Healthy salad dressings: Delicious and easier to make than you think |

Healthy salad dressings: Delicious and easier to make than you think

By Betsy Berthin RD, LD

Tribune Media Service

There was a time when salads were assumed to be healthy, low fat and nutritious. Well, those days are over (for the most part). Salads are triple, if not quadruple, the size they once were, thanks to the steady supersizing of salad plates and bowls. Bigger salads call for bigger helpings of salad dressing. And if you didn’t know this already, salad dressings are often loaded with fat and calories.

The main ingredient of a vinaigrette is oil, and the main ingredient of a creamy dressing is mayonnaise, heavy cream or eggs. All oils have 120 calories and 14 grams of fat per tablespoon, and mayo has about 90 calories and 10 grams of fat per tablespoon. Sure, good oils like olive oil contain good fats, but calories are still calories. Heavy cream and eggs rank pretty high in fats and calories as well.

Large dinner salads can easily clear 5 tablespoons of dressing and go as high as 10 tablespoons (think about Cheesecake Factory size salads). If you haven’t already done the math, you may be averaging 500 calories and 50 grams of fat. This, of course, is dressing alone. Once cheese, avocado, bacon bits, fried wontons, croutons and processed meats are added, it’s not unheard of to have a salad closing in on 1,000 calories.

Making healthy substitutions to your salad dressing is not as challenging as it may seem. In fact, it’s rather easy. Here are some tips:

• Vinaigrettes: Herbs (dill, chives, rosemary), spices, garlic, and shallots help add flavor to any salad dressing. Red or white wine vinegar, lemon or orange juice (really any citrus), and chicken or vegetable stock are low fat and take the place of excess oils when making a vinaigrette. Mustards like Dijon can also replace a portion of oil as well as add thickness to the dressing. On the same note, rice wine vinegar and soy sauce can replace a large portion of the oil in Asian vinaigrettes. (I recommend sesame oil for that extra Asian punch – and because it is so flavorful, much less is needed.)

Classic vinaigrettes generally contain a 3-to-1 or 4-to-1 ratio of oil to vinegar. Using some of the ingredients mentioned above, you can bring those numbers closer parity, yielding a healthier and more flavorful dressing.

• Creamy Dressings: Tofu might not seem like an obvious substitution choice, but pureed in the blender it’s a perfect base for a creamy dressing. Tofu is also a great source of protein and calcium, both not found in large quantities in salads. Mori-Nu Silken Tofu is a brand I often use and like. It’s available in most grocery store and gourmet shops. Low-fat sour cream and low fat plain yogurts also make good substitutions for creamy dressings like Russian.

It’s hard to beat your own homemade salad dressing. Sure, low-fat versions of the fatty standards are available, but they’re mostly filled with sugars, less than desirable oils, and a plethora of ingredients you probably can’t pronounce. The key is to reduce the high calorie and fat ingredients, and bump up ingredients that add flavor and texture.

Miso and Ginger Dressing

Makes 1 cup

6 oz. tofu (firm)

3 tablespoons miso

1 tablespoon mirin

2 teaspoons light soy sauce

2 teaspoons rice wine vinegar

2 teaspoons Asian sesame oil

3 tablespoons vegetable stock/broth

1 teaspoon honey

1 garlic clove, minced

2 teaspoons fresh ginger, minced

1 teaspoon sesame seeds

Combine all ingredients in a blender and puree until smooth. May need to add additional stock to make dressing pourable.

Correct dressing by adding soy sauce or rice wine vinegar to taste.

Per tablespoon: 29 calories, 2 grams protein, 2 grams fat, 2 grams carbohydrates, 162 mg sodium, 0 mg cholesterol

Mexican Vinaigrette

Serves 4

3 tablespoons orange juice

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/4 teaspoon cumin

1 clove garlic, minced

1/2 teaspoon salt

Ground pepper

Combine all ingredients in a non-reactive bowl.

Whisk until ingredients are mixed.

Betsy Berthin, R.D. is a registered dietician and nutritional consultant based in Miami, Fla. Do you have questions? Visit her at her website