A crisp green salad loaded with tomatoes, cucumbers and onions is a low-calorie, nutrient-dense addition to your diet. That is, until you drench it with salad dressing. Italian dressing can contain large amounts of fat and salt, but that doesn't mean you have to ban it from your diet for good. Though the dressing is low in vitamins and minerals, the inclusion of healthy fats and other nutritious ingredients means you can indulge occasionally.
One tablespoon of typical store-bought regular Italian dressing contains 3 grams of total fat, of which about half a gram is saturated, however this number can vary between brands. Saturated fat is the dangerous kind of fat because it raises your cholesterol levels, which can elevate your chances of having a heart attack or a stroke. The rest of the fat in Italian dressing is unsaturated. When most of the fat you consume is unsaturated, you're actually lowering your risk of heart disease, according to the Harvard School of Public Health.
A 1-tablespoon serving of store-bought regular Italian dressing has about 150 milligrams of sodium. That's around 6 percent of the 2,300 milligrams you need to limit yourself to on a daily basis. It's 10 percent of the daily 1,500-milligram sodium limit you should follow if you have heart disease or are older than age 50. When your diet contains too much sodium, it raises your blood pressure, and chronic high blood pressure puts you at a higher risk for having a heart attack or a stroke. Look for reduced-sodium versions, which can cut the sodium content by 50 percent or more.
Vitamins and Minerals
The average Italian dressing doesn't give you much in the way of vitamins and minerals, though you do get 8.2 micrograms of vitamin K from 1 tablespoon of many store-bought versions. That's 9 percent of the 90 micrograms you need each day so your body is able to clot your blood normally. Other than that, you get trace amounts of potassium, iron, calcium, vitamin A and vitamin E, but the amounts in each of these nutrients are less than 1 percent of what you need each day.
If you can't imagine having a salad without Italian dressing, opt for a reduced-fat version. One tablespoon of reduced-fat Italian dressing contains just 1 gram of fat, most of it unsaturated. You might also choose fat-free dressing. Make your Italian dressing as an even healthier alternative. Combine extra-virgin olive oil, which is heart-healthy, with white vinegar. Whisk in herbs and spices such as garlic powder, onion powder, parsley and dried peppers. In addition to tossed green salads, use this healthier version on pasta salad or as a marinade for chicken breasts.
Sara Ipatenco has taught writing, health and nutrition. She started writing in 2007 and has been published in Teaching Tolerance magazine. Ipatenco holds a bachelor's degree and a master's degree in education, both from the University of Denver.