Monday, March 5, 2007

Full-Fat Salad Dressings Healthier than Fat-Free

Full-Fat Salad Dressings Healthier than Fat-Free

There is a public misconception that all fat is bad for you. In reality, there are good fats (those found in nuts), bad fats (saturated animal fat), great fats (omega-3's found in flax seeds) and killer fats (trans fats found in both animal fat and hydrogenated oils used in processed foods). Although experiments on nonhuman animals show conflicting results (as usual), the human data is quite good. For example in the Harvard Nurse's Study, after following over 75,000 women for a decade, those that put oil and vinegar dressing on their daily salad had less than half the cardiac mortality compared to those who, for instance, used fat-free dressings. They cut their risk of dying from a fatal heart attack in half with Italian dressing! Those that used dairy or egg-based creamy dressings, of course, had zero benefit.[1]

Canola oil-based salad dressings are an important source of omega-3 fatty acids in this country. For example, one tablespoon of Annie's Goddess Dressing contains about 25% of your daily recommended omega-3 intake--add a tablespoon of ground flax seeds or a handful of walnuts to your salad and you're basically set for the day.

The Harvard researchers are concerned about people switching over to fat-free dressings. They conclude their report with the sentence "Our findings suggest that a reduction in consumption of foods such as oil-based salad dressings... may increase the risk of fatal ischemic heart disease."[2]

Eating a source of fat with your salad greens (or any vegetable for that matter), also helps the absorption of critical nutrients. Your intestines require the presence of fat to absorb carotenoid phytonutrients like beta-carotene and lycopene. A new study published in the August issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that fat is essential.[3]

Researchers at the University of Iowa gave people nice salads containing spinach, romaine lettuce, grated carrots and cherry tomatoes. With the dark green leafy spinach in there, the salad was just packed with cancer-fighting antioxidant carotenoids, but it's not what you eat, it's what you absorb. And the researchers found that "Essentially no absorption of carotenoids was observed when salads with fat-free salad dressings were consumed." So be sure to include some source of fat at your meals. The healthiest sources of fat, of course, are from unrefined whole foods. So by adding nuts and seeds or avocado to your meal you not only get all their nutritional benefit, but you enhance your absorption of other nutrients in the rest of the meal.

Don't be a fatphobe :)
[1 American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 69(1999):890
[2] American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 69(1999):890
[3] American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 80(2004):396

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