Dr. Day is a cardiologist/electrophysiologist at the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute in Salt Lake City, Utah. He graduated from Johns Hopkins Medical School and completed his residency and fellowships in cardiology and electrophysiology at Stanford University. He is the former president of the Heart Rhythm Society and currently serves as the president of the Utah chapter of the American College of Cardiology.
Is Salad Dressing Healthy?
Eating salads are always your healthiest option, right? Not so fast. The 20+ chemicals in your typical highly processed ranch salad dressing could harm your health.
It seems like such a shame to take a healthy food, like a salad, and then smother it in chemicals which may hurt our health. Can we both make the salad taste great and do our body good?
Unfortunately, most people use commercial salad dressings like the one shown in this photo. I always worry when any product has more than a few ingredients. In this article I will answer the question is salad dressing healthy, carefully analyze the 21 ingredients in this popular ranch dressing, provide my personal opinion on these 21 ingredients, and offer much healthier and better tasting alternatives.
The 21 Ingredients in a Typical Processed Food Ranch Salad Dressing
Here are the 21 ingredients, listed in order, of the popular ranch salad dressing shown in the photo. Do you really want to put all of these chemicals into your body?
1. Vegetable Oil
In the past, vegetable oils were felt to be better than saturated fats. New data suggests that vegetable oils may actually increase our risk of heart disease.
I worry about vegetable oils because they are highly processed and contain high amounts of omega 6 fatty acids which have been shown to cause inflammation leading to conditions such as arthritis, asthma, or even cancer.
Also, vegetable oils may be hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated which means they contain the deadly trans fat. Fortunately, this one is not listed as being hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated. However, as it is not organic, we can assume that it is genetically modified (GMO) which may cause long-term health effects that we are not aware of yet.
3. Egg Yolk
As it does not state “pasture raised” or “organic” these may not be the healthiest eggs. These eggs likely came from chickens fed processed foods (GMO grains), antibiotics, and hormones. These eggs are also likely to be much higher in the inflammation producing omega 6 fats.
Why does a ranch salad dressing need to have added sugar? This is just one of many hidden sources of added sugars in our diet.
There actually is a lot more salt in commercial salad dressings than you might imagine. The label indicates there is 260 mg for a two tablespoon serving. The trouble is that for most people two tablespoons is an unrealistic serving size. If you assume a four tablespoon serving that equates to 520 mg of sodium!
6. Cultured Non-Fat Buttermilk
7. Natural Flavors
This one always scares me. “Natural flavors” are not natural at all. It could be MSG or some other man-made chemical.
Once again, we don’t know what spices these are. Let’s hope they are healthy spices.
9. Dried Garlic
10. Dried Onion
12. Phosphoric Acid
Phosphoric acid is the same thing that is in Coke! This is a corrosive acid that is also used in fertilizers. It gives food a tangy taste and helps to prevent the growth of molds and bacteria in sugary substances.
Phosphoric acid may be a cause of osteoporosis and tooth decay. Phosphoric acid may also be a cause of kidney stones. This is definitely a chemical that our bodies do not need!
13. Xanthan Gum
While xanthan gum is probably safe, there are reports that it can cause life-threatening necrotizing enterocolitis in children. Here is a link to this report from the New York Times. Also, in some people xanthan gum can cause digestive problems.
14. Modified Food Starch
Once again this is a bit of a mystery. Modified food starch could be wheat, rice, corn, potato, or tapioca. If you are gluten sensitive this could be a problem.
The “modified” here could mean many different things. It could have been heated or treated with a number of different chemicals, emulsifiers, or acids.
MSG is certainly very controversial. It can cause headaches. Some research suggests it may cause us to gain weight or develop neurological problems such as Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s Disease, multiple sclerosis, or ADHD.
16. Artificial Flavors
Once again this is another mystery ingredient. These are basically chemicals designed to mimic real flavors.
17. Disodium Phosphate
This is a chemical used in processed foods to stabilize the pH of the product.
18. Sorbic Acid
This is a chemical to keep food from spoiling. It is a preservative with anti-microbial properties. This food additive, like so many others in this ranch dressing, is on the list of unacceptable chemicals to be included in food by Whole Foods.
19. Calcium Disodium EDTA
20. Disodium Inosinate
This is a flavor enhancer chemical typically used with MSG. In susceptible people this could contribute to kidney or gall stones.
21. Disodium Guanylate
This is yet another flavor enhancer chemical and is often used in combination with MSG. Once again, this chemical can cause kidney or gall stones in some people.
Healthier Options for Salad Dressings
When it comes to salad dressings it is best to avoid most commercial salad dressings and make your own. If you are eating out see if they have olive oil and balsamic vinegar that you can put on your salad.
A better option is to make a large batch of salad dressing at home one or two times a week. Most can be made in under five minutes and stay fresh anywhere from a few days to a week or two in the fridge.
I especially like the French vinaigrette and lemon olive oil dressings on this page. If you like a more fruity dressing try one of these dressings on this page. For an Asian salad dressing try one of these on this page. Other options could be a Tahini lemon dressing or a roasted tomato maple dressing here. There are so many different healthy and quick options.
Hopefully the answer to “is salad dressing healthy” rather obvious. It depends. If you make your own it could be incredibly healthy and tasty!
Do you make your own salad dressing? What is your favorite?
Disclaimer Policy: This website is intended to give general information and does not provide medical advice. This website does not create a doctor-patient relationship between you and Dr. John Day. If you have a medical problem, immediately contact your healthcare provider. Information on this website is not intended to diagnose or treat any condition. Dr. John Day is not responsible for any losses, damages or claims that may result from your medical decisions.