Italian Dressing Nutrition Facts and Health Benefits

Closeup of salad dressing with food in the background

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When it is time for a salad, whether dining at a restaurant or at home, you are likely to consider tossing your greens with Italian dressing. This zesty American pantry staple is popular nationwide. It begins with a base of oil, water, lemon juice, vinegar, and sweetener, then builds flavor with additions like diced pepper, oregano, salt, basil, fennel, or dill.

Italian dressing tends to be lower in calories and fat than cream-based dressings, so if you are working on maintaining or losing weight, it can be a better choice than some alternatives. However, it also has its nutritional drawbacks.

Many commercially produced Italian dressings are highly processed, made with oils of questionable quality, and contain hefty amounts of sodium and, sometimes even, sugar. To ensure the healthfulness of your dressing, it is best to make it yourself.

And if you have ever wondered if the dressing with the Italian moniker is really from Italy, the answer is no! It is believed to have originated in the U.S. around the 1940s, based on Italian-inspired ingredients.

Italian Dressing Nutrition Facts

The following nutrition information, for 2 tablespoons (30 g) of Italian dressing, has been provided by the USDA.

  • Calories: 70
  • Fat: 6.2g
  • Sodium: 292mg
  • Carbohydrates: 4g
  • Fiber: 0g
  • Sugars: 3g
  • Protein: 1g

Carbs

One serving of Italian dressing contains 4 grams of carbohydrates—though this can vary, depending on the recipe. Most of the carbs in a standard preparation come from added sweeteners.

Store-bought dressings typically use sweeteners like sugar, corn syrup, or high fructose corn syrup. A minimal amount of carbohydrates can also come from flavoring agents like diced peppers, garlic, and herbs.

Fats

Like any oil-based salad dressing, Italian dressing gets most of its calories from fat with about 6 grams per serving. Recipes for the dressing made with olive oil provide extra heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, but even those whipped up with vegetable oil contain a blend of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, both of which are better for blood cholesterol than saturated fats.

Protein

Not surprisingly, protein is almost nonexistent in Italian dressing. After all, none of its primary components are protein-rich.

Vitamins and Minerals

Most Italian dressings are not high in vitamins and minerals—though, recipes that use either olive oil or vegetable oil base will include small amounts of vitamin K. Plus, olive oil will supply some vitamin E.

The most significant micronutrient you will encounter in a bottle of Italian dressing is sodium. A 2-tablespoon serving of the dressing can pack nearly 300 milligrams of this mineral—13% of the recommended 2,300 milligrams per day.

Calories

Because Italian dressing revolves around oil, it is a relatively high-calorie food. About 80% of its calories come from fat and 20% come from carbs.

Health Benefits

Italian dressing is a versatile option that works as both a marinade and a dressing for salads, meats, and vegetables. Plus, the ingredients in Italian dressing could provide some potential health benefits. Here is what you need to know.

May Be Heart Healthy

Not all Italian dressings are created equal when it comes to their benefits for your heart, but those that use olive oil have a distinct advantage. Large-scale studies have shown that consuming more olive oil is associated with a decreased risk of cardiovascular and coronary heart disease.

That said, according to the American Heart Association, olive is not the only heart-healthy oil around. Italian dressings made with canola, corn, peanut, soybean, safflower, or sunflower (or a blend of these) have minimal saturated fat and can also be part of a heart-healthy diet.

May Be Lower-Calorie Alternative to Creamy Dressings

Want to spice up your salad but don’t want to derail your weight loss efforts? Italian dressing makes a smarter choice than many other higher-calorie options. Though a significant amount of its calories come from fat, it is still typically lower in both calories and fat than cream-based dressings like ranch, thousand island, or bleu cheese.

May Be Allergen-Friendly

About 26 million American adults—or around 11% of the population—have food allergies—most of which are caused by eight top allergens. In its traditional preparation, Italian dressing is free of all eight of these common foods, so it is a near-universal go-to condiment for food allergy sufferers. Still, if you have food allergies you should always read the label to be sure it is safe for you to consume.

Adds Flavor to Other Foods

While Italian dressing may not itself be the king of healthy foods, it has a secret advantage—it may help you to eat good-for-you menu items like salads or vegetables. If you are not a fan of unadorned vegetables, a spritz of flavorful Italian might make you more inclined to gobble them down.  

May Be Suitable for a High-Fat Diet

With its high percentage of calories from fat, Italian dressing works well for those on a high-fat eating plan. People on a keto diet for weight loss, for example, or a high-fat, high-calorie diet for weight gain can rely on this dressing for its fat content.

Allergies

As mentioned, Italian dressing does not usually contain any of the top eight food allergens, so an allergic reaction to it is rare. However, with any food, allergies and sensitivities are always possible.

Steer clear of Italian dressing on your salad if you know you are allergic to olive or vegetable oil, lemon juice, vinegar, bell peppers, or certain herbs and spices. People with a dairy allergy also need to avoid creamy Italian dressings or those flavored with parmesan cheese.

There also is a slight risk that your Italian dressing blend may contain soy, tree nuts, fish, or peanuts. So, be sure you are reading labels carefully just to be sure.

Adverse Effects

Italian dressing deserves credit for its many potential health benefits—and its zingy, versatile flavor. But some varieties—especially non-homemade, commercially produced preparations—come with downsides.

Many are high in sodium and added sugars, as well as artificial flavorings and colorings. In short, a bottle you pick up off the shelf is almost always highly processed. It is also difficult to determine the quality and level of processing of the oils used in a purchased bottle.

Many store-bought dressings also may be highly processed and/or prone to oxidation. Some research has proposed that the omega-6 fats in vegetable oils may even be a driver of coronary heart disease. For the healthiest Italian dressing, prepare your own using high-quality olive oil or canola oil.

Varieties

If you have ever cruised the salad dressing aisle at your local supermarket, you have likely seen the wide variety of Italian options offered. “Zesty” Italian dressings feature added herbs and flavorings, while creamy versions make use of milk, cream, or mayonnaise. You may even spot powdered Italian dressing packets that require mixing up with oil or water.

Another element food manufacturers may tinker with is a dressing’s fat content. Many popular brands sell low-fat and even fat-free Italian dressings. Just be aware that these alternatives sometimes have significantly higher amounts of sugar, sodium, or artificial flavors and colors. So, read labels carefully to make sure you know what you are getting.

Storage and Food Safety

Prior to opening, store-bought Italian dressing can be kept in your pantry or another cool, dark place. Once opened, leftovers should be refrigerated. An oil-based dressing can last in the fridge for 6 to 9 months, while a dressing with dairy ingredients may stay good for up to 6 months.

A homemade Italian dressing will not last as long as the commercially produced variety, but its exact shelf life will depend upon its ingredients. Recipes with components that spoil more quickly—like lemon juice or fresh herbs—will need to be discarded sooner than those that only contain oil, vinegar, and dried herbs.

If you have a bottle of Italian dressing that seems to have been hanging around your fridge forever, be sure to give it a sniff check—and a visual once-over—before using it to dress your salad. A vinaigrette that has gone bad may have visible mold, an “off” odor, or a clumpy texture.

Recipes

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6 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.
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