When it comes to dressings, many popular options contain added sugars. Sugars are added to enhance flavor and texture, but too much added sugar can be detrimental to health. For those looking to cut back on sugar intake, there are many great options for sugar-free salad dressings and marinades.
The Problems with Added Sugars
Added sugars provide empty calories without any nutritional benefits. Consuming too much added sugar is linked to increased risk of obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and other chronic illnesses. The American Heart Association recommends limiting added sugars to no more than 6 teaspoons (25 grams) per day for women and 9 teaspoons (38 grams) for men.
Many commercial dressings and marinades contain surprising amounts of added sugars. For example:
- 2 tablespoons of honey mustard dressing can contain up to 4 grams of sugar
- 2 tablespoons of sweet Asian dressing can have up to 6 grams of sugar
- 2 tablespoons of sweet and sour dressing can have up to 7 grams of sugar
Just 2 tablespoons of these dressings may contain more than the recommended daily limits for added sugars. Over time, the sugars in dressings and marinades can really add up.
Benefits of Choosing Sugar-Free Dressings
Selecting dressings without added sugars has many advantages:
- Lower calorie intake
- Increased nutritional value
- Blood sugar control
- Weight management
Dressings without added sugars allow you to flavor salads and other dishes without excess calories. Sugar-free options also let the flavors of quality ingredients like vinegars, herbs, spices, and oils shine through.
Tips for Identifying Sugar-Free Dressings
When purchasing dressing, read nutrition labels carefully and look for these signs of no added sugars:
- 0 grams of sugar per serving
- No ingredients like sugar, honey, corn syrup, etc.
- “No added sugars” claim on label
Also check the ingredient list. Sugar can hide behind various names, including corn syrup, molasses, maple syrup, honey, evaporated cane juice, fructose, maltose, dextrose, sucrose, and more.
When dining out, ask for dressings and sauces on the side. Request they leave off any sweetener or sugar-based ingredients.
Vinegar contains zero sugar and is an ideal base for sugar-free salad dressings. There are several delicious vinegar options to consider:
Balsamic vinegar provides rich flavor and depth without any added sugars. It pairs nicely with olive oil for a simple oil and vinegar dressing. Drizzle it over greens, Brussels sprouts, or roasted vegetables.
Red Wine Vinegar
Red wine vinegar offers a tangy, robust taste. Whisk it with olive oil, Dijon mustard, garlic, and herbs for an easy homemade vinaigrette.
Rice vinegar has a mild, slightly sweet flavor. It makes a tasty base for Asian-inspired dressings paired with soy sauce, sesame oil, ginger, and other spices.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar has a faint fruity flavor. Use it to make oil and vinegar slaws and potato salads. It’s also great drizzled over cooked vegetables.
In addition to vinegar, healthy oils are another good option for sugar-free dressings. Try these oil-based ideas:
Olive Oil and Herbs
For an easy dressing, combine extra virgin olive oil with chopped herbs like basil, oregano, or thyme. Toss with mixed greens, pasta salads, or grilled vegetables.
Lemon Infused Olive Oil
Add brightness by infusing olive oil with lemon zest and juice. Let the flavors meld at least 30 minutes, then whisk and drizzle over salads.
Blend tahini (sesame seed paste) with lemon juice, garlic, and water for a creamy vegan dressing. Use on leafy greens, chickpea salads, or falafel wraps.
Avocado Oil and Citrus
Whisk avocado oil with citrus juices like lime, lemon, or orange for a fresh, tangy dressing. Complement with cilantro, chili powder, or grated citrus zest.
Plain yogurt is naturally low in sugars. Mix it with various add-ins for flavorful dressings and dips:
Mint Yogurt Dressing
Stir chopped mint and a touch of lemon juice into plain Greek yogurt. Use on fruit salads or chicken.
Ranch Yogurt Dip
Whisk plain yogurt with ranch seasoning, garlic powder, onion powder, dill, and parsley. Serve with raw vegetables or baked potatoes.
Cucumber Yogurt Sauce
Puree plain yogurt, peeled and seeded cucumber, lemon juice, garlic, and salt. Drizzle over grilled meats or use as a veggie dip.
Spiced Yogurt Dressing
Mix plain yogurt with smoked paprika, cumin, coriander, and cayenne pepper. Toss with chickpea salads or baked falafel.
Creative Sugar-Free Dressing Ideas
With basic pantry staples, it’s easy to whip up homemade dressings free of added sugars. Try these creative combinations:
- Lemon juice, stone ground mustard, and pepper
- Apple cider vinegar, chopped rosemary, and whole grain mustard
- Rice vinegar, grated ginger, sesame oil, and toasted sesame seeds
- Balsamic vinegar, garlic, basil, salt, and pepper
- Red wine vinegar, Dijon, thyme, maple syrup, and olive oil
- Orange juice, avocado oil, jalapeno, cilantro, cumin, and lime juice
Experiment with herbs, spices, citrus, vinegars, mustards, and oils for your own custom blends. Add a touch of pure maple syrup or honey if a hint of sweetness is needed.
