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What's Wrong With Oil (Plus Oil-Free Salad Dressings: Three Ways!)

Guest post: Laura Sanchez, Georgia State Dietetic Intern


Growing up, plant-based foods didn’t play an important role on my plate. This shaped my belief of plant-foods being bland and unappetizing. Thankfully, I later learned later that this couldn't be further from the truth. Over time, my misconceptions about the flavors and textures of plant-based foods changed once I started preparing my own meals and had the opportunity to experiment and get creative with plant-based ingredients. (Not to mention, as a golf professional, transitioning to a plant-based diet elevated my golf game exponentially!)


Like many who want to eat more plant-based meals, but are unsure where to start, salads became my go-to meals. But, it wasn't just a bowl of lettuce. I packed my salads high with a variety of colorful veggies, beans, and grains to make them satisfying and refreshing. They were a lovely sight for my eyes and satisfying to my belly, not to mention super nourishing with plentiful plant-based foods in one meal.

However, the store-bought dressing I added to the salads wasn't serving my best health. Transitioning to a plant-based diet and becoming more label-savvy led me to discover that conventional salad dressings were often packed with processed oil (like canola, safflower, and soybean oils), unnecessary sugar (get more info on added sugar here), lots of sodium, and chemical additives. I quickly learned that, in order to truly make my salads healthy, I should try creating my own dressings.


Who knew, DIY salad dressings would taste even better than store-bought dressings! Two other bonuses — homemade dressings take minutes to create and offer the most delectable textures, resulting in either super creamy or light and refreshing, depending on which you are craving. But, wait, we're not done — making your own DIY dressing at home can be more economical and save on packaging. It's a win-win-win-win for your tastebuds, your health, your wallet, and the planet.


I'm super excited to share three easy-to-make restaurant-worthy dressings with you. But, before we dive into how to create exquisite and nurturing salad dressings at home, let's talk about the benefits of using whole food plant-based ingredients over oil to make homemade dressings.


What's Wrong With Oil

You may be asking:


Wait, what's up with this title, what's wrong with oil?

Doesn't oil come from plants?

Isn't olive oil healthy?

Why is nutrition so darn confusing? (LOL I hear you loud and clear! Nutrition can absolutely be confusing and my hope today is to share with you how to consume fat in the healthiest way.)


First, not all oils are created equally. For example, pure olive oil has been shown to promote heart health due to it's monounsaturated fat and flax oil may fight inflammation with its abundant omega-3 fatty acids. Whereas, palm oil is high in saturated fat, which can lead to inflammation.


Fat is important from a culinary perspective because it helps to balance flavors and carry these flavors to our palates. It can help pancake batter from sticking to the griddle. It can keep veggies moist while roasting. And, if using a good quality oil, it can add rich flavor to meals.


Fat is also important from a nutrition perspective as it's essential for brain health, hormone synthesis, cellular function, and absorption of fat soluble vitamins and phytonutrients. In general, consuming fat is a good thing, but some fats are better than others when it comes to good health.


Whole Food Fat Versus Oil

Whole foods, like avocado, olives, and cashews are nutrient dense, meaning they pack a LOT of nutrition. All of their healing nutrients are intact like fiber, amino acids, vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients, that make that whole food super duper healthy.


Vegetable oils, on the other hand, are just one component of whole plant-based foods. Once the oil is extracted, it's no longer considered a whole food. For example, olive oil is extracted from olives; avocado oil is extracted from avocados; and sunflower oil is extracted from sunflower seeds to name a few. (We could go on, but you can probably guess where corn oil, peanut oil, and other oils originate.) When the oil is extracted it leaves behind all of the other essential nutrients, like fiber, vitamins, and minerals. If weight is of concern for you, oil can add a lot of calories in exchange for very little nutrition, making it calorically dense. Compare this to a whole avocado which offers many nutrients, including fiber and water that fill you up quickly, making it more nutrient dense and beneficial for metabolism, gut health, and digestion.


Bottom line is that when you eat the whole food, instead of just the oil from that food, you get exponentially more nutrition.

  • Whole-food fats are intact, not just a part of the food. Avocado is a good example of a food that contains fat, but also contains many other nutrients like fiber, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients.

  • Oils are extracted from the whole food using mechanical or chemical processing. For example, avocado oil is just the fat from the whole avocado, leaving other nutrients, which are so important for optimal health, behind.

To give you another visual example, below is a table that compares flax seeds, flax meal (ground flax seeds), and flaxseed oil. While concentrated flax oil is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, it's missing the fiber, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and folate (all essential nutrients) that are found in whole flax meal. Also, due to their fiber content, whole foods, like flax seed or flax meal, can fill you up more quickly and for longer periods of time, which helps with weight management, blood sugar control, and gut health. Oil, on the other hand, doesn’t contain fiber and is not in whole food form, therefore it takes a lot more oil to reach that same fullness.


