Plus, what to look out for when you shop for salad dressing.

By Carolyn Williams, PhD, RD
Updated January 14, 2019

A homemade salad dressing is hard to beat, but sometimes the convenience of a bottled one is needed. The problem in the past, though, has been that good-tasting, healthy-ish options at the grocery have been pretty limited. However, thanks to growing consumer interest in ingredient quality and some new competition in the bottled dressing industry, this has slowly been changing—meaning there are a lot more bottled options that come pretty darn close to homemade in terms of taste, quality and nutrition.

Here is a quick checklist to use when shopping to help you choose a healthier bottled dressing, as well as some recommendations for healthier ones that try to taste really good, too.

#1:  Look at the Ingredient List

Always start by looking at the ingredient list. Do you recognize all of the ingredients? Maybe more importantly, are the ingredients ones that you might use if you were making this dressing at home with a recipe? If not, move on to other options. 

#2:  Don’t Sweat the Fat Grams

Skip worrying about fat on the Nutrition Facts panel, because this provides little insight into a fat’s quality or health value—and definitely skip fat-free versions. Dressings are supposed to be primarily fat-based. They can be a good way to fit in healthy oils, and research suggests that fat increases absorption of nutrients in vegetables when eaten together.

#3:  Instead Check the Type of Fat

The type of fats and oils used in the dressing are important. Though sometimes hard to find, dressings made primarily with flaxseed oil, extra-virgin olive oil, avocado oil, or nut oils are the healthiest bets, since these oils contain a higher percentage of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids. Your next best options are usually ones made with blends of nut, olive, or plant oils. Opt for less refined plant oils when possible, and always steer clear of hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils.

#4:  Watch the Sugar and Sodium

A touch of sweetness is okay (and often needed to balance flavors), but some dressings can be loaded with sugar. To avoid this, opt for dressings that keep sugars to a minimum (ideally ≤ 2g of sugars per serving), and choose ones that use natural sugars like fruit purees or fruit juice when possible. Dressing made with added sugars such as honey, maple syrup, or brown sugar are okay, too. Just make sure to watch your portion sizes, and stick to the same sugar-per-serving guideline. Also keep tabs on sodium, since bottled dressings tend to be higher than homemade. A good rule-of-thumb is to find a dressing with <250mg sodium per serving; lower is even better.

Best Bottled Salad Dressings

Use my guidelines above to help you navigate the dressing aisle. If you need help getting started, here are some brands with dressing options that usually meet those guidelines, as well as a few of my favorites that I’ve recently discovered.