3 Healthy Salad Dressing Recipes This Nutritionist Swears By

Registered dietitian and plant-based diet specialist Cynthia Sass shares her three favorite healthy salad dressing recipes.

What is the healthiest salad dressing?

Salad dressings are a mixed bag. They can be incredibly healthful, or loaded with unwanted ingredients like sweeteners, fillers, and preservatives.

Sadly, the latter is true for many bottled brands. Among the wall of options available at my local market, there are only a few pre-made dressings I will personally use or recommend.

Products that do earn my approval have high quality ingredient lists that read like a recipe I could have made at home. However, they can also be quite pricey.

Fortunately, whipping up do-it-yourself versions in your kitchen is much easier and more affordable than you might think. (Here are some salad tricks for weight loss.)

How to make salad dressing

I have three favorite simple salad dressing recipes. Each offers a unique flavor profile and texture, and all three can be used in a variety of ways.

For example, I use my mustardy balsamic vinaigrette to marinate fresh veggies like mushrooms, tomatoes, and cucumbers. The seasoned tahini can be drizzled over oven-roasted veggies or potatoes, or used as a dip with raw veggies.

Toss the avocado dressing with shredded or spiralized veggies for a simple side dish, or add a dollop to lentil or black bean soup. (Try these healthy salad ingredients too.)

Because the ingredients are ultra fresh, I don’t recommend making larger batches to store. For this reason, the recipes call for smaller portions and are meant to be made for immediate use.

However, if you’re cooking for two you can double the ingredients, quadruple for four, and so on. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do. Here’s how to make them and why each adds not just flavor, but also a dose of health protection to your dish.

Mustardy Balsamic Vinaigrette

We’ve long known that extra virgin olive oil is heart healthy. But a 2019 study published in Revue Neurologique suggests it also protects the brain and may help prevent late-onset Alzheimer’s disease.

As for vinegar, its acetic acid, which provides the sour aroma and flavor, has also been shown to help regulate blood sugar and blood pressure, and support healthy weight management, according to a 2017 study in Food Chemistry.

All four of the ingredients in this simple dressing are also antioxidant-rich.

balsamic salad dressingCourtesy Cynthia Sass

I love this dressing on a traditional garden salad. For an entrée salad, toss the dressing with leafy greens, add other vegetables of your choice, and top with a scoop of lentils for plant protein and fiber-rich energizing carbohydrates.

Tip: If you want to add another healthy fat source to your salad, like nuts or avocado, omit the oil in the dressing. The vinegar, mustard, and herbs alone will nicely coat and season your greens.

Serves one

Ingredients:

1 1/2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

2 teaspoons stone ground mustard

1/4 teaspoon Italian herb seasoning

Instructions:

Whisk ingredients together. Transfer to a sealable jar, and shake well just before serving.

Seasoned Tahini Dressing

The star ingredient in this dressing is tahini, which is made from ground sesame seeds. A two tablespoon portion contains five grams of protein and three grams of fiber.

It’s also nutrient-rich, providing copper, manganese, calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc, selenium, and thiamin, in addition to antioxidants. The phytosterols in tahini have been shown to help improve artery health and lower blood cholesterol, indicates a June 2020 study in Lipids.

tahini salad dressingCourtesy Cynthia Sass

Tahini is a great option for those with nut allergies or sensitivities (as long as sesame seeds are not also an issue), and it’s a creamy plant-based alternative to dairy-based dressings.

I love to pair this dressing with spinach or lightly massaged kale, topped with oven-roasted chickpeas.

Serves one

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons tahini

1 teaspoon fresh squeezed lemon juice

1 teaspoon maple syrup

1 1/2 tablespoons water

1/2 teaspoon minced garlic

Pinch ground cumin

Pinch cayenne pepper

Pinch sea salt

Instructions:

Stir the lemon juice and maple syrup into the tahini. Slowly add the water and continue to stir to create a uniform pourable consistency. (Note: the tahini may appear to thicken at first, but continue to add the water a little at a time and stir until smooth.)

Fold in the garlic, cumin, cayenne, and salt. Add a little more of any of the seasonings if needed, based on your taste and heat preference.

Avocado Herb Dressing

Avocado is truly one of the healthiest foods on the planet. It’s rich in antioxidants and key nutrients like potassium, which helps regulate blood pressure, heart, and muscle function.

Eating avocado has also been shown to aid weight control and protect against heart disease and type 2 diabetes. It’s also incredibly satisfying.

avocado salad dressingCourtesy Cynthia Sass

While traditional guacamole also makes a fantastic salad dressing, this thinner pureed variation takes on a whole new flavor profile. The aromatic basil combined with the garlic, vinegar, and lemon are light and bright, with just the right amount of mouth-puckering tartness.

I love to serve this dressing with butter lettuce, topped with white beans, garnished with a few pumpkin seeds or pomegranate arils.

Serves one

Ingredients:

Half of a ripe avocado

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

1/2 tablespoon fresh squeezed lemon juice

1 tablespoon water

3 fresh basil leaves

1/2 teaspoon minced garlic

Pinch black pepper

Pinch sea salt

Instructions:

Add all ingredients to a small food processor and blend until smooth.

Sources
  • Revue Neurologique: "Extra-virgin olive oil for potential prevention of Alzheimer disease"
  • Food Chemistry: "Varieties, production, composition and health benefits of vinegars: A review"
  • Lipids: "Association of Dietary Phytosterols with Cardiovascular Disease Biomarkers in Humans"
  • Phytotherapy Research: "Effects of Avocado (Persea americana) on Metabolic Syndrome: A Comprehensive Systematic Review"

Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD
Cynthia Sass is a three-time New York Times best-selling author, writer, recipe developer, and practitioner, with master's degrees in both nutrition science and public health. One of the first registered dietitians to become a Board Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics, she has consulted for five professional sports teams in the NBA, NHL, and MLB. In her private practice Sass counsels a wide range of clients. She has worked with Oscar, Grammy, and Emmy winners, professional athletes across a variety of sports, Fortune 500 CEOs, executives, entrepreneurs, and many other high-performance people. She is also the nutrition consultant for UCLA's Executive Health Program. Sass has appeared on numerous national TV shows, including The Today Show, Good Morning America, The Rachael Ray Show, The Martha Stewart Show, The Dr. Oz. Show, The Biggest Loser, Nightline, and many others. In addition to her degrees, Sass has formal training in plant-based, organic culinary arts and mindfulness meditation. She is also a Certified LEAP Therapist and is working toward certification through the Integrative and Functional Nutrition Academy. She specializes in high performance nutrition and plant-based eating, and is based in Los Angeles.