Think your salad doused in store-bought dressing is good for you? Think again. In this article, we’ll detail exactly why you should avoid the store-bought stuff, and learn why homemade dressings are better for you and how to make them.
Why You Should Avoid Store-Bought Salad Dressing
The oils used in salad dressings are unstable and are easily oxidized, which translates into free radicals in your body (we don’t want that!). While we often hear that saturated fat is the devil, the devil in disguise is industrial oil like canola oil, soybean oil, and vegetable oil – and these are the oils you get in your store-bought dressings.
The word polyunsaturated means that the oils have more than one (poly), double bonds (unsaturated = double bond instead of single bond). The more double bonds a fat has, the less stable is it. This means that it is more likely to become oxidized when it comes in contact with light, air, or heat. On that note, let’s think about how these oils are made, then stored:
- First the oil is made, which is usually a pretty nasty process to begin with. Check out this video for a peek at how canola oil is made. It’s put under high pressure to squeeze the oil out, washed in a chemical solvent, then washed with sodium hydroxide, then bleached. Finally, they remove the canola odor. Yuck! Most oils used in salad dressings go through a similar process.
- Once the oil is made, it’s packaged into clear bottles which allows light to come into the bottle. As previously mentioned, light oxidizes these unstable polyunsaturated fats.
- Then, the oil sits on the shelf for weeks or months before being shipped to your grocery store, and might sit there for some more time until someone buys it. Time is also not a friend to polyunsaturated oils, as it oxidizes them further.
- Once you bring home the oil you open the bottle, exposing these unstable oils to air (more oxidation!), then you either use them raw or cook with them (heat = more oxidation). By the time it’s in your house, you can bet that oil is very oxidized and has little nutritional value. Heating it just fuels the fire.
All this oxidation produces things called “free radials”. You may have heard of that term, and you probably know that those free radicals cause inflammation in the body and that you need to combat free radicals with antioxidants. You can learn more about the oxidative damage caused by free radicals in this excellent article from Mark’s Daily Apple. Why bombard the body with oxidized fats when you can use healthy, stable fats?
Why You Should Make Your Own Salad Dressing
When you choose stable, healthy fats to make your dressing, you reduce the risk of the fats oxidizing before they get into your body. This will reduce the amount of free radicals that are introduced, thus helping to lower the inflammation level of the body. All good things in my book!
You’ll also benefit by avoiding many of the added ingredients contained in industrial dressings like sugar, xantham gum, corn syrup, autolyzed yeast extract, defatted soy flour, disodium guanylate, disodium inosinate, along with artificial colorings and “natural flavors”. Take a look at the Kraft Classic Caesar Dressing ingredient label below (yuck!), then we’ll learn how to make our own!
How To Make Your Own Salad Dressing
While there are tons of great salad dressings out there, today I’m going to give you two to start with: Caesar and Balsamic Vinaigrette. Also, please feel free to post your favorites in the comments section!
My all-time favorite Caesar dressing comes from Alice Waters from her cookbook The Art of Simple Food (one of my favorites – it can easily be adapted to cater to many nutrient-dense diets). The recipe can be found on Serious Eats here. My recommendation is to skip the croutons and just go for the bold Caesar flavor! The key here is to use high quality olive oil, along with good quality cheese.
Here’s my favorite Balsamic recipe, courtesy of Chinesegrandma.com. Balsamic Vinaigrette is so easy, so it’s one of the recipes I use most often. Rest assured that you really can’t go wrong as long as you use a good quality olive oil and balsamic vinegar!
Making our own food brings us back to eating real food, which is the basis of my nutrition approach. Forget relying on food companies to create healthy products for you and your family – take charge and make your own!