Dips can be a great way to dress up vegetables and make them more interesting to eat. The problem with a lot of dips, though, is they often are made with less-than-desirable ingredients and can pack on a lot of calories if you’re not careful.

For instance, one of the most common dips my patients tell me they’re choosing is commercially prepared ranch dressing. The main ingredients in most of these products are soybean oil, followed by water and sugar. Ingredients on the nutrition-facts label are listed by weight, so the ingredients listed first make up most of the product. You can see why ranch dressing isn’t ideal, since it’s mostly a refined-seed oil and sugar. Refined-seed oils like soybean, corn, sunflower, safflower, grapeseed and cottonseed may be more inflammatory due to the ratio of fats they contain, as well as their processing.

Fat isn’t bad — you need it as part of a balanced diet. It helps keep you full and satisfied, offers important nutrition to maintain healthy hormones, provides essential anti-inflammatory components and it tastes good, too. But it’s important to choose healthier fats. As part of an anti-inflammatory diet, for example, it’s recommended to instead use oils like extra virgin olive oil or whole fats like nuts, seeds, olives, avocado and fresh coconut.

Additionally, many people have a difficult time controlling portions of fats. The amount of fat you need depends on your body size and goals, but a good rule of thumb is to divide your weight by 2.2, and this will determine how many grams of fat to shoot for each day. So a 150-pound person would require about 68 grams of fat each day. For most men, this works out to be about two thumb-sized portions at each meal. And for most women, this is one thumb-sized portion at each meal. It doesn’t take much!

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One serving of fat equals about:

  • One thumb-sized portion of butter or cooking oil, which is about one tablespoon (one tablespoon of olive oil equals 15 grams)
  • Two thumb-sized portions of salad dressing, hummus, guac or nut butter, which is about two tablespoons (two tablespoons of peanut butter equals 16 grams)
  • A small palmful of nuts or seeds, which is about one-quarter of a cup (one-quarter of a cup equals 18 grams)

Vegetable dips can easily be made from scratch at home with healthier ingredients. You can utilize plain Greek yogurt in place of other cream-based ingredients in order to make a ranch dressing. Legumes or beans can be pureed to make a variety of hummus or bean dips. You also can use fresh herbs for flavor and loads of anti-inflammatory nutrients in a green goddess-style dressing or chimichurri.

Even better: Use vegetables themselves to make a dip like the traditional Mediterranean dish of baba ghanoush, or the following balsamic beet dip recipe:

Balsamic beet dip

Serves 4 (1 serving is about a half-cup)

Two beets (medium, peeled, cut into small cubes, approximately 2½ cups cubed)

Half a yellow onion, sliced

Six garlic cloves, peeled

¼ teaspoon sea salt, divided

Two tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided

Two tablespoons water

2¼ teaspoons balsamic vinegar

One tablespoon parsley, chopped (optional)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the beet, onion and garlic in the center of a large piece of foil or parchment and season with one-eighth teaspoon of salt and one tablespoon of olive oil. Wrap tightly and transfer to a baking sheet. Bake for 40-45 minutes or until the beets are tender. Let cool slightly.

Transfer the cooked beets, onions, garlic and all the juices to a blender along with the water, balsamic vinegar, remaining salt and remaining oil. Blend until smooth.

Serve chilled with veggies or as a spread on whole-grain crackers. Garnish with parsley if desired.

Jean Larson is a registered dietitian at Essentia Health. This recipe has been adapted from That Clean Life.