Salad Dressing on a Cholesterol-Lowering Diet

When you think of foods to eat when you're following a healthy diet — including one that can help lower your cholesterol and triglyceride levels — salads are one healthy food that comes to mind. Because some salads tend to be a little bland, it may be tempting to liven up your salad by adding salad dressing. Although some of these salad dressings can add a great amount of flavor to your salad, they can also add ingredients — such as saturated fat and sugar — that could derail your lipid-lowering diet. This guide will show you how to use your salad dressings wisely without sabotaging your cholesterol-lowering diet.

Olive oil and vinegar in bottles on the table / Getty Images

Cream-Based Versus Oil-Based Dressings

Although there are many varieties of salad dressing around, they can be categorized into two main groups:

  • Vinaigrette dressings
  • Cream-based dressings

Cream-based dressings usually consist of milk, sour cream, mayonnaise, or cream as a base. They are typically thick and uniform inconsistency. Cream-based dressings include bleu cheese, Thousand Island, ranch and Russian dressings. Due to the creamy base that they are made up of, using large amounts of these types of dressings on your salad may introduce saturated fat into your salad.

Vinaigrettes consist of varying combinations of oil and vinegar and may contain other ingredients such as grated cheeses, fruit juices, herbs, spices, or pepper. These dressings are easy to identify because they separate easily when they are not moved or shaken for a period of time. Examples of vinaigrettes include Italian dressing and ginger dressing.

Vinaigrettes do not have a creamy base, so they may contain less saturated fat. Even though these dressings contain oils that may add healthy unsaturated fats to your salad — they can still add calories, too.

Both types of dressings may also contain other ingredients that could potentially affect your heart health, such as salt and sugar. So, you should always check the label on the dressing bottle for calorie, fat, carbohydrate, and sodium content before adding it to your salad.

Using Salad Dressing When Watching Your Lipids

Just because you’re watching your lipids, it does not mean that you have to forgo using salad dressing altogether. However, because some of these dressings contain ingredients that could affect the amount of fat and calories you are consuming in your diet, you should be more careful about the amount you’re adding to your salad — or to other foods, such as crackers, sandwiches, or veggies.

There are a couple of ways to enjoy your favorite dressings without significantly affecting the health of your salad:

  • Never drench your salad. Whether you’re preparing your salad at home or ordering one in your favorite restaurant, you should always place your salad dressing in a container on the side — instead of having it placed directly on your salad. Not only does this allow you to add the salad dressing to your personal taste, but it can also help you to reduce calories.
  • Use low-fat versions of your favorite dressings. If you have a particular salad dressing that you like to use, check your local grocery store to see if it is available as a low-fat version. Although this reduces the amount of saturated fat in the dressing, some manufacturers may compensate by adding extra salt or sugar to it. Therefore, you should check your nutrition labels.

Do You Really Need Salad Dressing?

If you really want to cut the number of calories added to your salad — omit the salad dressing altogether. There are other ways to dress up your salad and add extra flavor to it without adding the dressing.

To give your salad a flavor boost, try one of the following ideas:

  • Add a handful of berries, such as strawberries, raspberries, tomatoes or mangos to your salad.
  • Squeeze in the juice of a lemon, lime, or other favorite fruit.
  • Add flavorful vegetables to your salad, such as chopped scallions, garlic, or onions
  • Use spices to liven up your salad, including as parsley, basil, garlic, or chives.
  • Add a dollop of hummus or salsa to your favorite salad.

Make Your Own Dressing

Making your own salad dressing can save you some money on your grocery bill and ensure that you are adding cholesterol-friendly ingredients. There are plenty of healthy salad dressings you can prepare ahead of time for your next salad. For example, try a Greek lemon-garlic salad dressing.

2 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Harvard Health Publishing. Is your salad dressing hurting your healthy diet?. Harvard Health.

  2. Moran NE, Johnson EJ. Closer to clarity on the effect of lipid consumption on fat-soluble vitamin and carotenoid absorption: do we need to close in further?. Am J Clin Nutr. 2017;106(4):969-970. doi:10.3945/ajcn.117.165894

By Jennifer Moll, PharmD
Jennifer Moll, MS, PharmD, is a pharmacist actively involved in educating patients about the importance of heart disease prevention.