Store-bought salad dressings come in endless varieties. Some can serve as a healthy addition to an already healthy salad, while others can turn your veggies into a saturated fat and sodium-loaded meal. In general, we recommend opting for a vinaigrette dressing (like balsamic or Italian) instead of the creamy ones (like ranch and Caesar). However, even vinaigrettes can have some not-so-healthy hidden ingredients and additives. We taste-tested five varieties of balsamic vinaigrette dressing to find one that has the best taste and nutrition.
Salad Dressing Competitors
From left to right: Kraft Lite Balsamic Vinaigrette Dressing, 365 Organics Balsamic Vinaigrette, Ken’s Steak House Balsamic with Honey Dressing, Newman’s Own Creamy Balsamic, Annie’s Naturals Balsamic Vinaigrette
Salad Dressing Blind Tasting
Salad Dressing Taste Results
365 Organics Balsamic Vinaigrette was the top winner of the taste comparison. Ken’s Balsamic with Honey Dressing came in as a close second. Annie’s Naturals Balsamic Vinaigrette and Kraft Lite Balsamic Vinaigrette Dressing came in last, with the least desirable taste.
What to Look for When Buying Salad Dressing
Store-bought salad dressings generally contain cheap-to-manufacture oils, such as soybean and canola oil. In order to get the most bang for your buck, look for salad dressings that have expeller-pressed oil in the ingredients list. Expeller-pressed oils use less chemicals during processing and are generally considered to produce a higher-quality oil.
Sugar and sodium content can also go overboard in salad dressings. In general, look for dressings with no added sugars and around 200 or fewer milligrams of sodium per serving.
What to Avoid When Choosing a Salad Dressing
Many different types of sweeteners are used in salad dressings. The most common include honey, sugar and high fructose corn syrup. Ken’s Balsamic with Honey Dressing actually uses high fructose corn syrup in addition to honey to provide sweetness. High fructose corn syrup is a very cheap-to-produce ingredient and is extremely sweet (a little goes a long way), which is why it’s found in many processed foods.
Why exactly is high fructose corn syrup bad? There are many reasons, but the most significant is that our bodies don’t metabolize it the same way as we do with regular table sugar (sucrose). Research suggests that high fructose corn syrup is more likely to promote fat production and storage than table sugar.
Why Lite and Fat-Free Salad Dressings Aren’t Always Healthy
Kraft Lite Balsamic contained the least amount of calories and fat of the dressings tested (25 cals and 1 g fat). The reason for the lower fat content is that water is used as the main ingredient. In order to get the same consistency and flavor of a full-fat dressing, a variety of additives are used (xanthan gum, soy lecithin, mono and diglycerides). While this may seem like a healthier option, fats serve an important role when eating a salad.
The kind of fats used in vinaigrette dressings (mono and polyunsaturated fat) are generally healthy fats. One of their jobs is to help our bodies absorb vitamins A, D, E and K. If you’re eating a salad, having a good amount of healthy fats will help your body absorb these vitamins from the veggies. Without fat, you might not absorb them properly and therefore not get as much nutrition bang for your buck.
Zipongo Recommendation (and how to watch your portions)
365 Organics was the winner in both taste and nutrition. It contains no added sugars, uses expeller-pressed oil and has a reasonable amount of sodium (210 mg per serving). Added bonus: It was also one of the less expensive dressings tested (24¢ per ounce).
Portion control: One serving of salad dressing is generally 2 tablespoons. However, the standard plastic dressing cup (pictured above) fits about 4 tablespoons of dressing. If you add one full plastic cup of dressing to your salad, double everything on the nutrition label to figure out exactly how much you’re actually eating.
Bobby is the community and social media manager at Zipongo. He has a degree in nutrition and dietetics and previously worked as a health educator.