A wide variety of dressings and marinades are available these days - but are we really aware of what's in them?
A closer look at what's in the bottle...
Salads can give us a lighter, lower calorie option for a quick meal at home, or at a restaurant. But what about the dressing we often drizzle liberally onto salads and side dishes?Oil-based dressings with added flavourings like sugar, salt, cheese and egg yolk can really bump up the calories, fat and sugar in your meal.With so many options out there,how can you be sure you’re making a healthy choice?
We looked at 10 popular salad dressings to see how they perform, and offer some balanced dressing recipe ideas to help you at home.
Think you’ve made a good choice?
If you stick to the suggested tablespoon serving, dressings may not cause too much of a problem, but most of us will consume more than this. Could choosing a ‘light’ option be any better? Although the calories and/or fat have been reduced, is it enough to make give those dressings a green - or even amber -traffic light?
Why is fat, sugar and salt so bad?
Most of us are aware of the health messages around fats, sugars and salt. Dressings are usually made with oil, meaning high amounts of total fat and calories. Although most dressings use vegetable oil, added ingredients like cream, cheese and egg yolk increase the saturated fat content.
Many of the dressings we looked at had added sugar, molasses, or concentrated fruit extracts. These add to your 'free sugar' intake, and we all need to reduce how much sugar we eat. There was only one dressing we chose that was categorised green for salt. As most of our salt comes from manufactured foods, this is worth thinking about.
Under the spotlight
Focusing on 10 well-known salad dressing brands, we give you the traffic light nutritional information so you can see exactly what’s going on in your favourite dressings.
Heinz Salad Cream (425g)
Hellman's Real Mayonnaise (600g)
Newman's Own Caesar Dressing (250ml)
Pizza Express House Dressing (235ml)
Sainsbury's Taste the Difference French Vinaigrette (255ml)
Mary Berry's Salad Dressing (480g)
Hellman's Light Mayonnaise (600g)
Waitrose Balsamic Vinegar of Modena (250ml)
Pizza Express Light Dressing (235ml)
Sainsbury's Chilli, Lime and Coriander Dressing (250ml)
So, what does this mean?
Looking at the results, you can see that there are some better choices available. Creamier dressings like Newman’s Own and Mary Berry’s salad dressing are unsurprisingly high in fat, saturated fat, and calories. The ingredients provide an explanation for this: lots of oil, egg yolks and some added sugar.
Most people love salad cream or mayonnaise, so how do they compare? Salad cream has around half the calories, and a third of the fat compared to mayonnaise. The sugar and salt are increased because of this, but not to the level of some other dressings we looked at. So, using a small amount of salad cream instead of mayonnaise could make quite a significant difference. Consider choosing the light version of salad cream to save further calories and fat.
Compared to normal mayo, a lot of the fat - and therefore the calories - in light mayo have been removed. It maintains its red status for total fat content though, as does salad cream. What about Pizza Express House Dressing versus the lighter version? The calories have less than halved and there are only modest reductions in the fat and saturated fat. The light versions tend to have a lower percentage of oil and more added flavours, thickeners and preservatives. This means they are lower in calories and total fat, but contain more artificial ingredients.
Whilst Balsamic vinegar is very low in both calories and fat, its quite high in sugar. Remember that a better option for weight management is to limit your sugar intake, so it depends on what you want to achieve.
Always check the label instead of relying on tags such as 'reduced fat' and 'light'. Why not make your own salad dressing? This way, you can control what ingredients are added as well as keeping a close eye on quantities.
If you can stick to a small serving, branded dressings can be okay. Remember that vinegar-based and less creamy options will always be lower in calories and fat.
Think about adding extra to flavour to salads with pomegranate seeds, herbs, citrus juice or zest and using seasonings like oregano, cumin and coriander.
Why not make your own healthy dressing?
We've created five tasty salad dressing recipes, all healthy options if you're looking for something to accompany your side salad.
Light salad dressings
Salad dressing recipes
Download any of our salad dressing recipes to try at home...
Caesar dressing (PDF, 25KB)
Citrus and poppyseed dressing (PDF, 33KB)
Parsley and chive dressing (PDF, 29KB)
Sesame dressing (PDF, 29KB)
Tomato and balsamic dressing (PDF, 29KB)
Do you have a tried-and-tested favourite dressing or marinade recipe that you always fall back on? If so, we'd love to hear from you.
Text equivalent of salad dressing analyses:
(per 15ml): Calories 44, Carbs 2.8, Sugar 2.6, Fat 3.6, Sat Fat 0.3, Salt 0.3. (per 100g): Calories 293, Carbs 18.5, Sugar 17, Fat 23.8, Sat Fat 1.8, Salt 1.7.
(per 15ml): Calories 60.3, Carbs 3.1, Sugar 3, Fat 5.3, Sat Fat 0.4, Salt 0.18. (per 100g): Calories 402, Carbs 21, Sugar 20, Fat 35, Sat Fat 2.4, Salt 1.2
(per 15ml): Calories 101, Carbs 0.5, Sugar 0.5, Fat 11, Sat Fat 0.9, Salt 0.2. (per 100g): Calories 721, Carbs 1.3, Sugar 1.3, Fat 79, Sat Fat 6.2, Salt 1.5.
