Help your salad stay nutritious by picking a good-for-you dressing.

Isadora Baum; Reviewed by Lisa Valente, M.S., R.D.
January 12, 2021
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blue cheese wedge salad
Getty / TheCrimsonMonkey
| Credit: Getty / TheCrimsonMonkey

Salad is a go-to meal if you're trying to lose weight, since it tends to be lower in calories and pack lots of nutrients from fresh produce. But let's face it: There's nothing worse than a boring or dry salad. You need a delicious dressing to add moisture and flavor to your bed of greens. Plus, the fats in salad dressing helps your body absorb the nutrients in your salad. However, the dressing you choose can hinder, rather than help, your health goals if it's too high in calories, saturated fat, sugar or sodium.

"Ultimately, you need to create a calorie deficit to lose weight, and there are certainly some dressing options that are higher in calories than others," says Lauren Harris-Pincus, M.S., RDN, and author of The Protein-Packed Breakfast Club. While it can vary depending on what type of diet you're on, these are generally some of the best and worst dressings if you're trying to lose weight.

The Best Salad Dressings for Weight Loss

Yogurt-Based Dressings

"Yogurt-based dressings like the ones from Bolthouse Farms give you the best of both worlds since they're creamy but also low in calories," says Charlotte Martin, M.S., RDN, CSOWM, CPT. For example, the "Chunky Blue Cheese" from Bolthouse Farms has just 35 calories per two tablespoons and even provides two grams of protein. It gives you that creamy texture, but without lots of saturated fat you'd find in traditional creamy dressings.

Balsamic Vinaigrette

You usually can't go wrong with a balsamic vinaigrette, since it has very few ingredients and tastes great. Martin says, "It's got a hint of sweetness with little to no added sugar and is packed with heart-healthy unsaturated fats." Plus, the lack of sugar can be good for those looking to lose weight in particular, as well as for those on low-sugar and low-carb diet plans.

Harris-Pincus explains, "Those looking to follow a lower-carb plan or people watching added sugars would do better avoiding sweeter dressings like Honey Mustard, Thousand Island, French or Catalina, and choose oil and vinegar or a balsamic vinaigrette."

Whole 30-Approved Dressings

Though we're not huge fans of this restrictive diet plan, choosing Whole 30-approved dressings can be a smart move. "Added sugars are a big issue when it comes to store-bought salad dressings. Thankfully, Whole-30-approved brands aren't allowed to use added sugar," says Martin. So, if you see the Whole 30 stamp of approval, you'll know there's no added sugar in your dressing, and you're good to go!

Olive Oil and Lemon

While not totally a "dressing," it still counts. Olive oil is full of healthy fats that protect your heart, and it's nice and refreshing when paired with lemon and a little bit of salt and pepper. You could even add shallots or herbs, like in this Parsley-Lemon Vinaigrette.

The Worst Salad Dressings for Weight Loss

Caesar

There's a reason you'll find Caesar salad listed on just about every menu is America: "Caesar dressings are just so tasty and that's thanks to the high fat content. They can run close to 20 grams fat per two tablespoon serving though," Martin says. The high fat comes from unhealthy fats too, so it's not the same effect you'd get if you were enjoying olive oil over your spinach. Plus it's high in calories and sodium too, which can negatively impact weight-loss efforts.

Thousand Island or French Dressings

Martin says, "Thousand island is one dressing you probably want to avoid. It's notorious for being high in sodium and added sugar and sugar is often listed at the top of the ingredient list." That sugar can make it hard to lose weight and it can raise blood sugar (read: it'll cause a sugar crash later).

The same goes go French dressing. "Like Thousand Island dressing, it's packed with added sugar and has sugar at the top of the ingredient list," Martin adds.

Blue Cheese

"The higher fat, higher calorie creamy dressings such as Caesar, blue cheese or ranch pack about 110-120 calories and 12g fat per 2 tablespoons, which is almost double of some vinaigrettes," says Harris-Pincus. Plus blue cheese dressing doesn't spread far as it's so thick, so you will likely keep piling it on and adding more! This can take you back a couple of servings.

How to Tell If Your Bottled Dressing Is Healthy

The "best" dressings to choose from at the store tend to be those in the refrigerated section of the produce department. Harris-Pincus says, "This is where you will find the yogurt-based dressings which are significantly lower in calories and fat than mayo- or oil-based options."

The word "creamy" usually indicates a higher amount of fat, usually in the form of saturated fats, so avoid ones that say creamy on the label. And go for a short and sweet ingredient list. "I read the ingredient list to make sure there aren't any artificial colors, ingredients, and preservatives, as well as ingredients that aren't easily pronounceable," says Martin.

Bottled dressings range in calories and ingredients, so always consult the label to decide before buying to be sure. And don't think that lower calories, always means better for you. "There are fat-free versions of these dressings available, however, they don't taste great and contain extra sugar to make up for the missing fat," says Harris-Pincus.

Go with full-fat versions that are healthier for greater quality, less sugar and that nice creamy texture. Plus, Martin says, "We want some healthy fat in our salad dressing! Fat helps us absorb the fat-soluble vitamins (vitamins A, D, E, and K) that can be found in the produce and proteins in our salad."

In general, here are some guidelines. "I usually recommend sticking with dressings that have no more than 150 calories per two tablespoon serving," says Martin, "and no more than 2 grams of sugar per serving."

Many salad dressings will have a little bit of sugar, and that's okay, but save the sugar for a salad topper like fresh sliced fruit or unsweetened dried fruit. "To put this into perspective, one teaspoon of sugar has four grams of sugar. So, a half-teaspoon of sugar max per serving of salad dressing (which is typically one to two tablespoons) is plenty," Martin adds.