Restaurant Salad Dressing Options For Dieters and Why Olive Oil Might Be Sabotaging Your Weight Loss



“What do I do about salad dressing when I’m watching my weight?” I get asked this question A LOT and thought that writing a blog post on the subject could be helpful!

One thing I want to mention—there is a big difference between “healthy” and “weight friendly”.

A simple vinaigrette made from apple cider vinegar and cold pressed organic olive oil is a great, heart healthy option.


2 tablespoons of that heart healthy dressing packs ~240 calories… and that’s BEFORE you’ve even added any other ingredients!


“Why did no one ever tell me that?”

Because most people just repeat what they hear other people say and everyone’s always talking about how amazing olive oil is. AND it IS great…compared to other oils BUT that doesn’t mean it’s a free food!

There’s no such thing as a free lunch.

Most people don’t have that kind of room in their diet for dressing and if we’re being honest, I’d rather get my healthy fats from things I’m actually chewing and tasting (hey there avocado, cheese, nuts, nut butter, etc)

It’s not that you CAN’T have oil on your salad, it’s just that you probably don’t even realize how many calories it’s adding because everyone talks about how great olive oil is.

I’m not here to rain all over olive oil’s parade but let’s just talk about the facts.


I mean, I guess you COULD if it’s the only thing you’re eating.

An oil based dressing may even have MORE calories than the ranch and blue cheese you so consciously avoid.

I know, it’s not fair… even olive oil isn’t safe anymore!

But here’s the thing… olive oil was never a free food but everyone’s scared of the “C” word. NO! Wrong C word. I’m talking about “calories“.

We’re scared to talk about calories because they’re supposed to not matter and we’re a better, body positive, modern society now where talking about calories is anti-feminist and is the reason everyone has disordered eating…. right?

Actually, when I educate my clients about calories, where they come from and where they’re hidden, it finally clicks!! The reason you’re doing everything “right” and not seeing results might just be because you’re getting the wrong education! 

I’m talking about calories in dressing not because I want you to count your calories or restrict. NOT AT ALL! But would you walk into Louis Vuitton and just grab any bag and bring it up to the register without even knowing the price? Well… maybe you can, and if so, hook a girl up!

SO here’s the deal…

I do this with my clients and I am going to do this with you. I educate, make my point and then provide options.

Let’s compare some dressing options at popular restaurants (I pulled these from chain restaurants because they’re required to list their nutrition facts, but you can assume that they’re going to be similar across the board)

*For reference, 1 oz is equivalent to 2 tablespoons


  • 2 oz (4 TBSP) Vinaigrette: 220 calories, 16 g fat, 18 g carbohydrates, 1 g fiber, 1 g protein


  • 1.5 fl oz (3 TBSP) Blue Cheese Dressing; 210 calories, 22 g Fat, 2 g Carbs, 0 g Fiber, 1 g Protein

  • 1.5 fl oz (3 TBSP) Ranch Dressing: 240 calories, 25 g Fat, 2 g Carbs, 0 g Fiber, 0 g Protein


  • 1.25 oz (2.5 TBSP) Balsamic Vinaigrette: 190 Calories, 19 g Fat, 4 g Carbs, 0 g fiber, 0 g Protein

  • 1.25 oz (2.5 TBSP) BBQ Ranch: 110 Calories, 9 g Fat, 5 g Carbs, 0 g fiber, 1 g Protein

  • 1.25 oz (2.5 TBSP) Blue Cheese: 200 Calories, 21 g Fat, 1 g Carbs, 0 g fiber, 2 g Protein

  • 1.25 oz (2.5 TBSP) Caesar: 190 Calories, 20 g Fat, 1 g Carbs, 0 g fiber, 1 g Protein

  • 1.25 oz (2.5 TBSP) Green Goddess: 110 Calories, 11 g Fat, 2 g Carbs, 1 g fiber, 1 g Protein

  • 1.25 oz (2.5 TBSP) Honey mustard: 200 Calories, 18 g Fat, 8 g Carbs, 0 g fiber, 0 g Protein

  • 1.25 oz (2.5 TBSP) Lemon Soy Vinaigrette: 130 Calories, 13 g Fat, 1 g Carbs, 0 g fiber, 1 g Protein

