Javascript is not enabled.

Javascript must be enabled to use this site. Please enable Javascript in your browser and try again.

Skip to content
Content starts here
Leaving Website

You are now leaving and going to a website that is not operated by AARP. A different privacy policy and terms of service will apply.

The New Fat-Friendly Salad

Research shows how important healthy oils are to your diet

spinner image Hand pouring dressing
Adding extra dressing actually can increase the absorption of eight different nutrients.
Violeta Pasat/Offset

You may feel a trace of guilt about putting dressing on your salad. Or are you in the habit of ordering it on the side, so you'll use less? It's officially time to let go of all that. A recent study by Iowa State University shows that the typical oil in dressing significantly boosts the nutrition you take in from veggies like carrots, tomatoes and leafy greens. And the more you pour on, the more benefit you'll receive. The study's lead author, Wendy White, describes it as “that rare, perfectly linear relationship” where doubling the dressing doubles the absorption of eight different nutrients, including cancer-fighting carotenoids and vitamins K, E and A.

The difference salad dressing makes turns out to be critical with nutrients such as, say, beta-carotene. “If you eat a baby carrot on its own, there's basically no absorption of the fat-soluble vitamins in it,” says White. And with only nine percent of American adults consuming the recommended two to three cups of veggies a day, “it becomes even more important to optimize the nutrients they do consume.” Beyond oils, studies have found that the healthy fats in items like eggs and avocado also can help you absorb the vitamins and antioxidants in the “nutritional powerhouses” that are salad vegetables, White notes.

spinner image Image Alt Attribute

AARP Membership— $12 for your first year when you sign up for Automatic Renewal

Get instant access to members-only products and hundreds of discounts, a free second membership, and a subscription to AARP the Magazine.

Join Now

For the study, White's team tested with soybean oil — the most commonly used oil in dressings bottled by the food industry. Years ago, in another frequently cited study, White had used canola to prove similar nutrient-boosting results. This time her research offered proof of additional nutrients that are better absorbed with a healthy oil, including the carotenoid lutein, which is key to preventing age-related macular degeneration.

White's work fits in with a larger nutritional push toward more healthy fats. It follows recent government nutrition guidelines lifting limits on total fats in our diets, as well as studies showing that low-fat diets don't promote the satiety you need to effectively maintain your weight. Still, White doesn't recommend going too nuts with the Italian. At 120 calories per tablespoon, she notes, oil is still a calorie-dense addition to your diet — and moderation would be wise.

Discover AARP Members Only Access

Join AARP to Continue

Already a Member?

spinner image membership-card-w-shadow-192x134

Join AARP today for $16 per year. Get instant access to members-only products and hundreds of discounts, a free second membership, and a subscription to AARP The Magazine.