Benefits of Oil-based Salad Dressing

oil, garlic and lemon
Oil-based salad dressing benefits include being heart-healthy. Click here to learn all of the oil-based salad dressing benefits. See more food pyramid pictures.

Michael sits in front of his salad congratulating himself on making such a healthy food choice. He's scored a table on the patio at his favorite lunch spot, where a warm breeze and the play of sunlight on his glass of ice water add to his mounting sense of healthy well-being. His bowl of crisp greens is topped with chopped radishes, bell peppers, squash, tomatoes, walnuts and avocado. After topping the works with a quarter cup of chunky blue cheese dressing, Michael sits back and chews contentedly, sure that he's eating a healthy lunch.

Michael is sadly mistaken. In fact, some restaurant salads are notoriously unhealthy. The popular restaurant chain Chili's makes a boneless buffalo chicken salad with 1,150 calories and 80 grams of fat [source: Chili's]. Even a relatively nutritious salad like the one Michael ordered can become an artery-clogging nightmare when topped with a creamy, fattening dressing. Studies show that trans fat raises levels of LDL cholesterol (the bad kind of cholesterol), and higher levels of LDL cholesterol have been linked to heart disease [source: AHA].


Michael would have been much better off choosing an oil-based salad dressing. Oil-based dressings contain more polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats than saturated fat. These unsaturated or "good" fats have been proven to lower LDL cholesterol. Some oils also contain omega-3 fatty acids, which may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease, as well as a variety of phytochemicals (antioxidants) and beneficial organic compounds [source: FDA]. Other ingredients in oil-based dressings don't disappoint either. Vinegar, citrus and add-ins such as garlic, pureed berries, spices and nuts all contain antioxidants and are purported to have heart-healthy benefits as well.

Read on to learn about the antioxidant properties of oil-based salad dressings.



Antioxidants in Oil-based Salad Dressings

While the jury is out on exactly how antioxidants work to prevent disease, solid science indicates that they can and do play a role. The term "antioxidant" refers to a broad range of substances that reduce damage caused by reactive oxygen species (a type of free radical.) Free radicals scavenge electrons from healthy cells, causing damage at a cellular level. They are thought to contribute to aging, tumor growth, eye problems, and neurological disorders. Antioxidants may help prevent disease by giving free radicals electrons and neutralizing their damaging effects [source: Bagchi and Puri].

Oils, berries, vegetables, herbs, spices and nuts contain some of the best dietary sources of antioxidants. Oil-based salad dressings -- especially those that have been infused with antioxidant-rich herbs, spices, fruits and nuts -- can pack a powerful, antioxidant punch.


  • Antioxidants in oil: Olive oil contains up to 5 milligrams of hydroxytyrosol and tyrosol per 10 grams of oil as well as the antioxidant vitamin E [source: OliveOilSource]. Flaxseed oil is another great source of antioxidants; it is the best-known source of the compound lignin. In general, the least processed oils contain the most antioxidants [source: AskDrSears].
  • Antioxidants in vinegar: Kurosu (black rice) vinegar contains more polyphenols (non-nutrient plant compounds with antioxidant properties) than other vinegars. It has a deep, smoky flavor and is sold as a health drink in Japan. Other vinegars with antioxidant properties include balsamic, red wine and cider vinegar [source: Johnston].
  • Antioxidants in herbs, spices and berries: Adding emulsions of berries and spices to your oil-based dressings will give them an added antioxidant benefit. In general, the deeper the color of the fruit, the more antioxidant compounds it contains. Certain spices have even bigger per-gram antioxidant ratios than fruits and berries. A half-teaspoon of cloves contains more antioxidants than a half cup of blueberries or cranberries. Spices with the biggest antioxidant benefit include cloves, oregano, ginger, cinnamon and turmeric [source: McCormick].

In addition to being a great source of antioxidants, oil-based salad dressings are also heart healthy. Read on for more information.


Heart-healthy Oil-based Salad Dressings

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.


Lots More Information

Related Articles

More Great Links

  • "All About Oils" 2006. (05/29/10)
  • Bagchi, E. and Puri, S. "Free Radicals and Antioxidants in Health and Disease." Eastern Mediterranean Health Journal. Volume 4, Issue 2. 1998. Pgs. 350-360. (05/29/10)
  • "Chemical Characteristics (of Olive Oil)." (05/29/10)
  • "Chili's Nutrition Menu Generic." (05/29/10)
  • Dragland, Steiner, Senoo, Wake, Holte, and Blomhoff. "Several Culinary and Medicinal Herbs Are Important Sources of Dietary Antioxidants." The Journal of Nutrition. May 2003. (05/29/10)
  • Henderson, Diedtra. "FDA: Olive Oil May Boost Heart Health." 11/02/04. (05/29/10)
  • Johnston, Carol and Cindy Gaas. "Vinegar: Medicinal Uses and Antiglycemic Effect." (05/29/10)
  • "Know Your Fats." American Heart Association. 01.29.10. (05.29.10);jsessionid=FDK2PW4KPDX0KCQFCXPSDSQ?identifier=532
  • Rabin, Roni Caryn. "Lower Depression Risk Linked to Mediterranean Diet." New York Times. 10.08.09 (05.29.10)
  • "Salad Dressing, Kraft Fat Free Ranch." NutritionData. (05/27/10)
  • "Spices, Herbs and Antioxidants." McCormic Science Institute. (05/27/10)
  • "Summary of Qualified Health Claims." U.S. Food and Drug Administration. 11/01/04. (05/29/10.)
  • Taubes, Gary. "What If It's All Been A Big Fat Lie?" New York Times. 07/07/02. (05/29/10.)