How Oil is Made


Many oils that are manufactured in the industrialized world today have no positive nutritional benefits and may even lead to health issues. For example, a majority of soybean and corn oils are made from genetically engineered crops (meaning they contain genetically modified organisms and they're chock-full of cancer-promoting and hormone-disrupting pesticides).


Oils are often highly processed, many of which use chemical methods. They can also be high in omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-6 fatty acids are essential fats, meaning we need them to function, so they are important. However, most of us are getting way too much omega-6 fatty acids (through eating out and processed foods) and way too little omega-3 fatty acids. The ideal ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 fatty acids to reduce inflammation and for optimal health is 4:1. Most of us are getting a ratio of 11:1 up to 16:1.


No reason to get bogged down with numbers, but just know that one way to improve that ratio and reduce omega 6 fatty acids is by making your own tasty salad dressing using whole plant food ingredients. You can also reduce omega 6 fatty acids by eating more meals at home and choosing whole foods over processed foods (an example of this may be making your own veggie burgers instead of purchasing veggie burgers at the grocery store). You can also boost your omega 3 fatty acid intake by consuming 1–2 tablespoons of chia seeds, flax meal, or walnuts a day.


How Much Vegetable Oil is Okay?


Research shows that individuals who need to reverse major health issues like cardiovascular disease or diabetes may benefit from avoiding any added oil. But if you’re in a more preventative space and fundamentally healthy, a little oil may be okay if you choose good quality oil, like avocado, flax, or olive oil.


Since flax oil is a great source of omega 3 fatty acids and olive oil is high in monounsaturated fats, they're great options for drizzling on salads. Both olive and flax oils have low smoke points, therefore using them in cold dishes or drizzling them over a meal after it's been cook is best. When oils that have a low smoke point are heated they become oxidized and may release harmful compounds. When choosing olive oil, look for extra virgin and cold-pressed, whenever possible, to ensure you’re only receiving olive oil (and no other filler oils, which can often be found in commercial brands).


Avocado oil is good for cooking with heat since it has a high smoke point and is mostly monounsaturated fat. Similar to olive oil, commercial avocado oil brands can be tainted with other filler oils that are cheaper and of lesser quality. Authentic avocado oil should be green tinted and have a buttery flavor.


With both avocado and olive oil, choosing fair trade and organic may also ensure better quality.


Finally, with all oils, store in a dark cool place to avoid rancidity.


Bottom line: Oil vs Oil-Free?


If using some of the healthier oil options enhances the flavor of plant-based foods, like roasted veggies or stir fries, and helps you eat more whole plant-based foods then, by all means, add a little oil to your plant-based meals. When you have the option of using whole foods, like whole avocados or whole sunflower seeds, in place of oil, like avocado oil or sunflower oil, then opt for the whole food if you want to maximize nutrition and the health-promoting benefits. Great examples of using whole food fats in place of oils are in dressings and sauces. Below are three easy and delicious whole food salad dressing recipes that will bring color and flavor to your meal without the added saturated fats, sugars, and other additives found in many store-bought salad dressings.


Velvety Cashew Citrus Dressing


If you haven't tried the combination of cashews and citrus yet, you're in for a treat! This dressing is the perfect way to add some creaminess to a bed of romaine, tomatoes and cucumber, drizzled over steamed veggies, or tossed into a grain bowl. Note: To get it super velvety, use a high-speed blender. If you don't own a high-speed blender, you can use an immersion blender. It just may take a little more time to fully blend the cashews. Also, if you have a high-speed blender, you can skip soaking the cashews. If you don't have a high-speed blender then it's important to soak the cashews to reach that same creamy consistency.


Servings: 4 (2–4 tablespoons per serving)

Prep time: 15 minutes


Ingredients:

  • ½ cup cashews (soaked in hot water for 30 minutes, enough water to cover the cashews)

  • ½ cup freshly squeezed orange juice

  • 2 Tbsp organic orange zest (tip: zest before juicing!)

  • 2 Tbsps lemon juice

  • 1 Tbsp organic apple cider vinegar

  • 1 Tbsp tahini

  • 1 roughly chopped shallot

  • salt and pepper to taste


Directions

  1. Drain the cashews from the hot water.

  2. Place all ingredients in a food processor or small blender and blend until smooth.

  3. Taste and add more flavors to your preference (more orange juice for natural sweetness and tart, more tahini for nutty flavor, or more shallot for pungency).

Notes:

  • You can use green or yellow onion in place of the shallot.

  • You could substitute a tablespoon of flax oil or olive oil for the tahini (or simply omit the tahini and oil altogether since the cashews have plenty of fat to carry the flavors.)

  • Keeps in the fridge for 5–7 days.

