Salad dressing: low-fat, homemade, delicious

The average salad dressing can fatten up an otherwise nonfat salad more than you might think. A ladle at most salad bars holds two to six tablespoons of dressing. Since most regular dressings contain 6 to 8 grams of fat and 75 calories per tablespoon, a large ladle may give you 48 grams of fat and 450 calories. That’s as much fat as someone on a 1,500-calorie daily diet should eat in an entire day. Salad dressing is one of the leading sources of fat in the American diet, especially for women aged 19 to 50, according to USDA surveys.

Most commercial dressings, whether creamy or oily, are primarily fat, with 85% of their calories coming from the oil they’re made with – usually soybean oil. Some dressings also contain eggs, cream, and cheese.

Dressing for success

* Try one of the many new fat-free dressings sold in supermarkets. They have only 5 to 20 calories per tablespoon (but as much as 200 milligrams of sodium). Water is usually the first ingredient, followed by vinegar, some form of sugar (such as corn syrup), spices, and sometimes lemon juice or tomato paste.

* Make your own lower-fat vinegar-and-oil dressing. The classic recipe for vinaigrette calls for a three-to-one ratio of oil to vinegar: that’s about 90 calories per tablespoon. Instead try a one-to-one–or even lower–ratio. It helps to use a flavorful oil, such as olive, sesame, or walnut, so you’ll need less. (All oils have the same number of calories and amount of fat.)

* Stretch your dressing with broth, fruit or vegetable juice, wine, or honey. Mayonnaise can be thinned with lemon juice, vinegar, plain nonfat yogurt, or tomato puree.

* For thick, creamy dressings, experiment with a low-fat or even nonfat product (yogurt, sour cream, or mayonnaise) as a base. For instance, nonfat yogurt flavored with herbs and spices makes a good basic dressing. You can also try buttermilk, evaporated skim milk, or pureed cottage cheese as a base.

* Try using no oil at all. Some people like plain lemon or lime juice. Try salsa (you can blend it with nonfat yogurt). Or sprinkle your salad with a mild vinegar–balsamic, rice, or wine vinegar, or one flavored with fruit or herbs. Experiment with combinations of tomato puree or tomato juice, plain nonfat yogurt or buttermilk, apple juice, lemon or lime juice, dry or prepared mustard, minced or crushed garlic or onion, herbs, cumin, curry powder, and hot pepper sauce or Worcestershire in small amounts. When you find a combination you like, you can make a batch and refrigerate it.

* In restaurants, ask for the gluten free salad dressing on the side, and measure it with a teaspoon, not a tablespoon.

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