If you’re losing weight, forget about holding the dressing on your salad. It turns out the fats and oils in salad dressing do more than enhance the taste of vegetables. New research shows that fat paired with vegetables helps the body absorb essential nutrients, and some fat is better than others.
Calories vs. nutrients
More people have been choosing fat-free and low-fat salad dressings over the past ten years, according to researchers at Purdue University. They say 20 percent of men and 33 percent of women surveyed say they always pick the low-calorie option when it comes to salad dressing.
Salads are essentially fat-free vegetables rich in carotenoids–compounds such as lycopene, lutein, zeaxanthin and beta-carotene that have been shown to help lower the risk of heart disease and cancer. But the digestive system needs fat to absorb carotenoids properly. Choosing fat-free dressing may cut calories, but it also defeats the nutritional purpose of your salad.
In search of the perfect fat
Nutrition scientists learned that eating fresh vegetables with a little fat, such as salad dressings or cheese, helps the body absorb valuable nutrients from a study conducted at Iowa State University in 2004. The Purdue researchers wanted to drill down to learn what type of fat works best.
The new study, published in the journal Molecular Nutrition & Food Research, compared the nutrient absorption of volunteers after they ate salads with dressings containing butter as a saturated fat, canola oil as a monounsaturated fat and corn oil as a polyunsaturated fat. Each salad was served with 3 grams, 8 grams or 20 grams of fat from dressing.
Monounsaturated fan wins
After testing the participants’ blood, the researchers found that each type and amount of fat facilitated absorption of fat-soluble carotenoids, but the monounsaturated canola oil dressing was the most efficient. Just three grams of monounsaturated fat promoted carotenoid absorption as much as 20 grams of polyunsaturated corn oil dressing. Butter fell somewhere in between.
Pour it on
The 2004 Iowa State study found negligible amounts of carotenoids in the blood after eating a salad with fat-free dressing. A little salad dressing is essential, and a now its known that monounsaturated fat salad dressing with a canola or olive oil is the healthiest choice. You can optimize your nutrient absorption with a minimal amount of extra calories.
Plus, next time you snack on baby carrots it couldn’t hurt to dip them in a little ranch dressing.