For most of us, adding a dressing to our salad is a must but have you ever considered its purpose? Why do we combine oil and vinegar and which one is more important? The truth is they are both important as they play a role in aiding digestive and intestinal function.
The history of adding salad dressing to raw greens dates back at least 2000 years. Its reported use was to make bitter greens more palatable but in reality, there are several other benefits. Salad dressing always contains a fat and an acid and preferably, a fermented acid which, of course, is usually vinegar. Mayonnaise is a 200 year old type of salad dressing and favoured in eastern European countries and Russia. Most cultures prefer the vinaigrette version of oil and vinegar but there are versions using crème fraiche and other fermented foods which are often acidic enough to be a vinegar substitute.
In the 70’s and 80’s during the low-fat ere of “health” and I am sure even today, nutrition “experts” advocated cutting the fat from dressing. Some even advocated skipping the oil altogether and just using vinegar and water. Yuck! Olive oil is the most common oil used for salad dressing and if using, cold pressed extra virgin is best for obtaining its benefits. A lot of the digestive benefits for olive oil are due to the oleic acid, a monounsaturated fatty acid, as well as phytonutrients, contained in the olives. Avocados are also high in oleic acid. Avocado oil is now available in health food stores or adding fresh avocado to a dressing can provide similar benefits. Hi-oleic sunflower oil is also good for a salad dressing.
If you are still uncertain about leaving the oil in the dressing, check out the gastro-intestinal benefits for olive oil:
- It slows gastric motility which allows food to move more slowly from the stomach to the duodenum and in doing so, it helps create a sense of fullness and improves the absorption of nutrients in the intestines
- It ensures gall bladder drainage and stimulates the productions of bile salts in the liver in order to aid the digestion of fat
- It also increases cholesterol excretion by the liver
- Olive oil makes less work for the pancreas allowing it to work more efficiently. It is recommended in cases of pancreatitis, cystic fibrosis and pancreatic failure
- It improves the absorption of nutrients such as calcium, iron and magnesium
- It is even a mild laxative, helping colon function and it improves bad breath
Does this sound like something you want to remove?
As for the acid component of a salad dressing, there are several options. Lemon or lime juice can use and the acid nature of the juice will aid protein digestion, help with fat breakdown and is beneficial for the liver. However the best acids for salads are naturally fermented vinegars or other fermented foods that have a reasonable acid content such as yogurt, kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut water, beet kvass or crème fraiche
From a digestive and health perspective, here are some of the benefits for vinegar:
- Research suggests that the acid in the vinegar can slow the absorption of carbohydrates, and this helps stop blood sugar spikes after a meal
- All vinegars are primarily acetic acid which aids the absorption of minerals, help stimulates the secretion of enzyme-rich saliva and gastric juices and break down foods into simpler molecules.
- Apple cider vinegar aids the breakdown of fats, making it more available for use as energy.
- The acid in the vinegar helps breakdown proteins and naturally fermented vinegars like apple cider, aged balsamic or wine vinegar contain enzymes that further aid digestion.
- Aged balsamic vinegar is high in phenolic and bioflavanoid phytonutrients. The polyphenols trigger the production of pepsin, necessary for protein digestion. Using a small amount daily, may help gastritis by training the stomach to produce less hydrochloric acid.
- And as an interesting fact, even though it has nothing to do with salad dressing, is that adding vinegar during the cooking process may decrease the development of allergies. One study found that participants with anaphylatic allergies to chicken or lentils were less reactive when skin prick tests were applied with vinegar treated extracts of the chicken or lentils. Maybe this benefit will also apply to having vinegar with the meal but the research is not there yet to say this.
Eating a salad, including the dressing, helps with the digestion of the whole meal. Whether you eat it before the meal or after does not matter. Do what feels right for you. A salad is the perfect way to add raw food for your meal in a manner that benefits the body. Making your own salad dressing is best and other ingredients can be added to the dressing to further aid the digestion process such as garlic or onions, mustard powder, yogurt or kefir and fresh herbs such as dill, parsley, basil or cilantro. Use your imagination and design your dressing to appeal to your taste buds.
A basic formula for dressing is:
3 parts oil
1 part vinegar or other acid
Sea salt to taste (unless you are suing something else that has a sodium content like miso)
Seasonings which can include herbs, garlic, honey or other natural sweetener
It is important to balance the oil and vinegar or whatever other acid that you choose to use. Too much and it is unpleasant and can break up too much mucus causing you to cough. Too little and it will not provide the appropriate benefit for digestion.
My Favourite Salad Dressing
¼ cup olive oil
1½ tbsp aged balsamic vinegar
½ tsp mustard powder
½ tsp raw honey
1 small clove garlic, finely chopped
1 tbsp fresh dill or chive, chopped
1 tbsp Mediterranean yogurt
Sea salt and pepper to taste
Mix all the ingredients together in a jar with a lid. Shake to mix well. Alternatively, place all the ingredients in a measuring cup and and whisk until well mixed. Cover and store in the refrigerator for up to three days if not using right away.
- Vinegar Improves Insulin Sensitivity to a High-Carbohydrate Meal in Subjects with Insulin Resistance or Type 2 Diabetes, Johnston CS, Kim CM, Buller AJ, Diabetes Care. 2004 Jan;27(1):281-2.
- Vinegar Decreases Allergenic Response in Lentil and Egg Food Allergy, Armentia, A.; Dueñas-Laita, A.; Pineda, F.; Herrero, M.; Martín, B.; Allergol Immunopathol (Madr). 2010; 38:74
- From Balsamic to Healthy: Traditional Balsamic Vinegar Melanoidins Inhibit Lipid Peroxidation During Simulated Gastric Digestion of Meat, Elena Verzelloni et al, Food and chemical toxicology: an international journal published for the British Industrial Biological Research Association, 01/2010
Place all the ingredients in a jar with a lid and shake. Or use a measuring cup and whisk the ingredients together. Salad dressing can be made ahead and will keep for 3 days in the refrigerator. If making ahead do not add fresh herbs until just before using. Dried herbs can be used and added to the dressing ahead of time with the rest of the ingredients.