At 120 calories per tablespoon, calorie-counters tend to be leery of using oil. Why indulge in oil, even "healthy" oil like olive oil, when you can have two tablespoons of a fat free dressing for less than 50 calories? If you check the labels on many low-fat and fat-free salad dressings, you'll see high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), which is under scrutiny for links to rising rates of obesity, listed as a leading ingredient. Many low-fat dressings are loaded with sodium and have limited nutritional value. Two tablespoons of Kraft's popular fat free ranch dressing, for instance, contains 15 percent of a person's daily allowance of sodium, but has no Vitamin A, C or iron [source: NutritionData].
Fat gets a bad rap. Increasing evidence shows that "low-fat" diets not only don't work, they might actually contribute to weight gain [source: Taubes]. Because obesity is linked to scores of diseases, including coronary heart disease, people looking to improve their heart health will want to think long and hard before embarking on a fat-free diet. The fact is that our bodies need fat in order to function. Fat enables us to absorb the nutrients we get from fruits and vegetables, and scientists are studying its role in preventing depression, Alzheimer's and other diseases [source: Rabin].
To improve heart health, replace unhealthy or less healthy fats, such as those found in processed junk food, butter and red meat with healthy (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated) varieties. Olive oil, the go-to base for many oil-based salad dressings, is rich in monounsaturated fats, which have been linked to reduced risk of coronary heart disease. The Food and Drug Administration allows olive oil manufacturers to label their products with a qualified claim that consuming two tablespoons of olive oil per day may reduce the risk of heart disease [source: FDA]. Similarly, other popular salad-dressing ingredients, such as walnuts and foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, including flaxseed oil, may also reduce the risk of heart disease.
Let's rewind the tape: Michael is sitting in front of his salad congratulating himself on making such a healthy food choice. He drizzles two tablespoons of raspberry and walnut infused olive oil and balsamic vinegar dressing over his salad. By choosing a cholesterol-busting, oil-based dressing over a creamy dressing loaded with saturated fat, Michael is making a heart-healthy change -- and it's utterly delicious.
For even more information on the benefits of certain oils, visit the links on the next page.