Ranch dressing can add healthy flavor to salad – or make it distinctly unhealthy

Posted by
July 24, 2014

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By BILL BONVIE

“You Can’t Corral Some Folks’ Taste for Ranch Dressing,” went a recent attempt-to-be-cutesy headline in The Wall Street Journal, accompanied by a subhead reading “Creamy Condiment Still a Staple Despite Healthier Habits.”

The article that ran beneath it gave a rather detailed account of ranch dressing’s popularity with today’s salad-eating crowd, and gives particular attention to the top seller in the field, Hidden Valley Ranch, which is now owned, oddly enough,  by the Clorox Company (a factoid you won’t find anywhere on its label, although we can’t imagine why not). It also offers a cursory comparison of calories between a health-food company’s Greek yogurt dressing and two conventional brands.

But other than a reference to ranch dressing as a “zingy, buttermilk and herb accompaniment” to the average salad, what’s missing from the article is any reference to the ingredients found in the various ranch dressings now on the market.

So we’ve taken the trouble to examine and compare the ingredients in the various ranch dressings we found on the shelves of our local supermarket. And we discovered something that should be of a lot more concern to ranch-dressing enthusiasts than whatever extra calories they’re getting from these products.

What we found is that a number of them – including Hidden Valley, Wish Bone and Ken’s — contain monosodium glutamate, the flavor enhancer that has been known to produce a whole range of adverse effects in sensitive individuals, some serious enough to require a visit to the ER. That should be enough to make people especially wary of dressings served at parties and get-togethers.

Such warnings should also raise a red flag for parents, since monosodium glutamate is considered by various experts in neurology to be an “excitotoxin” capable of literally exciting certain brain cells to death, posing a particular risk to children whose blood-brain barriers haven’t completely formed (and making those Hidden Valley Ranch commercials referred to in the Journal article that claim the dressing “makes vegetables delectable” and appealing to children seem genuinely chilling).

Of course, the presesaladdressings2nce of a potentially hazardous ingredient like monosodium glutamate might be easy for many people to overlook when they see health claims on a label, such as the blurb about how Wish Bone Ranch dressing helps you “better absorb vitamins A and E” and “get more goodness from your salad.” That’s why it’s important not to let yourself be distracted by ad copy and to read the actual ingredient label.

One product, Ken’s Steak House Ranch dressing, goes a step further in spoiling a good salad by tossing in some partially hydrogenated soybean/cottonseed oil, an artery-clogging source of trans fat that the Food and Drug administration now acknowledges causes thousands of fatal heart attacks every year (and once again, don’t be fooled by the “zero grams trans fat” claim on the nutrition facts label – that’s just the loophole for any amount under .5 grams to escape having to be listed.)

Not all ranch dressings are created equal when it comes to ingredients, however.  Kraft Classic Ranch Dressing, for example, doesn’t list any monosodium glutamate, nor does Newman’s, a more health-conscious brand whose label makes a point of the fact that it has “No MSG” (nor does it have the preservatives found in Kraft  as well as the other brands mentioned).

But your best bet when it comes to ranch dressing – or any other type – is an organic variety. And organic dressings aren’t particularly hard to find – in fact, both of the major supermarkets in our vicinity, Acme and ShopRite, offer their own competitively priced store brands, which taste great (without needing any neurotoxic flavor enhancers).

And that should be good news for salad lovers who like what ranch dressing does for the flavor of their lettuce, tomatoes and veggies and would like to go on using it without “increasing guilt or negative health effects,” as one consumer put it in the Journal article.

You might even think of it as salvation for your salad.