Do you try to reduce your caloric intake by slathering your salad in fat-free dressing? You may be missing out on some of the positive nutritional benefits of the salad ingredients. A new study published in Molecular Nutrition & Food Research has found that certain fat-soluble nutrients–like lutein, lycopene, and beta-carotene–need to be paired with a little bit of fat in order to be absorbed in the bloodstream in significant amounts.
To complicate matters more, it depends on what type of fat is in the dressing, too. The researchers found, for example, that the more soybean oil used, the more nutrients the subjects absorbed. Canola and olive oil were more steady, showing equivalent absorption of nutrients whether a lot or a little was used. Because of this, the scientists suggest that those looking for a lower fat option and the most nutrient absorption may wish to use olive oil or canola oil in a small amount on their salads.
Of course, these nutrients have benefits for the brain as well as the body. Beta-carotene, found in squashes, sweet potatoes, and carrots, is a powerful antioxidant. People with low levels of beta-carotene (in the form of vitamin A) demostrate poorer cognition, and increased beta-carotene intake has been shown to have protective cognitive effects in older adults. Lycopene, found in tomatoes, has shown promise as a therapeutic for Parkinson’s disease and diabetes-induced memory impairment, and those with low lycopene levels show lower cognitive performance. Lutein supports eye health, and low lutein may contribute to macular degeneration. Lutein is also key for brain development in infants and is found in dark leafy greens like kale, spinach, and romaine lettuce, and in papayas, corn, and broccoli.
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