Turn over a new leaf: Ditch your salad's harmful chemicals with healthier dressings

Salad is the original health food, full of vitamins and nutrients and ideal for a healthier lifestyle. Just beware of dressings containing chemicals that could do more harm than good.

Whether you’re eating your leafy greens as an entrée or on the side, make sure you’re getting what you bargained for health-wise.

Aside from the greens, the dressing is arguably the most important ingredient in a salad. It enhances flavor and adds moisture to the veggies. Many people would turn down a salad without dressing, and there are hundreds of brands to choose from.

Just choose your dressing carefully, so you avoid the unhealthy options.

What’s wrong with salad dressings?

Store-bought salad dressings can contain unwanted and potentially harmful food chemicals.

Many dressings found in the grocery store use color additives linked to health harms, like titanium dioxide, which can damage DNA and which the European Food Safety Authority has said is no longer safe for human consumption.

Other food additives frequently found in salad dressings are the synthetic dyes Red 40 and Yellow 5, both of which have been shown to make children vulnerable to hyperactivity and other behavioral problems.

Packaged dressings are also often full of preservatives, sodium and high fructose corn syrup and other hidden sugars. Potential health concerns caused by these ingredients can be compounded by using more dressing than the recommended serving size – something many people do without realizing. 

What can you do?

When you buy salad dressing, look for organic choices. Organic packaged foods, including salad dressings, must comply with strong standards that protect consumers from exposure to potentially harmful food additives, including titanium dioxide, Red 40 and Yellow 5. Organic packaged foods also have fewer highly processed ingredients and less saturated fat, added sugar and sodium.

If you want to avoid store-bought dressing altogether, make it at home. You can easily come up with varieties that are healthy, simple and inexpensive.

Most dressings start with two ingredients: an oil, like olive or vegetable, and an acid, like vinegar or lemon juice. Check our “Salad Dressing 101” guide for help making something fresh and delicious, with no unwanted food chemicals or corn syrup.

Looking for a DIY salad dressing?

Learn to make your own healthy and delicious dressings with EWG's Salad Dressing 101 PDF courtesy of Earthbound Farm Organic.

Dirty Dozen™ and Clean Fifteen™ produce

You likely want to make your salad as healthy as possible, which means avoiding unnecessary exposure to pesticides on any of the ingredients.

If you plan to use non-organic produce, we recommend choosing vegetables on our Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in ProduceClean Fifteen™ list. This list of items with the lowest amounts of pesticide residue includes salad favorites like avocados, sweet corn and frozen peas.

Keep in mind that spinach, kale, collard and mustard greens are all on EWG’s Dirty Dozen™ list of produce – they have some of the highest amounts of pesticide residue. If you choose to use these greens as the base for your salad, we recommend purchasing them organic.

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