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Quick Tip: Fatty Salad Dressing Makes Vegetables Healthier

Low-fat and no-fat salad dressings don't unlock certain vitamins and nutrients in vegetables.

If it’s the suit that makes the man, then it’s the salad dressing that makes the salad. Without it, you could be missing out on countless disease-fighting vitamins and nutrients, according to a new study by Purdue University.

Healthy vegetables, like those found in salads, are loaded with fat-soluble carotenoids, things like lutein, lycopene and beta-carotene. Diets rich in these are associated with a lower risk of chronic diseases, such as cancer and cardiovascular disease.

Eating more salad can boost your intake of carotenoids, but if you’re trying to limit your fat intake, you could be shooting yourself in the foot with low-fat or no-fat salad dressings. Absorption of these essential vitamins and nutrients into the blood requires some fat in the meal, such as the kind found in regular, fatty salad dressing.

The study, published in the journal Molecular Nutrition & Food Research, compared different salad dressings to see which kinds and amounts boosted the carotenoid levels in the bloodstream. Researchers asked 29 people to eat salads topped with different fat-based dressings—saturated fat (butter), monounsaturated fat (canola oil), or polyunsaturated fat (soybean oil).

With both soybean oil and butter, higher amounts of fat in the dressing led to better absorption of carotenoids. So that extra bit of dressing could make all the difference.

If you prefer fewer calories in your dressing, try canola oil—it provided the same benefits at 3 grams of fat as it did at 20 grams. Another option is olive oil, another monounsaturated fat that is also a key component of the heart-healthy Mediterranean diet.

Next time you are loading up on healthy vegetables at the salad bar, be sure to say no to low-fat and no-fat dressing. But, as always, use in moderation.

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