If you tend to keep your salads “lean” by pairing your salad veggies with fat-free salad dressing, you might want to reconsider. According to a recent study*, you could be missing out on important nutrients. According to the study, saying “yes” to healthy fats might improve absorption of key antioxidant nutrients, namely fat-soluble carotenoids, a class of disease-fighting nutrients which includes beta-carotene, alpha-carotene, gamma-carotene, and beta-cryptoxanthin.
Lead author Mario Ferruzzi, a Purdue University associate professor of food science, and colleagues fed subjects salads topped with saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat-based dressings. Butter was used as a saturated fat, canola oil as a monounsaturated fat and corn oil as a polyunsaturated fat. Each salad was served with 3 grams, 8 grams or 20 grams of fat from dressing. Shortly after eating, the researchers tested the subjects’ blood for absorption of fat-soluble carotenoids.
The researchers found that the monounsaturated fat-rich dressings required the least amount of fat to get the most carotenoid absorption, while saturated fat and polyunsaturated fat dressings required higher amounts of fat to get the same benefit.
The polyunsaturated fat was the most dependent on dose—the more fat on the salad, the more carotenoids the subjects absorbed. The saturated fat butter was also dose-dependent, but to a lesser extent, the study said.
According to Ferruzzi, monounsaturated fat-rich dressings, such as canola and olive oil-based dressings, promoted the equivalent carotenoid absorption at 3 grams of fat as it did 20 grams, suggesting the lipid source may be a good choice for those craving lower fat options but still wanting to optimize carotenoids, Ferruzzi said.
Food for thought: Because carotenoids are associated with reduced risk of several chronic and degenerative diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disease and macular degeneration ( an eye disease that causes blindness) you might want to include some fat with your salad. Ultimately, it might be worth the extra calories!