(per 15ml): Calories 40, Carbs 0.9, Sugar 0.5, Fat 3.9, Sat Fat 0.4, Salt 0.3. (per 100g): Calories 270, Carbs 6.2, Sugar 2.3, Fat 27, Sat Fat 2.7, Salt 1.8.
(per 15ml): Calories 82.9, Carbs 0.4, Sugar 0.1, Fat 8.9, Sat Fat 0.3, Salt 0.3. (per 100ml): Calories 553, Carbs 2.9, Sugar 0.6, Fat 59.5, Sat Fat 4.6, Salt 2.3.
(per 15ml): Calories 26, Carbs 6.5, Sugar 5.7, Fat N/A, Sat Fat N/A, Salt Trace. (per 100ml): Calories 176, Carbs 43, Sugar 38, Fat N/A, Sat Fat N/A, Salt Trace.
(per 15ml): Calories 63.3, Carbs 0.75, Sugar 0.4, Fat 6.6, Sat Fat 0.9, Salt 0.4. (per 100ml): Calories 422, Carbs 5, Sugar 2.7, Fat 44.2, Sat Fat 6.1, Salt 2.4.
(per 15ml): Calories 44.7, Carbs 0.8, Sugar 0.7, Fat 4.5, Sat Fat 0.6, Salt 0.3. (per 100ml): Calories 298, Carbs 5.2, Sugar 4.6, Fat 30.3, Sat Fat 4.2, Salt 2.2.
(per 15ml): Calories 68, Carbs 2, Sugar 1.7, Fat 6.5, Sat Fat 0.4, Salt 0.2. (per 100ml): Calories 450, Carbs 13.6, Sugar 11.4, Fat 43.6, Sat Fat 2.7, Salt 1.0.
(per 15ml): Calories 38, Carbs 4, Sugar 3.4, Fat 2.4, Sat Fat 0.2, Salt 0.21. (per 100ml): Calories 255, Carbs 26.5, Sugar 22.5, Fat 16, Sat Fat 1.2, Salt 1.42.
Text equivalent of salad dressing recipes:
(Serves 2): 15g Parmesan cheese, finely grated; 2 tbsp low-fat natural yogurt; ½ tsp Dijon mustard; 1 tsp lemon juice; ½ tsp Worcestershire sauce; pinch white pepper. Mix all ingredients together. Ideal tossed into lots of crisp romaine or little gem lettuce and served with grilled chicken or fish. Or serve with asparagus in place of melted butter. (per 53g serving): Calories 61, Carbs 3.9, Sugar 3.5, Fat 3, Sat fat 1.9, Salt 0.4. (per 100g): Calories 115, Carbs 7.3, Sugar 6.5, Fat 5.6, Sat fat 3.5, Salt 0.8.
(Serves 2): Finely-grated zest and juice of half a lemon; Finely-grated zest and juice of half a small orange; 1 tbsp rapeseed oil; 1 tsp Dijon mustard; 1 heaped tsp poppy seeds; good pinch pepper. Mix all ingredients together. Great tossed into mixed leaves, especially when served with fish. (per 53g serving): Calories 80, Carbs 2.6, Sugar 2.4, Fat 7, Sat fat 0.6, Salt 0.3. (per 100g): Calories, 185, Carbs 6.0, Sugar 5.5, Fat 17, Sat fat 1.4, Salt 0.7.
(Serves 2): 1 tsp wholegrain mustard; 1 dsp white wine vinegar; 2 tbsp low-fat plain yogurt; 1 tbsp of finely-chopped fresh parsley; 1 tbsp freshly-chopped chives; good pinch pepper. Mix all ingredients together. Perfect drizzled over a plate of thinly-sliced tomatoes or for tossing into a mixed salad. Or use in a potato salad in place of mayonnaise. (per 53g serving): Calories 129, Carbs 3.4, Sugar 3.1, Fat 0.8, Sat fat 0.3, Salt 0.2. (per 100g): Calories 230, Carbs 6.1, Sugar 5.6, Fat 1.4, Sat fat 0.5, Salt 0.3.
(Serves 1): 1 tbsp 0% fat low-fat plain yogurt; 1 tsp tahini (sesame paste); 1 tsp lemon juice; good pinch pepper. Mix all ingredients together. Delicious tossed into any salad or served with warm roasted root vegetables or steamed sprouting broccoli. (per 53g serving): Calories 120, Carbs 3.5, Sugar 3.1, Fat 9, Sat fat 1.5, Salt 0.1. (per 100g): Calories 202, Carbs 5.8, Sugar 5.3, Fat 16, Sat fat 2.6, Salt 0.1.
(Serves 1): 4 ripe cherry tomatoes, finely chopped; 2 tsp balsamic vinegar; 2 tsp extra virgin olive oil; pinch dried oregano; good pinch pepper. Mix all ingredients together. Toss over any mixed or green salad. Brilliant served over avocado. (per 53g serving): Calories 68, Carbs 1.7, Sugar 1.2, Fat 6, Sat fat 0.9, Salt 0.01. (per 100g): Calories 161, Carbs 4.0, Sugar 2.9, Fat 15, Sat fat 2.1, Salt 0.01.