Last year in the salad bar line at school, they set out all of the dressings and staff and students could use as much or little as they wanted. Well, the ranch dressing kept disappearing, and by disappearing, I mean loaded onto the “salads” of high school students. It was more like ranch and lettuce soup. This year, they put out a couple kinds of dressings and the ranch is kept by the cash register in individual containers for the cashier to pass out-no more than 2 per student. Did the kids hate it at first? You bet, but they lived and were forced to eat more vegetables to get enough calories for lunch.
People love ranch, on salads, baked potatoes, french fries, chicken, beef, pork, ice-cream…on everything. My qualm with ranch is not the fat or the excess calories it adds to everything it touches, but the KIND of fat it is made out of. Ranch, along with most other store-bought dressings, is made with soybean or canola oil–sometimes the bottle says “soybean and/or canola oil”–as if they don’t actually know what the contents are. Canola oil has been boasted as heart healthy by conventional wisdom, but let’s get a little unconventional, let’s take the road less traveled.
On a bottle of canola oil, you may often find that is advertised “High in Omega 3’s!” This is a polyunsaturated fat that is good for you according to conventional and unconventional wisdom. Well, in it’s purest form, the rapeseed, where canola oil comes from, does have Omega 3’s, but not for long. Polyunsaturated fats are very sensitive to heat, and in the process of getting canola oil from rapeseed, it is heated up to 500 degrees Fahrenheit. In these high heats, what benefits there might have been from those Omega-3’s are damaged. Soybean oil is also processed using heat, which does the same thing to the Omega-3 fats in that oil. Ho hum…no more Omega-3’s. Also used to extract oil from both plants, is the chemical hexane, a solvent made from crude oil that is also used in glues for shoes, leather, and roofing. Although there wasn’t any research that found more than a very, very small amount of hexane in the oils that it is used to process. So do you need to be afraid of hexane poisoning? No, but do you want to eat a product that requires such an extreme amount of processing to make palatable and doesn’t have any nutritional value?
If all of the benefits of the Omega-3 fatty acids in these oils are damaged, what’s left? There are 2 kinds of polyunsaturated fats, Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids, both are essential and healthy when consumed in balanced proportion. A balanced proportion would range from 1:1 – 1:4 (Omega 6’s: Omega 3’s). The typical Western diet provides ratios between the range of 10:1 and 30:1. In order to work optimally our body needs a ratio of 1:1-1:4 Omega 6 to Omega 3’s, and the average American diet gives of 10 to 30 times more than we need! Too much of a good thing is not a good thing in this case. Too much omega-6 causes inflammation in the body. Inflammation is not a bad guy, the body uses it to fight off infection, irritation and injury, but too much inflammation, like anything else, can have adverse affects. Inflammation creates CRP (c-reative protein), which research has shown to increase the risk of diabetes, cardiovascular health, and hypertension. Scientist are also looking into the effect of inflammation in the body as the root of many diseases, such as Parkinson’s disease, arthritis, heart disease, diabetes , irritable bowel syndrome, Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, and many others.
As I’ve said, omega-6 fatty acids, not a bad guy, the body needs it, but it doesn’t need as much as we’re giving it. Avoiding foods high in omega-6’s is not as difficult as it may seem, although our American diet is full of them–with a little knowledge you can have a healthy ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids. Most of the omega-6 fatty acids found in the American diet come from processed foods. Most processed foods contain some kind of oil: sunflower, safflower, corn, soybean, walnut, cottonseed, vegetable, or canola, all of which are high in omega-6 fatty acids. Of the 57% of polyunsaturated fats in soybean oil, 51% is composed of Omega-6’s, and of the 32% of polyunsaturated fats in canola oil, 21% is made up of Omega-6’s. Everything from mayonnaise to granola, even lots of supposed “health foods”, contain way more omega-6 in one serving than our bodies need in an entire day!
There are omega-6’s in meat, eggs, and fish, especially grain-fed animals and farm raised fish, but unless you can manage to eat all grass-fed meat, eggs, and wild fish, I am not saying you should cut these foods out. Although there is a higher amount of omega 6’s in grain-fed animal meat, there are numerous other benefits you are getting from the protein that outweigh the disadvantages. Don’t go broke eating pastured, grain-fed meat or cut meat out of your diet altogether, just be aware of all of the other places you are getting omega-6 fatty acids and cut out those unnecessary, unhealthy foods.
Even after hearing all of that information, you still like the taste of ranch and your kids still like to dip veggies in it–it might be the only way they’ll eat vegetables! Have no fear, there are many options, from making your own ranch completely from scratch, to using those powdered packets you can buy at the store.
Homemade Ranch Dressing
1. Mix all of the above ingredients together and let refrigerate 30 minutes before serving.
Grab one of those ranch dressing packets at the store and mix it with plain Greek yogurt, instead of mayonnaise (omega-6’s!), along with some buttermilk to thin it out. The packet does have some added thickeners in it, but overall it is a much more healthy alternative to bottled ranch, and easier than making it from scratch. This will also give you 7 grams of protein per 4 Tablespoons, so you won’t have to feel as bad about really pouring it on! Also, try throwing some other vegetables out there for your kids to snack on. Carrots are a favorite among kids, but you might be surprised by how many other veggies they might try (at least when dipped in good, healthy ranch!) Try blanching some asparagus, as well as serving raw broccoli, cucumbers, radishes (maybe!), leaves of lettuce, cauliflower, red, yellow or green peppers and celery. Maybe skip the carrots this trip to the grocery and see what other vegetables your kids might eat in the absence of those sweet, orange wonders. It’s not that carrots are bad, they just have a higher glycemic index than many other vegetables and are best used in moderation.
If you’ve got ranch dressing in the fridge, stop by the store on the way home today and grab some Greek yogurt and a couple packets of ranch mix. Replace that unhealthy bottle with fresh, homemade dip and get your family snacking on veggies! As for the other processed foods in your fridge and pantry, maybe it’s time to take a look at the toll that convenient food is taking on your body and look into the many fresh, whole foods available.