A salad full of colorful vegetables, a low-fat baked potato, and a lean chicken breast for dinner. Sounds like a healthy meal, doesn’t it? Well, it was—until you added the creamy salad dressing, sour cream on the baked potato, and barbecue sauce on the chicken. While condiments, dressings, and sauces add flavor to food, they’re often loaded with sugar, fat, sodium, and calories. If you’re not careful, just a few small spoonfuls can easily ruin your best dieting efforts.
Here’s the good and the bad when it comes to condiments.
We’ll start with the bad news. There’s a good chance your favorite condiment makes the list of the top four most unhealthy condiments.
Ketchup is made from tomatoes, so it can’t be bad for you, right? Wrong. Most brands are chock full of sodium and sugar, likely in the form of high fructose corn syrup and corn syrup. For someone trying to limit calories, ketchup is an easy trap. On your fries (which you shouldn’t be eating anyway), on your hamburger, or on your hot dog, ketchup is many people’s go-to condiment of choice. One tablespoon contains 20 calories. While this doesn’t seem like much, who eats just one tablespoon? Stay smart and go easy on the ketchup.
A second popular condiment to put on your no-no list is mayonnaise. Made primarily of soybean oil, mayonnaise is high in fat and calories and contains little to no nutritional value. One tablespoon of mayo will run you 90 calories and 10 grams of fat. You’d do better to buy reduced-fat mayonnaise or the type made with olive oil, but don’t make the mistake of eating more just because it’s lower in fat. Better yet, substitute low-fat Greek yogurt for mayonnaise in spreads and dips.
Ranch on your salad, ranch on your pizza, or ranch on your raw vegetables. It may be creamy and yummy, but it’s dangerous. With soybean oil, cream, and sugar as main ingredients, it’s hard to go right with ranch. As with other cream-based dips and dressings, ranch is one to avoid or use sparingly. Two tablespoons contain 130 calories and 14 grams of fat. Create your own healthy alternative for salad dressing by mixing olive oil, vinegar, and spices and instead of ranch, dip your vegetables in hummus.
You may be craving barbecue, but beware of the sauce. Chances are high fructose corn syrup is the number one ingredient. With 70 calories, 16 grams of sugar, and 290 mg of sodium, BBQ sauce should be a fourth condiment to limit or avoid.
On the Safe Side
The good news is there are healthy, diet-friendly options for adding flavor to your food.
While its buddy ketchup is high in sugar, mustard is actually good for you! It contains no sugar and is made from vinegar, water, and spices, so eat as much as you want.
You may think salsa is only good for chips and tacos, but it can be used to add spice and flavor to a long list of foods. Made from vegetables, you can’t go wrong at only five calories per tablespoon. Add salsa to chicken, vegetables, baked potatoes, eggs, or burgers. Just don’t use salsa as an excuse to overdo it on the chips!
Looking for extra spice and big flavor? Look no further than hot sauce. Most are sugar-free but some can be quite high in sodium, so it’s a good thing all you need is a tiny amount.
A fourth food topping many people forget is pesto. Don’t know what it’s made of? Olive oil, basil, garlic, and pine nuts—all healthy ingredients. Most often used in pasta, pesto is also great on chicken, steak, wraps, or sandwiches.
Now that you know what to go for, go get it, and leave the fattening stuff at the store!