If you’re like most Americans, you like your salad dressings creamy.
You may try “light” ranch or bleu cheese to reduce the fat, sodium and carb content — only to discover it’s not much better for you.
But what if you learned one simple salad dressing could benefit not just your health, but also your weight?
Yes, we’re talking about oil and vinegar. More specifically, extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO) and apple cider or red wine vinegar.
“Olive oil and vinegar dressing offers the most potential benefit for those with prediabetes or diabetes,” notes integrative medicine physician Irina Todorov, MD.
That describes more than 100 million Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Substantial research proves heart health benefits
Extra-virgin olive oil, a staple of the Mediterranean diet, is good for your overall health. But it’s especially good for heart health — a key consideration for anyone with prediabetes or diabetes.
One Spanish study looked at EVOO consumption and mortality in more than 40,000 people over 13 years. It found the overall risk of death was 26% lower, and the risk of death from heart disease was 46% lower, among those who consumed the most EVOO.
The team also looked at whether this benefit disappeared after a certain amount of EVOO was consumed.
“The results were clear,” says Dr. Todorov. “For those eating a typical 2,000-calorie diet, overall mortality fell by 7%, and heart disease mortality fell by 13%, for every 10 grams of EVOO they consumed.” Wow.
Small studies suggest glucose-lowering benefits
Two small studies suggest that the vinegar and oil dressing may have other benefits, as well. They focused on two beloved additions to our meals: bread and potatoes.
Because both foods are high in carbs, they are swiftly absorbed and quickly raise blood sugar. That’s not a good thing when you’re prediabetic or diabetic and trying to keep your glucose down.
The first study fed five volunteers simple meals on different days after fasting all night:
- Lettuce dressed with olive oil, both with and without bread.
- Lettuce dressed with olive oil and vinegar, both with and without bread.
- Lettuce dressed with olive oil and vinegar (neutralized to lower its acidity), both with and without bread.
Their blood sugar levels were measured before, and 95 minutes after, each meal.
“When participants ate bread with lettuce, olive oil and vinegar, their blood sugar rose 34% less, on average, than when they ate bread alone,” says Dr. Todorov.
In the second study, conducted in Sweden, three healthy volunteers were fed:
- Freshly boiled potatoes.
- Cold-stored potatoes (boiled, then refrigerated for one day).
- Cold-stored potatoes, dressed with olive oil and vinegar.
Researchers measured blood sugar and insulin levels multiple times in the two hours after each meal.
“Those who ate the cold-stored potatoes with olive oil and vinegar dressing had a 43% lower blood sugar response and a 31% lower insulin response than those who ate the freshly boiled potatoes,” says Dr. Todorov.
More research is needed to confirm the results of these small studies. But she recommends adding a salad with EVOO and vinegar to meals because of its potential to keep carbs from spiking blood sugar.
“Try making a potato salad with olive oil and vinegar dressing. Even better: Include other vegetables and chopped olives,” says Dr. Todorov.
Tips for buying vinegar and oil
When buying vinegar, look for apple cider vinegar that is raw, organic and unpasteurized, says Dr. Todorov. Or find red wine vinegar with 5 to 6% acidity.
And make sure the label on your olive oil says “extra-virgin.” If it says only “olive oil,” the product is a mixture of extra-virgin olive oil and refined oil, she says.
You also want cold-pressed EVOO. “The ripe olives have been mechanically pressed, without heat, so it is rich in polyphenols. These are typically lost in the processing of refined vegetable oils,” explains Dr. Todorov.
So, the next time you grab a salad, do your health a favor. Try replacing that creamy dressing with EVOO and apple cider or red wine vinegar.