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Hold the Ketchup: High-Calorie Condiments That Add Up

That delicious salad dressing may be adding undesired calories to your diet. 

All it takes is a glance down the grocery aisles to confirm that we’re a condiment-crazed culture. From breakfast to dinner, and all our sips and nibbles in between, how much are these seemingly harmless add-ons really adding up?

Not all savory and sweet additions are a bad choice, but the truth is that most of our average condiments pack huge amounts of high-fructose corn syrup, sugar, sodium, and oil. Think barbecued chicken is a healthy choice? Not exactly. Because the sauce is pretty much all sugar, this slathered dish is like a dessert and an entrée all wrapped up on one high-calorie plate. Added sugar and any chemical-sounding ingredients on an item’s label are sure signs that a condiment is inching an entrée toward the dessert category. Health-food stores usually have versions of ketchup, barbecue sauce, and all our other usual favorites sans these icky additions.

Whatever your condiment of choice—fries smothered in ketchup, salad drenched in dressing, toast soaked in butter—you won’t be dunking recklessly anymore if you read on.

Breakfast

  • 1 tablespoon butter: 102 calories
  • 1 tablespoon seedless strawberry jam: 50 calories.
  • 2 tablespoons peanut butter: 188 calories
  • 1/4 cup hollandaise sauce: 62 calories (Eggs Benedict easily includes this much)
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup: 411 calories

Try spreading toast with sugar-free or low-sugar jam, or just crushing up some fresh fruit on top of it. When it comes to pancakes and waffles, these can also be topped with fresh fruit, agave nectar, or (emphasis on the or) even syrup—just in moderation. Instead of the usual ketchup on eggs or hash browns, salsa and hot sauce can be even more flavorful.

Lunch and Dinner

  • 1/4 cup barbecue sauce: 95 calories.
  • 1 tablespoon mayonnaise: 90 calories (and 10 grams of fat!).
  • Cheese: Depends on the type. A slice of cheddar has 113 calories; a tablespoon of parmesan sprinkled on pasta has 20.
  • 3 tablespoons ketchup: Three squirts have around 50 calories—and, more than likely, a whole lot of high-fructose corn syrup.
  • 3 tablespoons teriyaki sauce: 50 calories and tons of sugar, too.
  • 3 tablespoons sour cream: 80 calories.

I’ve found that using hummus in place of creamy condiments has a very satisfying effect. Plus, I end up ingesting more protein and a lot fewer calories than I do when I eat mayonnaise. Other creative, more natural alternatives are Greek yogurt and a sprinkle of parmesan cheese in place of sour cream on a potato, or soy sauce instead of sugary teriyaki sauces. 

Snacks and Dips

  • 2 tablespoons spinach dip (or crab dip, or onion dip, or any variation thereof): over 100 calories.
  • 2 tablespoons tartar sauce: 80 calories.
  • 2 tablespoons cocktail sauce: 20 calories. A better alternative, but still packed with sugar.

Salsa is pretty much always a low-cal, safe bet. Still, always check ingredient lists, as some brands will sneak in sweeteners. If salsa isn't your thing, guacamole is perfectly acceptable as well. Avocado is fairly high in calories—about 80 calories in a quarter of one avocado—but its loaded with heart-healthy fats and has few additives, so it's a good, creamy alternative. Hot sauce is also an okay option. It's usually made from vinegar and spices and is so flavorful that you never need to use more than a dash or two. Mustard is almost always safe bet, just watch out for sweet blends like honey mustard. They usually have a lot of added oil and sweetener. When in doubt, go with a simple yellow or Dijon.

Salad Dressings (All in 2-Tablespoon Servings)

  • Ranch: 148 calories
  • Bleu cheese: 140 calories
  • Honey mustard: 120 calories
  • Vinaigrette: 90 calories

Olive oil, while it has a lot of calories, is a good option for dressing salads. It contains all heart-healthy fats and no added sugars, so a little can go a long way atop salad greens. My personal fave? Fresh lemon juice, olive oil, and garlic microwaved for a minute. Amazing.

Overall, it’s not about avoiding condiments altogether; we’ve just got to use them wisely. Got a craving for mayo? Have some. The key truly is moderation—having a smear of the real stuff will be a lot more satisfying than tasteless, chemically enhanced, nonfat versions. 

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