You’ve just made a beautiful salad with spinach, romaine lettuce, carrots and tomato. This healthy creation is finished with a drizzle of fat-free dressing.
While enjoying the salad, visions of phytonutrients racing into your bloodstream fill your head. Now research has given this story a different ending. The fat soluble carotenoids, pigments found in fruits and vegetables like lycopene and beta carotene that benefit you, need a bit of fat to be absorbed. Carotenoids can reduce the risk of certain types of cancer, heart disease and cataracts and the progression of macular degeneration.
Researchers from Iowa State fed 29 people a salad with three different amounts of three different oils. They used saturated fat (butter), polyunsaturated fat (corn oil) and monounsaturated fat (canola oil). After eating their blood was tested for absorption of fat soluble carotenoids.
The amount of fat used was 3, 8 and 20 grams. One teaspoon of any oil is 4.3 grams. With the butter and corn oil, the more fat that was consumed the greater the absorption of carotenoids. The canola oil promoted similar absorption at 3 grams and 20 grams. Other good sources of monounsaturated fats are olive and avocado oil.
A salad drowning in dressing is my personal pet peeve when eating out but a well-dressed salad is luscious. A bowl of vegetables is at about 100 calories. Add extras like almonds, sprinkle of cheese and grilled chicken strips and it is still a nutrient-rich, low-calorie meal.
An olive oil dressing is the final touch to deliver taste to your tongue and carotenoids to your body. For those who want more dressing control, one technique is to get the dressing on the side and dip your fork in the dressing before picking up a forkful of salad. Each mouthful will then have a bit of dressing for taste and nutrient delivery but not too much. Sheah Rarback is a registered dietitian on the faculty of the University of Miami Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine.