5 reasons to ditch store-bought dressings and switch to homemade vinaigrettes

So, you say you’ve shifted your healthy eating habits into gear and are cruising on the highway to health. You’ve embraced a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, added more color to your plate, and are enjoying fresh salads with thoughtfully selected toppings. But, if you’re drenching your nutritious salads with conventional store-bought salad dressings, pull over!

More often than not, bottled salad dressings are highly processed and packed with harmful ingredients that pollute a perfectly prepared salad and undermine the best intentions. Even seemingly innocent store-bought dressings marketed as “healthy” can’t compete with mindfully-made DIY alternatives.

Here are five reasons to say goodbye to bottled dressings and hello to homemade vinaigrettes:

 1.  Take control of what you consume (and its quality).

Whether shelved or refrigerated, the majority of store-bought salad dressings contain unfavorable amounts of sodium and sugar, unnatural additives, unhealthy fats, and excess calories — all things to avoid if you aim to optimize your health. Here’s a breakdown:

Sodium: While sodium is essential to life, a high-salt diet can provoke or perpetuate a heap of health problems such as hypertension and osteoporosis. While skimping on table salt can help, more than 70% of the sodium we consume is actually hidden in plain sight — in processed foods. Conventional salad dressings are no exception and often contain scary amounts of sodium.

Sugar: Store-bought salad dressings are also a sneaky source of added sugars (i.e., not naturally occurring sugars such as those in fruit or milk). Even natural sweeteners such as maple syrup and honey contribute to overconsumption of sugar, which is a chronic concern in America. When it comes to added sugars, experts say it’s all the same no matter the name — excess sugar can wreak havoc on your health. One of the American Heart Association’s top tips for sugar swaps is to make salad dressings from scratch.

Unnatural additives: Many processed and packaged food products are infused with unnatural additives such as chemicals and genetically modified ingredients that are difficult to pronounce and digest. Once again, this applies to bottled dressings, too. Artificial flavors, colors, and preservatives are often added to enhance appearance and shelf-appeal as well as to improve taste, texture, and overall “mouthfeel.” You read that right — “mouthfeel.” While these additives may boost cravings, they won’t boost your well-being.

Unhealthy fats: Several store-bought dressings are rich in saturated fats and even those labeled as oil-based vinaigrettes rarely contain high-quality oil such as 100% extra virgin olive oil (EVOO). Instead, they often consist of cheap vegetable or seed oils that are refined and therefore stripped of their nutrients. These processed oils are also subject to rancidity, which can cause inflammation in the body. On the other hand, high-quality EVOO is nutritious, anti-inflammatory, and a great source of the “good fats” that your body needs.

Excess calories: A combination of the above inevitably culminates in an increased overall caloric intake. In most cases, the extra calories are empty — unnecessary and unhealthy, with no nutritional value.

Bottom line: To protect your health, pass on processed and packaged goods as often as possible.

2.  Steer clear of schemes and scams.

Each time you step foot in a grocery store, you’re surrounded by an overbearing amount of buzzwords plastered across packaged items. Products are branded as “healthy,” “all-natural,” “organic” and the like, but their ingredient lists beg to differ. Dressings identified as “low-sugar” or “sugar-free” typically contain artificial sugar substitutes (aka non-nutritive sweeteners) that won’t spare you from the woes of added sugars. And vinaigrettes stamped as “low-fat” or “fat-free” won’t support your ideal diet either, as sugar and sodium are typically recruited to fill any flavor voids in the absence of fat. By the way, healthy fats help your body better absorb the nutrients you’re seeking from fresh salad in the first place. More on that to come.

3.  Enjoy fresh flavor from fresh ingredients.

Most, if not all, store-bought salad dressings are manufactured, processed, bottled, stored, shipped, stored again, etc. before they land at your local supermarket. After all is said and done, who knows how much time has passed since their ingredients were initially sourced? Add in extra time (and potentially preservatives) for products transported from faraway lands. Chances are slim that what’s inside a fancy facade is fresh — and fresh is always best. Even bottled vinaigrettes that are actually made with olive oil likely won’t have the same fruity and fragrant flavor as would flow from a bottle of high-quality EVOO. (O California Extra Virgin Olive Oil is bottled immediately after being crushed straight from the source.)

4.  Harness the health benefits of olive oil and vinegar.

High-quality EVOO is an excellent source of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (aka the “good fats”) that support a healthy metabolism and cell growth, among other important functions. EVOO is also packed with polyphenols that act as antioxidants to promote heart health and fight inflammation. In fact, EVOO’s qualities actually help to optimize the body’s ability to absorb the essential vitamins, minerals, and nutrients in fresh produce. This means that when you choose the convenience of conventional salad dressings over homemade vinaigrettes, you may actually miss out on more nutrition. Vinegar also contains antioxidants, probiotics, and other compounds that experts believe boost heart health and regulate blood sugar. Together, olive oil and vinegar offer naturally delicious and nutritious flavor without all the nastiness noted above, which is why they are go-to ingredients for homemade vinaigrettes.

5.  Discover how simple, sustainable, and delicious homemade vinaigrettes are.

It’s easy to satisfy your cravings for a flavorful salad with vinaigrettes made from scratch using just a few friendly ingredients you likely already have on hand. All you need is a bowl, a whisk, a drizzle of olive oil, and a splash of vinegar to get started. O’s variety of California premium olive oils and hand-crafted vinegars offers endless options for tasty creations. If you prefer, a shake of salt, a pinch of pepper, a smidge of spices or herbs (fresh or dried), and a dash of Dijon mustard can complement your concoction. Feel free to add a bit of natural sugar if you wish. While the standard rule of thumb is a 3:1 ratio of olive oil to vinegar, we always recommend a trusty taste test or two to find what tickles your taste buds. It’s best to make small batches that can be kept in recyclable air-tight containers, such as mason jars, to savor all the flavor at its freshest. After all, you can always whip up another homemade vinaigrette with wow-factor in minutes!

Ultimately, be mindful of what you pour on your precious plate of greens to get the most out of your efforts to eat healthy. Don’t sabotage your healthy salads with store-bought dressings. Make your own instead and you’ll be back on the road to better health.

With homemade vinaigrettes, it’s simple to savor your favorite salads with peace of mind. Here are a few tried-and-true recipes to inspire you:

O Fig Balsamic Vinaigrette

O Citrus Apple Vinaigrette

O Aged Sherry Vinaigrette

O Luscious Lemony Vinaigrette

Simple O Champagne Vinaigrette

O Honey White & Blood Orange Vinaigrette

O’s Green Goddess Dressing

Parsley and Garlic Vinaigrette