Low-Fat Salad Dressings Are Actually Worse For You

Low-Fat Salad Dressings Are Actually Worse For You

Written by Alex Reid
Posted June 21, 2012

What could be healthier than a salad? After all, fruits and vegetables found in salads are full of important vitamins and nutrients.

But according to a recent study, completed by Purdue University researchers, without the right type and amount of salad dressing, you could be losing out on some of their benefits.

If you’re trying to stay healthy and keep your weight down, you might opt for a low-fat salad dressing. Which seems like a logical decision.

However the study found that higher-fat dressings help the body absorb more carotenoids, compounds in vegetables linked with a reduced risk of illnesses including cancer and heart disease.

Over the course of several days, researchers fed 29 people three salads, each dressed with a different type of fat: butter (saturated fat), canola oil (monounsaturated fat), and corn oil (polyunsaturated fat).

They varied the fat content of each with three grams, eight grams or 20 grams to see if the fat dosage made a difference in overall results.

After each salad, the researchers tested the participants’ blood to determine carotenoid absorption.

With the butter and corn oil, the more a person consumed, the more carotenoids they absorbed. Results showed that while both were dependent on dose, corn oil was more dependent on dose. With more fat drizzled on the salad, more carotenoids were absorbed.

Those who ate the salads with canola oil, required the least amount of fat to get the most carotenoid absorption, whether they had three grams or 20 of the fat-based dressing.

According to the findings, monosaturated fat-rich dressings might be the best choice for those wanting lower fat options, while still wanting the health benefits from fruits and veggies.

Dressings with monounsaturated fats include those based with olive oil or avocado, in addition to canola oil.

"Even at the lower fat level, you can absorb a significant amount of carotenoids with monounsaturated fat-rich canola oil," said Mario Ferruzzi, the study's lead author and a Purdue associate professor of food science.

"Overall, pairing with fat matters. You can absorb significant amounts of carotenoids with saturated or polyunsaturated fats at low levels, but you would see more carotenoid absorption as you increase the amounts of those fats on a salad."

The study was published in the journal Molecular Nutrition & Food Research, and builds upon a 2004 Iowa State University study that determined carotenoids were more bioavailable — absorbed by the intestines — when paired with full-fat dressing as opposed to low-fat or fat-free versions.

Ferruzzi and colleagues will next work on understanding how meal patterning affects nutrient absorption. This will help determine whether people absorb more nutrients if they eat vegetables at one time or if consumption is spread throughout the day.


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