  • 1.25 oz(2.5 TBSP) Low Fat Balsamic vinaigrette: 50 Calories, 2 g Fat, 9 g Carbs, 0 g fiber, 0 g Protein

  • 1.25 oz(2.5 TBSP) Ranch: 130 Calories, 14 g Fat, 1 g Carbs, 0 g fiber, 1 g Protein

As you can see, each restaurant provides a different portion (between 2.5-4 TBSP) so let’s say we had 2.5 TBSP of olive oil (or any oil for that matter):

  • 1.25 oz (2.5 TBSP) Olive Oil: 300 Calories, 35 g Fat, 0g Carbs, 0g Fiber, 0g Protein


As a good rule of thumb, assume that any regular salad dressing at a restaurant contains ~50-130 calories per TABLESPOON. That means you need to multiply that by how many tablespoons you’re using.

When you get your salad with the dressing already on it, it likely has at the very least 2 tablespoons of dressing but a big salad can have 4+ tablespoons!

TIP #1: The first rule of salad club: Always ask for dressing on the side!

When you do this, you’re in control of how much dressing you use and it allows you get creative.

TIP #2: You can drip ~1 tablespoon of the full fat, “real” stuff on your bowl of greens and then you can add fresh lemon, lime or vinegar to that to stretch the dressing out further without having to stretch your jeans out.

When your dressing comes on the side, it usually comes in a little cup or ramekin. You might be able to determine the size of the ramekin by using what you know about portion sizes, but if you don’t know, then take your spoon and try to get a good idea of how much you’re using. (from experience, you’re probably getting at least 2 ounces of dressing on the side which is equivalent to 4 tablespoons so unless you know you’re getting a light dressing, be careful!)

Remember, 1 tablespoon of oil contains 120 calories and 14 grams of fat while 1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar contains just 15 calories (and other vinegars have even less).

Here are a few other ways to dress your salad at a restaurant without overdoing it on high calorie dressings! Of course, if you’re eating at home, there are tons of options of both store bought and homemade dressings you can use (but that’s for another post!)

Tip #3: Salad Dressings Alternatives When Dining Out At Various Cuisines:

  • Mediterranean: Hummus or Tzatziki

  • Mexican/Spanish: Salsa, Guacamole (2 tbsp=60 Calories), Sour Cream (2 tbsp=60 Calories)

    • I’ve been known to mix my salsa, guac and sour cream and make my own creamy dressing!

  • Asian: Ginger dressing is not a bad option! 2 tbsp is generally ~80 calories so just use portion control!

  • Italian/American/Steakhouse, etc (almost all restaurants will have these available)

    • Vinegars (Balsamic, Red Wine, Champagne, Apple cider)

    • Balsamic Glaze

    • Mustard– this mixes well with vinegar!

    • Fresh squeezed lemon, lime or orange

    • Avocado– avocado is a healthy fat and because it’s creamy, you can mix it with your vinegar!

Tip #4: Dip, don’t pour!

Use your fork and dip the tines into the dressing before you take a bite, this will ensure that each bite of salad has some dressing but will keep you from overdoing it!

Last and final tip!

Tip #5: Choose a fat, just not ALL the fats!

You can and SHOULD have a source of fat in your salad. After all, our bodies need fat in order to digest fat soluble vitamins (AKA vitamins A, D, E and K) BUT you don’t need five sources of fat. What counts as a fat on a salad?

You can also do a little bit of each! If you order things on the side, you can control your portion!

  • 1 tbsp Regular dressing or 2 tsp of olive oil

  • 1 oz Cheese

  • 1/4 Avocado

  • 1/2 oz Nuts

  • Fatty protein sources such as Salmon (again, a good source of fat!)

  • 10 olives

  • Sauteed Vegetables– remember, if the vegetable was cooked, it was probably cooked in oil.

  • Whole egg (you could do egg white and skip the yolk OR you can keep the yolk but count it as a fat)

How many sources of fat should you aim for in a salad? This totally depends on your individual needs and goals and also, what else you’re eating in a day. Some people may only need one source of fat in their salad and others may need 3 or more! Make sure you know you’re individual needs and plan accordingly. And, if you don’t know what your body needs, well… you’ve come to the right place! Let’s chat!