It's strange trying to imagine French fries without ketchup or sushi without soy sauce — some condiments and foods are just meant for one another.
Condiments and spreads add that oft-needed kick to many dishes, and whether you're eating hummus as a dip or honey garlic chicken wings, these tubes and jars of flavour have become essential to cooking favourite dishes. But sometimes those little additions aren't doing you any favours.
"Some people go with the easy route to enhance the flavour of their food," says Stefanie Senior, a registered dietitian privately practising at Athletic Edge Sports Medicine, based in Toronto. "But it's also a habit. If you always grew up with grilled cheese with ketchup, you continue to eat it."
Senior adds that while not all condiments are dangerous (especially when they're made at home), added ingredients can cause problems. While '50 per cent less sodium' or 'less fat' seems appealing, getting confused by nutrition labels is common.
"It's important to understand how to read labels and not just compare them with other products," she tells The Huffington Post Canada.
Light salad dressings, for example, can get tricky, according to Women's Health, since most people assume 'light' refers to healthier and often end up using more. Sometimes, condiments may be the reason your meals are unhealthy, according to 3fatchicks.com. One tablespoon of mayonnaise has approximately 11 grams of fat, 100 calories and 85 mg of sodium — add that to your healthy sandwich or pasta salad and it becomes a far less nutritious picture.
For the purposes of this article, Senior created a customized grading system to rank each condiment and spread. Each item could get a maximum of five points: five points was considered an 'A' and one point was considered an 'F' (this is how you determine if something is an 'A', 'B', 'C', 'D', or 'F'). It is important to note, however, this grading system isn't a standard system and these are simply the rules Senior uses in her own practice. The point system was based on five categories:
Earn one point each for:
Low calories (less than 30 calories per tbsp)
Low carbohydrates (less than five grams per tbsp)
No added sugar
Low sodium (less than 70 mg per tbsp)
Low saturated/trans fat (less than one gram per tbsp)
For example, when looking at a product, if the nutrition label has low calories, low carbs, no sugar, low sodium and zero saturated and trans fat, Senior would give it an 'A'.
And as far as nutrition goes, most of us already know that adding a few dabs of ketchup on your burger won't kill you. Senior says getting rid of condiments and sauces altogether isn't the answer, but rather, suggests looking for healthier options and homemade recipes as alternatives.
"People don't think about these things until they have a health or weight issue. Maybe later they realize they may be overdoing the condiments," she says.
Here are 15 of the worst and best condiments. Using Senior's pointing system, we also rated five other ones:
GRADE: C (low calories, low carbohydrates, low in saturated/trans fat, high in sugar and sodium)
VERDICT: Instead of squirting a big pile of ketchup on your scrambled eggs or mac and cheese, limit your serving size to one tablespoon, says Stefanie Senior, a registered dietitian based in Toronto.
REPLACE: Homemade salsa or low sodium ketchup
Based on Heinz Ketchup
GRADE: B (low in calories, low in carbohydrates, no added sugar, low in saturated/trans fat, high in sodium)
VERDICT: Use in moderation or sodium will eventually add up, Senior says. Limit your servings to one to two teaspoons for sandwiches or burgers, or mix mustard in vinegar and oil for a homemade salad dressing.
REPLACE: Not one specific replacement taste-wise, but you can also try making your own
Based on French’s yellow mustard
GRADE: C (low in calories, low in carbohydrates, no added sugar, low in saturated/trans fat, but very high in sodium)
VERDICT: "Two tablespoons gives you more sodium than you need for the whole day, so watch how much you use for stir-fries, rice and sushi," Senior says.
REPLACE: Low sodium soy sauce
GRADE: D (low in carbohydrates, no added sugar, low in saturated/trans fat, but high in calories)
VERDICT: Limit to one to two tsp. per serving, because mayonnaise is often high in calories and doesn't fill you up.
REPLACE: To save calories, opt for low-fat mayonnaise. "However, low-fat mayonnaise is often higher in sodium than the regular one — you may want to stick with the real stuff and use less of it," Senior says.
