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Earth Eats: Real Food, Green Living

Hold the Dressing? Not So Fast

A new study says our bodies don’t readily absorb nutrients from veggies, like beta-carotene and lycopene, without a little fat.


Photo: Sarah Kaiser/WFIU

These greens picked fresh from Sarah Kaiser's hoop house are drizzled with a Creamy Tahini Dressing.

Good news for vegetable lovers who like a little dressing on their salads.

Research from Purdue University published last week in the journal Molecular Nutrition & Food Research shows that you can “utilize more from your fruits and vegetables” by pairing them with dressings with some kind of fat.

Cashing In On Calories

29 participants ate salads with dressing made of different amounts of canola oil (monounsaturated fat), soybean oil (polyunsaturated fat), or butter (saturated fat). After dining, the subjects’ blood was tested to determine how well lycopene and beta-carotene, two carotenoids associated with reduced risk of heart disease and cancer, were absorbed.

An increase in the dressing’s monounsaturated fat content, from 3 to 20 grams, did not raise the amount of carotenoid absorption.

However, sometimes less is more. Monounsaturated fats provided the most absorption of any of the 3-gram salad dressings — meaning you get the most nutritional bang for your caloric buck.

Polyunsaturated fats, on the other hand, gave the most increase in absorption when eaten in higher doses. Soybean oil, when eaten in the largest amount, offered the most overall absorption of any fat.

Fat-Free, Nutrient-Free

What can readers take away from this study?

Lead author and associate professor of food science Mario Feruzzi said in a statement: “If you have a salad with a fat-free dressing, there is a reduction in calories, but you lose some of the benefits of the vegetables.”

Dress Up Your Veggies

Looking for a salad dressing recipe to help your body get all the beta-carotene and lycopene it can? Here are a few ideas from the Earth Eats archives:

Remember, you don’t have to use the type of oil listed in these recipes. Substitute olive oil for more calorie reduction, or try soybean oil for more cancer-busting nutrient absorption and a new flavor.

You can also check out this table showing the fat composition of different oils, meats, cheese, nuts and more.

Read More:

  • Make Your Vegetables Even Healthier With… Fatty Salad Dressing? (The Atlantic)
  • Salad dressing may be good for your salad and health (LA Times)
  • Reduced risk of cancer and heart disease from carotenoids (Oregon State University)
Sarah Kaiser

Sarah Kaiser is a student-turned-townie living in Bloomington, Indiana. A social media specialist at Solution Tree, she spends her days tweeting and her nights foraging at the local summer market for new tastes and flavors. And occasionally rocking out on the ukulele.

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