Nutrition Facts (per serving)

Calories 227, Total Carbohydrates 16.5 g, Fiber 2 g, Protein 7 g, Fat 16.5 g, Sodium 10 mg (without added salt)


Refreshing Apple Avocado Dressing


This dressing is creamy, refreshing, flavorful, and fiber-filled with 4 grams per serving thanks to the avocado and apple. Apple also adds natural sweetness, therefore no added sugars are necessary like many store-bought dressings. Garlic cloves add even more fiber in the form of prebiotic fiber, which feeds healthy bacteria in the gut. Use this dressing as a dip, mixed in with your favorite salad ingredients, or drizzled over top of tacos.


Servings: 4 (2-4 tablespoons per serving)

Prep time: 5 minutes


Ingredients:

  • The flesh of one medium avocado, seeded

  • ¼ cup apple cider vinegar

  • ½ cup chopped apple (with skin for extra fiber!)

  • 1 small garlic clove

  • ½ tsp ground cumin

  • ⅛ tsp ground ginger

  • 1 dash ground cinnamon

  • ½ cup water

  • salt and pepper to taste


Directions:

  1. Add all ingredients except the salt and pepper to a blender or food processor.

  2. Blend until smooth. If you want this super duper creamy then you may want to peel the apple before adding it. However, if you have a high-speed blender, then the apple peel should blend no problem.

  3. Taste for salt and pepper.

  4. Add more water, 1–2 tablespoons at a time, to reach a dressing-like consistency or keep as is to use as a bean burger or taco spread.

Notes:

  • If you don't have fresh garlic, use 1/4 teaspoons of garlic powder in place of fresh garlic

  • You could also use ¼ teaspoon of fresh minced or shaved ginger in place of ginger powder.

  • You can use any variety of apples you’d like. This recipe was created with Honey Crisp because of its sweetness and juiciness.

  • Keeps in the fridge for 5–7 days.

Nutrition Facts (per serving)

Calories 94, Total Carbohydrates 7 g, Fiber 4 g, Protein 1 g, Fat 7.5 g, Sodium 9 mg (without added salt)


Sunny Chia Vinaigrette

This vinaigrette is perfect for delicate leafy greens as it's light and invigorating. It also includes some seriously nutritious ingredients — seeds! Sunflower seeds are packed with nutrients like fiber, protein, selenium (for immune health), B vitamins and magnesium (all of which are great for brain health, mood, and sleep). Chia seeds have the great ability to absorb liquids, helping, along with the sunflower seeds, to make this dressing thick and creamy. They're also an excellent source of omega 3 fatty acids, which support brain health and fight inflammation. The tanginess of the apple cider vinegar and the peppery taste of the mustard help to round out this perfectly balanced whole food dressing.


Servings: 4 (2-4 tablespoons per serving)

Prep time: 10 minutes


Ingredients:

  • ¾ cup water

  • 2 Tbsp chia seeds

  • ¼ cup sunflower seeds

  • ½ cup lemon juice

  • 2 tsps organic apple cider vinegar

  • 1 small garlic clove

  • 2 Tbsp roughly minced shallot

  • 1 Tbsp dijon mustard

  • 1 Tbsp maple syrup

  • salt and pepper to taste


Directions:

  1. Add all ingredients, except salt and pepper, to a blender and blend until smooth (the chia seeds may still be whole and seedy, and that's okay. They'll soften as they absorb the liquid over time).

  2. Transfer to a mason jar or other container and refrigerate for at least one hour.


Notes

  • You can use green or yellow onion in place of the shallot.


Nutrition Facts (per serving)

Calories 104, Total Carbohydrates 11 g, Fiber 3 g, Protein 3 g, Fat 6.5 g, Sodium 94 mg (without added salt)


Want some more whole food dressing ideas? Try one of my personal favorites, Carrot Ginger Salad Dressing or download five whole food dressings and sauces in our 5 Tasty and Simple-to-Make Plant-Based Dressings course.


References

https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/11-proven-health-benefits-of-chia-seeds#TOC_TITLE_HDR_10

http://plantplate.com/Guide/Detail?GuideID=1009

https://www.drmcdougall.com/misc/2007nl/aug/oils.htm

https://jeffnovick.com/RD/Articles/Entries/2011/3/6_The_Myth_of_Moderation_Pt_2__The_Impact_of_Just_A_Little_Oil!.html

https://www.purelyplanted.com/post/exposing-the-truth-about-coconut-oil-vs-canola-oil


Hi! My name is Laura Sanchez, and I am a student in Georgia State University's Coordinated Program for Dietetics. My Colombian roots and experiences as a professional golfer have led me to pursue my passion for using food as medicine to prevent/reverse disease and achieve peak performance. When I'm not studying, you'll most likely find me at a golf course or dancing to Latin music! I look forward to educating and inspiring people on the power of plants in healing!

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