Based on Hellman’s mayonnaise
GRADE: A (many brands and recipes are low in calories, low in carbohydrates, low in sodium, low in saturated/trans fat, have no added sugar, and are made with all natural ingredients including chickpeas, olive oil, tahini, garlic, lemon juice)
VERDICT: A healthy dip for vegetables or whole grain pita chips or a healthy spread for sandwiches or wraps
REPLACEMENT: Choose brands lower in calories, saturated/trans fat and sodium or make your own version at home.
Based on several brands
GRADE: C (low in calories, low in carbohydrates, low in saturated/trans fat, but high in sodium)
VERDICT: Sriracha is generally lower in sodium than other hot sauces, but still contains a significant amount of salt and added sugar, Senior adds.
REPLACEMENT: Cayenne pepper or salt-free seasoning
GRADE: A (many brands and recipes are low in calories, low in carbohydrates, low in sodium, low in saturated/trans fat, have no added sugar, and are made with healthy ingredients like yogurt, dill, lemon, onion, garlic and canola oil)
VERDICT: A great dip for vegetables, meat or falafels or a healthy spread for pitas or wraps.
REPLACEMENT: Choose brands lower in calories, saturated/trans fat and sodium, and made with all-natural ingredients, Senior says. You can even make your own in minutes using low-fat yogurt
Based on several brands
GRADE: D (often low in calories and low in saturated/trans fat, but high in the rest)
VERDICT: "Avoid slathering it on ribs, steaks or other meat lover’s favourites. Barbecue sauce often contains molasses, corn syrup and salt. Instead, use a small amount on burgers or on the side of your favourite barbecued meat to enhance flavour," Senior says.
REPLACEMENT: Read food labels and go for barbecue sauces lower in calories, sugar and sodium. Or, try making your own
Based on Diana's BBQ Sauce
GRADE: C (low in calories, low in carbohydrates, low in saturated/trans fat)
VERDICT: "Honey mustard is higher in calories and sugar than regular mustard, but lower in sodium," Senior says.
REPLACE: Regular mustard
Based on French’s honey mustard
GRADE: C (low in calories, low in carbohydrates, no added sugar, low in saturated/trans fat, but high in sodium)
VERDICT: Use a couple of dashes for flavouring but avoid soaking your food in it.
REPLACEMENT: Cayenne pepper on its own can really spice things up, Senior says. Or, try a spicy yet salt-free seasoning like Mrs. Dash “extra spicy” flavour.
Based on Frank's Red Hot Sauce
Huffington Post Canada Rated: Distilled White Vinegar:
GRADE: A (no sodium, added sugar, carbohydrates, saturated/trans fat)
VERDICT: It seems like vinegar is a winner — at least if you can handle the taste. We would definitely recommend a few drops on baked French fries
Huffington Post Canada Rated: Tartar Sauce:
GRADE: D (high in sodium, added sugar and calories per two tbsp)
VERDICT: Great with fish and chips every once in a while, but as a condiment, we recommend against using it regularly.
REPLACE: Try this lighter, homemade recipe
Huffington Post Canada Rated: Ranch Dressing:
GRADE: D- (high in sodium, carbs, and fat per one tbsp)
VERDICT: Use with caution, one tablespoon seems to do the trick. If you like ranch dressing in particular, try a lighter version.
REPLACE: Try this homemade recipe
Based on No Name Ranch Dressing
Huffington Post Canada Rated: Relish:
GRADE: C (low in saturated/trans fat and calories, but higher in sodium and sugar)
VERDICT: What's a barbecued hot dog without relish, right? If you can, skip it, but if you love relish, stick with one tablespoon.
REPLACE: Try this recipe with mustard seeds and fresh vegetables
Huffington Post Canada Rated: Horseradish:
GRADE: D- (low in total carbs per tbsp, but high in everything else)
VERDICT: Horseradish on its own can be nutritious, but as a sauce, sugars, sodium and added saturated fat gets mixed in, making it a less healthy option.
REPLACE: Try this healthier recipe