Preparing Low-Sugar Marinades
The same strategies can be used to create flavored marinades without added sugars for proteins. Build marinades around vinegars, citrus, herbs, spices, and oils. For example:
- Apple cider vinegar, low-sodium soy sauce, toasted sesame oil, garlic, and ginger for steak or tofu
- Lemon juice, olive oil, oregano, and garlic for chicken
- Balsamic vinegar, Dijon mustard, basil, and pepper for beef or mushrooms
- Rice vinegar, orange juice, sesame oil, chili sauce, and crushed red pepper for salmon
Let proteins marinate 30 minutes to overnight depending on thickness. Marinades infuse flavor without needing additional sugars.
Best Store-Bought Sugar-Free Dressings
Check out these excellent pre-made options for sugar-free salad dressings and marinades:
|Newman’s Own||Olive Oil and Vinegar|
|Walden Farms||Thousand Island|
|Olive Garden||Light Italian|
Check the nutrition labels for 0 grams of sugar per serving. Many low-calorie, olive oil, wine vinegar, and lemon juice-based dressings are sugar-free.
DIY Sugar-Free Salad Dressing Recipes
Making your own healthy dressings is simple and allows you to control the ingredients. Here are some tasty homemade options:
- 1⁄4 cup red wine vinegar
- 1⁄4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon water
- 1 teaspoon each dried basil, oregano, parsley
- 1⁄2 teaspoon minced garlic
- 1⁄4 teaspoon each salt and pepper
Whisk ingredients until combined. Store refrigerated up to 1 week.
Citrus Tahini Dressing
- 1⁄4 cup tahini
- 3 tablespoons fresh orange juice
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 small garlic clove, minced
- 1⁄4 teaspoon cumin
- Pinch of cayenne pepper
Blend ingredients until smooth. Thin with water to desired consistency.
Creamy Avocado Lime Dressing
- 1 medium avocado
- 1⁄4 cup lime juice
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons water
- 1 garlic clove
- 1⁄4 cup cilantro leaves
- 1⁄4 teaspoon salt
Puree ingredients in blender or food processor until smooth. Add more water to thin if needed.
Healthy Sugar-Free Marinade Recipes
Marinate proteins without extra sugar using these recipes:
Balsamic Steak Marinade
- 1⁄2 cup balsamic vinegar
- 1⁄4 cup olive oil
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
- 1 tablespoon dried thyme
- 1⁄2 teaspoon black pepper
Mix together in a sealable plastic bag with steak. Marinate 8 hours up to overnight.
Ginger Soy Salmon Marinade
- 1⁄4 cup low-sodium soy sauce
- 3 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
- 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
- 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 teaspoon sesame seeds
Combine marinade ingredients and pour over salmon fillets. Marinate 30 minutes-1 hour.
Jamaican Jerk Chicken Marinade
- 1⁄4 cup lime juice
- 2 tablespoons orange juice
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 teaspoons Jamaican jerk seasoning
- 1 teaspoon each dried thyme and allspice
Mix together and coat chicken pieces. Marinate overnight.
Adding Flavor Without Sugar
Skip the sugar but pump up the flavor in dressings and marinades by:
- Using fresh herbs like basil, cilantro, dill, mint, oregano, parsley, rosemary, tarragon, thyme
- Spicing it up with chili flakes, cumin, curry powder, garlic, ginger, paprika, red pepper flakes
- Boosting umami flavor with soy sauce, miso paste, nutritional yeast
- Adding tang with citrus juices and zests, vinegars, mustard, capers
- Using savory ingredients like tahini, Greek yogurt, anchovies, Parmesan
With oil, vinegar, seasoning, and aromatics you can create full flavor profiles without any added sugars.
Benefits of Going Sugar-Free
Eliminating added sugars from dressings and marinades provides many health perks:
- Lower calorie intake for potential weight loss
- Helps regulate blood glucose levels
- Reduces risk for diabetes, heart disease, fatty liver disease
- More nutrients from whole food ingredients
- Promotes healthier eating habits overall
Going sugar-free with dressings is an easy way to upgrade your diet. Take advantage of delicious vinegars, oils, herbs, and spices to add flavor instead.
Dressings can be a hidden source of excess added sugars. Read labels carefully and make your own healthy, homemade sugar-free dressings using vinegar, oil, citrus, yogurt, herbs, and spices.
Whip up flavorful vinaigrettes, creamy dressings, tangy marinades, and more without added sweeteners. Enjoy the bright, bold tastes of real whole foods.
Cutting out sugars allows the natural flavors to shine while providing nutritional benefits. Take control of what goes into your dressings and dipping sauces for cleaner, healthier eating.