By Carolyn Brown, MS, RD
How often do you reach for ketchup, put mayo on a sandwich, or use a creamy salad dressing or dip? It seems harmless enough to add a little pat of butter, sprinkle of cheese and or dollop of sour cream to a potato. But just a couple of (liberal) tablespoons can turn a baked potato from a totally decent side dish (150 calories, 4g fiber) into a nutrition nightmare (>600 calories, 32g fat).
Condiments add flavor and give a familiar taste to foods. But often, go-tos are made with unhealthy ingredients and are loaded with calories, sugar, and fat. Preservatives keep them from molding, so it’s okay if you haven’t used that teriyaki marinade in four months, it’ll still taste as good as the day you bought it. So it’s time to do a spring cleaning on those side shelves of your fridge. Here’s what to toss and how to replace them (but only if you must!).
Mayo: an emulsion of egg yolks, soybean oil and vinegar, which means high in calories and saturated fat. Although “chicken salad” sounds healthy, globs of mayo with chicken isn’t anything close to a salad.
Replace mayo with olive oil mayo versions, or my favorite: spread a ripe avocado instead. Other ideas: hummus or a mix of greek yogurt & lemon juice.
Sour cream: adding fermented cream to a plate of nachos and cheese is like adding heaping spoonfuls of mayo to a rich cheesecake — it’s an unnecessary high-fat and high-calorie addition to an already unhealthy dish (and totally unappealing).
If you’re eating out, assume you’re getting a full-fat version. Replace it with salsa or with guacamole (high fat, but healthier fat)
Blue Cheese/ranch dressings: high on the list of disastrous dips and dressings. Ranch is made with sour cream and mayo and a few other seasonings. Blue cheese is a lovely mixture of cream, blue cheese, half and half, and mayo. Add in fried and battered chicken wings, and congrats, you’ve officially created an impressively fatty and unhealthy dish… and a few extra hours in the gym.
There are low-fat versions of both – but you could also substitute by reaching for Greek yogurt, black bean dip, or salsa.
Ketchup: ah, the king of condiments. Many people douse their food in it mindlessly, but ketchup is a sneaky source of calories. Made with sugar and/or HFCS and salt, every two tbsp earns you six minutes on the treadmill. Those sneaky ketchup makers have even pushed tomato producers to create sweeter tomatoes to decrease the use of additional sugar. Let’s just say that squirt has come a long, long way from life as a tomato.
If you can’t live without ketchup, start using a low-sugar, organic version, or replace it with fresh salsa or tomato sauce. On burgers, give a few tomato slices a shot.
Barbeque, teriyaki, and steak sauces: sugar with sugar combined with other forms of sugar. It’s not the bbq ribs that are “finger lickin’ good,” it’s that your hands are coated with more sugar than a candy bar!
Instead use Tabasco and olive oil with herbs and spices or go for citrusy marinades (check for sugar content).
So what are your essential condiments? Any changes you can try? Anything that’s just not the same without ketchup/mustard etc.? Share your tips in the comments below or in our Food and Cooking community.