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There are a number of ways to make usually very heavy salad dressing into lighter, low-calorie salad dressing. By replacing some of the ingredients with ones that either have fewer calories or are healthier, the amount of calories in the dressing can be reduced dramatically. Another option is to use small amounts of ingredients that could be high in calories, but that have such an intense flavor that very little of it is needed. There also are many commercial versions of low-calorie salad dressing available for which manufacturers have gone to great lengths to preserve the expected flavor without using heavy ingredients.
One area in which calories are commonly introduced into salads is through the oil used. Extra virgin olive oil is a healthy substitute for vegetable oil and has substantially fewer calories. Some recipes actually remove the oil all together and instead use just a little vinegar, vinegar and water, or even chicken or beef stock.
The acidic element of a low-calorie salad dressing is usually not a big concern, but using something other than normal vinegar could add a large amount of flavor, making up for any high-calorie ingredients that are being omitted. Examples include soy sauce, balsamic vinegar and orange juice. Some acidic liquids also can be used on their own, removing the need for oil.
Creamy dressings, such as ranch dressing, can be made into a low-calorie salad dressing by substituting other ingredients. Low-fat sour cream is a low-calorie way to make a creamy dressing with a slightly sour taste. Yogurts that are low in fat or non-fat also can make a creamy dressing that has a unique flavor and goes well with greens such as arugula. Another option is low-fat buttermilk, which can help to make a unique dressing.
Using products that have reduced fat and calories can help to make low-calorie salad dressing that is just as flavorful as its high-calorie counterpart. This extends to ingredients such as ground Parmesan cheese, mayonnaise and cream. In addition, using ingredients that might not necessarily be low in calories but that are strong enough to be used in small quantities can help the flavor of a low-calorie salad dressing. These can include things such as mustard, chili sauce, tomato juice and olives.
For convenience, commercial low-calorie salad dressing is widely available. The key to choosing a commercial brand is not only to make sure the flavor is appealing, but also to read the list of ingredients and the nutritional information. The calories in a salad dressing often can be reduced simply by controlling the amount used.
I'd definitely rather make my own salad dressings. That way, I know what's in them and there won't be any sneaky corn syrup or something similar in there.
I like a basic vinaigrette myself. Olive oil, balsamic or apple cider vinegar, a little chopped garlic and some basil make a fine Italian style dressing. I may also add a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese for extra flavor.
Ranch is almost as easy, and there are seasoning blends available. Just watch what's in the blend and make sure there isn't a lot of sugar or fillers in the mix.
Read labels first, of course. Stay away from honey mustard, French, Catalina and Russian dressing right off the bat. These always have a ton of sugar in them.
Vinaigrettes are your best bet. They are usually mostly vinegar and oil, with a little sugar. But read the labels.
If you make your own, it's much easier to know you've got a lower calorie version of something. Olive oil and balsamic vinegar make a great salad dressing that's about as low-calorie as it comes. Using plain yogurt in place of mayonnaise is also a good way to make a homemade ranch or bleu cheese dressing.
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