September 14, 2015

6 Condiments to Avoid If You're Trying to Eat Healthy

You may be eating a healthy meal, but what about what you’re adding to it? Whether it’s ketchup for sweetness, BBQ sauce for seasoning, or Sriracha for spice — these little things can ruin an otherwise nutritious plate. “Most people do not really think about what is in the condiments,” says Pegah Jalali, a registered dietitian at NYU Langone Medical Center. “They can add substantial calories, surgar, and salt to meals.”

That’s not to say you should swear off toppings forever: It’s all about picking the ones that add, rather than take away, from your health. “[Condiments] are not evil, or the cause of obesity,” says Jalali, “but most people need to understand they are not very "nutritive” in the way that they are giving us nutrition.“ 

Classic ketchup can be a health hazard, especially when you’re dining out. "I think of ketchup as a packet of salt and sugar, which we get more than enough of in the typical Western diet,” says Jalali. “The packets at fast food restaurants are usually 9 grams [of ketchup], but most restaurants now will have large containers, so it’s harder to keep track of your portion,” says Jalali. “Nine grams of ketchup has 4 percent of the recommended daily intake of sodium on top of whatever you are adding the ketchup to (fries, burgers, hot dogs, are already very high in sodium).” And don’t forget, ketchup’s sweetness comes with a price: Each packet has ½ teaspoon of sugar. She adds regular ketchups are also high in processed ingredients like high fructose corn syrup.

The key is to watch your portions. “Condiments like ketchup that are sweet can also increase the amount of food we will eat,” Jalali says. “Sometimes I ask my clients to do a small experiment on themselves: how many fries will you eat if you use ketchup or if you don’t.” You could also try organic or artisanal ketchup (Jalali recommends Sir Kensington Ketchup), which still contain sugar and sodium, but much less than your garden-variety brand.

Salad Dressing
“Store-made salad dressings can be full of preservatives, artificial colors, sodium, and sugar,” says Jalali — and that goes for the organic kind, too. A two-tablespoon serving can have up to 600 mg of sodium — more than 25 percent of your daily allowance. “Making your own salad dressing at home is cheaper, tastier, and helps you have more variety,” she says. And thankfully dressing is one of the easiest things to make, contrary to what most consumers think. “I always recommend my clients buy a really good olive oil, vinegar, or they can experiment,” Jalali says. “You can make a mustard vinaigrette or lemon sesame dressing. The possibilities are endless — you can use avocado instead of olive oil as well.”
If you’re ordering a salad at a restaurant, Jalali suggests asking for lemon, lime, or vinegar with oil, since at least you know what’s in there.
Sriracha Sauce
Unfortunately, one condiment that ranks worse than ketchup on the health scale is Sriracha sauce, Jalali says, mainly because it contains so much sugar. “The label lists the ingredients in teaspoons, but most people are eating closer to a tablespoon with their meals,” she says. That means one tablespoon has about ¾ teaspoon of sugar and 12 percent of your daily-suggested intake of sodium. Another problem comes up because people who enjoy Sriracha tend to eat it with many meals a day, and that adds up to a considerably high intake.
“I think spicy food can be very healthy for many people, but what is addictive about Sriracha is the sweet/salty/spicy mix it has,” says Jalali. “The best alternative is to eat the real thing — using chili flakes or peppers or making your own.” It’s also worth noting that nutrition science posits that spicy foods made with peppers can actually be good for some people but not for others — so depending on your individual health profile, going for the extra zing can make or break your health.
Some Store-Bought Hummus and Tzatziki
In general, hummus and tzatziki can be two of the healthiest toppers out there — as long as they’re made with healthy ingredients rather than cheap vegetable oils. Both contain protein and healthy fats (a rare quality for condiments, according to Jalali) — making them an ideal dip for veggies or as a spread. But watch out for certain store-bought hummus and tzatziki, or the kind used at restaurants. “Unfortunately, many store-bought or restaurant tzatzikis use sour cream or mayo in addition or in place of yogurt, which can dramatically increase the calories,” says Jalali. 
You can try making your own (Jalali says it’s even easier to make than hummus) — with strained yogurt, cucumbers, garlic, olive oil, lemon, garlic, and herbs. The same goes for hummus: “Organic tahini, good olive oil, organic chickpeas, garlic, and lemon are all you to make hummus. But look at the label of any store-made hummus, and it is full of vegetable oil, gums, and preservatives,” says Jalali. So both make “a healthy, great source of probiotics [and] protein if made properly using quality ingredients,” Jalali says. “Or it can be a fancy name for lemon-herbed mayo.”
Soy Sauce
“[Soy sauce] is probably the one most people think is healthy,” says Jalali. But it is extremely high in sodium. One tablespoon has around 900 mg of sodium (about 37 percent of your daily allowance). Soy sauce can also be contaminated with gluten (for those with celiac) or other additives like MSG, says Jalali. “So you want to make sure that you are buying good quality soy sauce.”
BBQ Sauce
Barbecue sauce is one of the biggest condiment culprits. “This is probably the highest in sugar, carbohydrates, and sodium together out of the condiments,” Jalali says. “This should be enjoyed sometimes in moderation, but one tablespoon has around 1.5 teaspoons of sugar and seven percent of your daily allowance of sodium.” If you love BBQ and enjoy it on a regular basis, Jalali says it helps your health to definitely look into making your own sauce  — otherwise, consume it in moderation and enjoy the small portion. The problem becomes when people rely on condiments every day or for multiple meals a day, Jalali says. “Your nutrition is not what you eat on one day, it’s really what you consistently eat, and that’s why it is so challenging for people to see the link between what they eat/how they feel because it takes consistent effort/choices to see results.” One hot dog with BBQ sauce isn’t going to make or break your health, she says, but don’t make it a necessary evil, either.

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