Do you use fat-free salad dressings to keep your weight down? Many people do. Fat-free dressings have become so popular that you can find them available in most restaurants. But opting for this dietary adjustment isn't as smart as it may seem. Not if you want to get the maximum nutrients out of your foods.
Let's face it, one big reason for eating fruits and vegetables is that they're packed with healthful antioxidants and other beneficial nutrients.
But the type and amount of fats you eat in a meal containing fat-soluble vitamins like vitamins A and E determines how much of these nutrients you can absorb and utilize. That's what a study out of Purdue University found when they tested salad dressings with different kinds of fats for carotenoid levels. Carotenoids are plant pigments that the body turns into vitamin A – like beta-carotene and lutein. They are extremely beneficial in lowering a person's risk of cancer, macular degeneration, and heart disease.
A prior 2004 study from Iowa State University found that carotenoids were more bioavailable in full-fat dressings than in either low-fat or fat-free dressings. This more recent study took a closer look at the kinds and amounts of fats used.
For this study, a group of participants ate salads with dressings made from butter (saturated fat), canola oil (monounsaturated fat), or soybean oil (polyunsaturated fat). Each salad contained 3, 8, or 20 grams of dressing. Here's what the researchers found.
Soybean oil was dose dependent. The more soy oil dressing on the salad, the more carotenoids they absorbed. With the monounsaturated fats dressing, made from canola or olive oil, the carotenoid absorption was the same when they ate 3 grams or 20 grams. So if you want to lower your calories and still get plenty of antioxidants, pass on the fat-free dressing. Use a little full-fat salad dressing made with olive oil instead.
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Goltz, Shellen R., Wayne W. Campbell, Chureeporn Chitchumroonchokchai, Mark L. Failla, and Mario G. Ferruzzi. “Meal triacylglycerol profile modulates postprandial absorption of carotenoids in humans.” Molecular Nutrition & Food Research, 2012; 56 (6): 866 DOI: 10.1002/mnfr.201100687.