Sauces and condiments play a large role in many diets. Any food item you consume daily—including condiments—has the potential to affect your health. The ingredients in leading American condiments could be undoing your dietary health goals.
Below you will find five of the most common condiments, with explanations for why they might not be optimal for your health, along with suggestions for healthier alternatives.
Ketchup and Barbecue Sauce (Tomato-Based)
Americans love sauces. Ask any restaurant server and he or she will tell you that a bottle of ketchup or barbeque sauce is a must-have meal accompaniment for most. However, these sauces sometimes contain some of the most unhealthy food additives in the American diet today.
One of the leading brands of ketchup in America contains high fructose corn syrup and regular corn syrup as the third and fourth ingredients, listed by volume. Simply put, these are forms of processed sugar, which contribute to such diseases as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. Just one tablespoon of this sauce provides 1 teaspoon (4 grams) of sugar—more than 15 percent of the daily limit as recommended by the World Health Organization. This adds up, as Americans often consume two or more tablespoons of the condiment in a single meal.
Barbecue sauce often contains more sugar than ketchup. And many varieties also contain high fructose corn syrup. Consider the sheer volume of barbecue sauce that goes into coating your favorite meat options and then the additional amount used as a dip, and you can see how easy it is to consume 100 percent of the recommended daily sugar limit in a single sitting.
- Vinegar: Canadians are accustomed to dressing fried foods such as French fries with vinegar, and Americans should take note! Vinegar is a naturally low-calorie condiment produced through fermentation that contains no added sugars.
- Salsa: Salsa provides the acidity of the tomatoes, often without the added sugar. Check the ingredients list to find a variety without added sugar, or make your own. Beyond its common use as a chip dip, salsa also pairs well with poultry, fish, and potatoes.
- Hot sauce: If you enjoy a bit of heat, hot sauce may be a great option for you. Most hot sauces contain a fairly simple mix of ingredients, usually hot peppers, vinegar, and spices. Check the ingredients and find one without added sugar. Be careful—when it comes to adding heat, a little goes a long way.
- Mustard: While the flavor of mustard is certainly different from ketchup, its acidic “zing” can add life to many foods that you would normally eat with ketchup. The ingredients in mustard are usually fairly simple, and do not traditionally include added sugar.
The high fat content of mayonnaise is not so much a concern as the source of fat—and for most traditional brands of mayo, that source is soybean oil. Soybean oil is high in polyunsaturated fatty acids, also known as PUFAs. PUFAs come in two varieties: omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids. Specifically, soybean oil is high in omega-6 PUFAs. Foods high in omega 6 contribute to an imbalance of fatty acids, which can lead to inflammation. High intake of omega-6 PUFAs has been associated with chronic illnesses such as diabetes, cancer, and autoimmune disease.
- Hummus: Hummus is a creamy spread created from blending chickpeas, olive oil, and spices. Check the ingredients label to find a brand that uses only olive oil and not salad oils such as soybean or vegetable oil. Or make your own hummus with a food processor.
- Mashed avocado: Avocado is a natural fruit that can be sliced or mashed to create a creamy spread. Sprinkle with salt and use as a mayonnaise alternative on sandwiches.
- Pesto: Pesto is made by blending olive oil, pine nuts, garlic, basil, and other spices. Some recipes also include a hard cheese such as parmesan or Romano. Pesto is high in healthy fats as well as antioxidants present in the basil leaves. As with hummus, check the label on store-bought varieties and avoid brands made with soybean or vegetables oils.
Pancake syrup is notoriously high in sugar, but also typically contains regular corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup. These ingredients pack in the sweetness and create imbalance in the body. Just 2 tablespoons of one popular brand of syrup contains 32 grams.
- Fresh fruit: Fresh fruit provides a sweet flavor to accompany pancakes or French toast, while adding fiber and helpful plant nutrients. For a quick go-to breakfast topper, try sliced bananas or a handful of berries on top of your favorite breakfast foods!
Similar to mayonnaise, the pitfall in salad dressing lies not so much in the fat as in the source of fats. Most leading salad dressing brands contain mainly soybean and vegetable oils, which are high in pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids.
- Homemade dressing: Create your own simple and nutritious salad dressings at home using a simple three-part recipe: fat/oil + acid + seasoning. Some sample combinations include:
- Olive oil + vinegar + Italian seasoning
- Tahini + lemon juice + salt and pepper
Eating out? Most restaurants stock olive oil and vinegar, which they can bring you on request. This is a healthy alternative to most restaurant varieties of salad dressings.
Condiments can either provide an opportunity to add healthy flavors to food or deliver detrimental sugars and inflammatory fats to the body. By becoming aware of your intake of these five unhealthy condiments, you can make changes to ensure that you take every opportunity to nourish your body and stay on track with your health goals!
*Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only; does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Chopra Center's Mind-Body Medical Group; and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program.
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