 grams of carbohydrates per 2 tablespoons (30 grams) of dressing. It also has 90 calories per serving. Whether you’re watching your carbs or watching your calories or both, you have to watch for serving sizes.
A tip for making the most of a small serving size is to start with the dressing in a large bowl, then toss your greens over it until they are well-mixed. It’s a better way to coat your entire salad, and it prevents you from being tempted to add more when you’re drizzling the dressing on top.
3. Oil Quality
What distinguishes a good oil from a bad one? High quality from low? Well, the best oils for use in salad dressings are those that are high in monounsaturated fats and low in omega-6 fats (which are essential fatty acids to be sure but are overabundant in most Western diets).
Your best bet for a high-quality oil that’s readily available is extra virgin olive oil, with 73% monounsaturated fat and 9% omega-6s. Soybean oil, though also commonly used, has only 23% monounsaturated fat and a whooping 51% omega-6s: practically the inverse of olive oil! Vegetable oils like canola oil are chemically refined, while olive oil is naturally cold-pressed from the olive fruit, and a much healthier choice.
Don’t be tricked by store-bought salad dressings that have olive oil at the top of their ingredients list, but also include vegetable oil right after it, as in the case of Newman’s Own Olive Oil and Vinegar dressing—olive oil’s in the title and in the bottle, but vegetable oil is in there too.
Be wary of trans fats in your store-bought dressings too. While many companies have eliminated trans fats and partially hydrogenated fats from their salad dressing recipes, they can still be found (for example, in Wishbone Chunky Blue Cheese Dressing, which contains partially hydrogenated soybean oil).
4. Added/Extra Ingredients
If you’re keeping a low-carb diet, sometimes added or extra ingredients can put a tax on your carb intake, like starches added to alter the consistency and shelf life of salad dressings. If you see gums, flours, or fibers such as inulin on the ingredients list, you may want to avoid the product.
The Best Salad Solution: Make Your Own Low-Carb Salad Dressing
Policing the ready-made salad dressings on the shelves of the grocery store can be a lot more work than it’s worth, especially when making your own salad dressings can be so easy! Not only easy to do, but also easy to keep healthy, and more affordable. Some staples that you may want to have around before you begin:
- Olive oil
- Lemon juice
- Salt and pepper
- Flavorings like spices and herbs
Check out the following recipes for specific ideas.
Low-Carb Salad Dressing Recipes
Here are some low-carb keto salad dressing recipes that will make sure your salads stay low-sugar and low-carb, while also remaining extremely tasty.
Whether you’re after a traditional or creamy Caesar salad dressing, you’ll want mayonnaise, egg yolk, garlic, lemon juice, Dijon mustard, and Worcestershire sauce. Using homemade mayo will give you a much more creamy dressing, and that’s no more complicated than adding eggs and oil together in your blender. Then it’s only a matter of mashing up some minced garlic and anchovy paste, and adding it all to a mixing bowl in the right order.
With nothing more complicated than a Mason jar to shake it up, this simple recipe can be made with balsamic vinegar, minced garlic, black pepper, salt, Dijon mustard, and olive oil.
This low-carb ranch dressing can be made with mayonnaise, sour cream, lemon juice, parsley, dill, dried chives, garlic powder, onion powder, salt and pepper, and unsweetened almond milk. Oh, and a whisk! Another simple recipe that lets you know and control exactly what’s in your salad dressing.
For the vinaigrette, it’s a mix of olive oil, red wine vinegar, salt, pepper, and Dijon mustard. For the Italian seasoning, you’ll want a mix of basil, oregano, garlic powder, and chili flakes, plus parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme (for real, and feel free to play the song while you mix it!).
With a lemon, some apple cider vinegar, olive or avocado oil, and a few drops of stevia, you can mix it all together in a small container and have this keto recipe ready for your salads all week.
With a cup of extra virgin olive oil, white vinegar, basil, oregano, salt and pepper, and some dried marjoram and minced garlic, you can quickly blend up this tasty Italian dressing, knowing for sure that there are no additives because you made it yourself.
Low-Carb Recipes for Salad Dressings: Final Tip
A final tip across the board: to thicken your dressing, add more mustard/mayo, and to thin it, more oil. If you’re on a keto diet, you can use MCT oil (which is flavorless) to add energy-boosting oil to just about anything, including coffee, smoothies, and, of course, any number of dipping sauces or dressings.
A Dressing for Every Occasion
If you’re buying salad dressings or you’re dining out, use the information here to make sure your low-carb meals stay that way, with no hidden carbs in your salad dressing. To be totally sure to keep the carb count low and boost your healthy fats, try making your own salad dressing at home!