How to Choose Low-Carb Salad Dressing

salad dressing recipe with oil, spices, lemon, and mustard

Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

A tasty salad dressing can be a positive addition to a salad. Along with adding flavor, the oil can help make nutrients in the salad—particularly the fat-soluble vitamins and phytochemicals—more accessible to your body. But if you follow a low-carb eating plan, you'll need to shop carefully.

How to Find a Low-Carb Salad Dressing

When you’re shopping for high-quality, low-carb salad dressings, be aware of variables that can affect the nutrient value and carb count of the dressing.

Serving Size

Salad dressing is a prime example of “rounding error” when it comes to serving size. It’s very easy to use a lot more than you realize. Whether you’re tracking calories, fat, or carbohydrates, unless you’re measuring carefully and noting serving size, you’re likely to get an inaccurate sense of how much you’re consuming.

For example: One serving of Newman’s Own Balsamic Vinaigrette dressing (two tablespoons, or 30 grams) has 3 grams of carbohydrates. If you’re topping your greens straight from the bottle without using a spoon to measure, you might be getting more carbs than you accounted for.

If you're also watching calories, they add up fast once you start doubling—or tripling—serving sizes. Newman’s Own Balsamic Vinaigrette has 100 calories per serving, so if you overdo it, you could easily add 100 to 200 calories to your salad without realizing it.

To keep serving sizes in check, change how you dress your salad. It only takes a small amount of an oil-based dressing to coat your greens.

Put a small amount of oil or dressing in a large bowl, then add your salad mix, and toss well. This strategy not only uses less oil, but tastes better because the salad has an even coating of dressing. And it allows you to see how much dressing you're using.

Added Sugars

While many salad dressings may be considered savory, they can have a lot of added sugar. When you’re checking the nutrition label, be sure to look at "Total Carbohydrate,” as well as the ingredient list, to check for hidden sugars. Sugar's presence on a food label isn't always obvious. Look for ingredients with "syrup" or "juice" in the name, or the suffix "-saccharide" or "-ose."

Some common ingredients that are essentially sugar in disguise include:

  • Barley malt
  • Cane juice
  • Dextrose
  • Fructose
  • Fruit juice concentrate
  • Glucitol
  • High fructose corn syrup
  • Sucralose

Many sugar-free products contain ingredients meant to replace sugar, such as xylitol, sorbitol, and aspartame. Reduced-fat dressings usually have more sugar than regular varieties. For example:

  • Brianna's Blush Wine Vinaigrette has 14 grams of carbohydrate in a two-tablespoon serving. Many balsamic vinegars contain sugar, though there are options with less.
  • Girard's Caesar Dressing has 1 gram of carbohydrate per serving (two tablespoons). The brand’s "light" (reduced-fat) Caesar dressing has 2 grams of carbohydrate per serving.
  • Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing has 2 grams of carbohydrate per serving, while the fat-free version contains 6 grams.

Look for dressings with 1 gram of carbohydrate or less per two-tablespoon serving. Avoid those with sugar, especially when it is listed as one of the first four entries on the ingredients list.

Type of Oil

The best oils for salads dressings are those high in monounsaturated fats and low in omega-6 fats (which are not bad in and of themselves, but most people get more than they need in their diet).

Olive oil is widely available and reasonably priced. With 73% monounsaturated fat and 9% omega-6, olive oil also has many other nutritional benefits. Another popular option is canola oil, which has 59% monounsaturated fat and 20% omega-6.

Oil made from soybeans is one of the most commonly used salad dressing oils and also tends to be the least expensive. But with 23% monounsaturated fat and 51% omega-6, a little needs to go a long way with this option.

Products may have "olive oil and vinegar" in the name, but be sure to take a closer look at the label. In many of these dressings, the second ingredient on the list after olive oil is actually soy and/or canola oil (Newman's Own Olive Oil and Vinegar is one example).

You'll also want to check the label for partially hydrogenated fat or trans fat. While many manufacturers have dropped this ingredient from their salad dressing recipes, it still appears in some popular brands.

Other Ingredients

In the same way that sugar can hide in products under different names, there are other added or extra ingredients you'll want to keep an eye out for if you're on a low-carb diet.You probably already know to keep an eye out for the usual suspects when it comes to carbohydrates, but don't forget about starches.

When it comes to salad dressings, starches can creep into ingredient lists not so much for taste, but texture. These ingredients are often added to change the consistency of a dressing or make it more shelf-stable. Check the ingredients list for flours, gums, or fibers like inulin.

Carb Counts for Popular Dressings

These are the carb counts per serving for many of the most popular salad dressings. The carb counts may vary based on the factors listed above. Nutrition information is from the USDA.

Salad Dressing Carb Content
Ken’s Fat-Free Sun Dried Tomato Vinaigrette 17g
Ken’s Raspberry Pecan 11g
Kraft Classic Catalina Dressing 9g
Kraft Honey Mustard 9g
Newman’s Own Sesame Ginger 5g
Wish-Bone Deluxe French 5g
Marie’s Balsamic Vinaigrette 2g
Boathouse Farm’s Chunky Blue Cheese Yogurt Dressing 1g
Marie's Creamy Caesar  1g
Newman's Own Creamy Caesar 0g
Annie’s Organic Red Wine & Olive Oil Vinaigrette 0g

Make Your Own Salad Dressing

With the right ingredients, making your own salad dressing is easy and affordable. If you have the following items in your pantry, you’ve got everything you need to make a tasty, nutritious dressing suitable for a low-carb diet.

  • Oil
  • Vinegar or lemon juice
  • Mustard
  • Salt and pepper
  • Herbs, spices, fruit, other flavorings to taste (check mixes for added sugars)

The ratio should be 3 tablespoons of oil to 1 tablespoon of vinegar. Grab a bowl and mix in any desired seasoning to taste. You can make a fresh batch for every meal or use a mason jar or decanter to store any extra.

Tips and Tricks

  • If you find your dressing is separating, use mustard to help hold it together.
  • If your dressing is too thick, a little lemon juice is the secret to thinning it.

A two-tablespoon serving of your homemade dressing will have about 170 calories and just 2 grams of carbohydrates. Dressing made fresh rather than processed and bottled also has less sodium, no additives, and you have complete control over what is (or isn't) in the recipe.

8 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. White WS, Zhou Y, Crane A, Dixon P, Quadt F, Flendrig LM. Modeling the dose effects of soybean oil in salad dressing on carotenoid and fat-soluble vitamin bioavailability in salad vegetables. Am J Clin Nutr. 2017;106(4):1041-1051. doi:10.3945/ajcn.117.153635

  2. Newman's Own, organics balsamic vinaigrette. FoodData Central. U.S. Department of Agriculture.

  3. Blush wine vinaigrette dressing. FoodData Central. U.S. Department of Agriculture.

  4. Caesar dressing, Caesar. FoodData Central. U.S. Department of Agriculture.

  5. Caesar 80-calorie dressing, Caesar. FoodData Central. U.S. Department of Agriculture.

  6. Ranch dressing. FoodData Central. U.S. Department of Agriculture.

  7. Fat free ranch topping and dressing, fat free ranch. FoodData Central. U.S. Department of Agriculture.

  8. FoodData Central. U.S. Department of Agriculture.

By Laura Dolson
Laura Dolson is a health and food writer who develops low-carb and gluten-free recipes for home cooks.