Tanya Zuckerbrot MS, RD
Condiments add zesty flavor to foods that might otherwise be tasteless or boring. But many popular condiments pack a shocking amount of calories and fat. A spoonful of classic mayonnaise, for example, adds an extra 100 calories and 10 grams of fat to whatever you mix it with. Baste your skinless chicken breast in honey-barbecue sauce and you may as well be eating it deep-fried.
The good news is that tasty condiments don’t have to be terrible for you. It’s easy to get the sweetness, creaminess or tanginess you want at virtually zero calories. Here, we’ll show you how to spot the not-so-good choices and swap them for better ones.
Mayonnaise fans put it on or mix it with just about anything. Unfortunately, regular mayo ranks among the worst of the condiment offenders, but in truth, even non-fat varieties of mayo aren’t a whole lot better considering the sugar and preservatives they contain. Your best bet is to make a healthier version of mayo yourself by blending Greek yogurt, lemon juice, mustard, pepper and spices. Greek yogurt provides a smooth, creamy consistency and it easily absorbs flavors you add to it, so a spoonful or two is sure to be delicious. Make this simple swap and you’ll save more than 200 calories and 20 grams of fat per quarter-cup serving. Plus, Greek yogurt is rich in protein and calcium — a big bonus you won’t get with traditional mayonnaise.
Ketchup may be a staple in the American kitchen, but don’t let the fact that it contains tomatoes fool you into thinking it is diet-friendly. Imagine that one fourth of a bottle of ketchup is sugar and you’ll understand why! There are healthier ways to add tomato flavor to your food, like slices of tomato, tomato vinaigrette, a hefty helping of spicy salsa or a few dashes of hot tomato sauce. These saucy low-cal options not only pack plenty of bold taste, they may actually help you lose weight because studies have shown that eating spicy foods boosts metabolism and burns more calories.
Barbecue Sauce, like ketchup, gets its sweet kick from sugar — and a lot of it. A mere two tablespoons of barbecue sauce has 100 calories, more than 10 grams of sugar and 22 grams of carbohydrates — enough to turn a diet-friendly piece of grilled steak into a candy coated calorie bomb. For a light and tasty alternative, combine low sodium soy sauce with some artificial sweetener like Splenda. You’ll still get the sweet and tangy taste you love without going overboard on empty calories.
Ranch dressing is great on salads and it’s equally popular as a dip for chips, breadsticks, pizza and chicken wings. The problem with ranch is that its two main ingredients — mayonnaise and sour cream — pack one heck of a fatty punch. One quarter cup of the stuff serves up 220 calories and 22 grams of fat. Fall into the habit of eating ranch dressing several days a week and you could easily gain a pound or more by the month’s end. If you are watching your weight, ditch creamy dressings altogether and opt for a vinaigrette made with balsamic vinegar, Dijon mustard and Parmesan cheese. For something a bit heartier, try hummus. It comes in a variety of savory flavors, and two generous tablespoons will save you 55 calories and 8 grams of fat.
Other ways to add healthy flavor to food:
Yellow mustard is your perfect condiment. With zero fat and virtually no calories, sugar or salt, yellow mustard is one condiment you can dab, squeeze and squirt with abandon.
Fresh basil and a slight olive oil drizzle is a good substitute for traditional pesto sauce, which has 14 grams of fat per serving.
Fresh fruit cocktail sweetened with some non-nutritive sweetener is infinitely better than a sugar-laden dessert topping.
Ricotta cheese is a light and flavorful fill-in for cream cheese. Make your shmear two tablespoons of ricotta and save 50 calories, 6 grams of fat and 50 milligrams of sodium.
Horseradish sauce easily doubles for barbecue sauce. The good news is that it has far less sodium and sugar, and that it contains glucosinolates, which are cancer-fighting compounds that are 10 times more potent in horseradish than broccoli or Brussels sprouts.
Avocado blends to the same creamy consistency as mayonnaise, and the fat in avocado is actually heart-healthy.
Butter Buds is a powdered alternative to stick butter that has all the taste and none of the cholesterol or fat.
Sugar-free jelly with fiber is the better choice when you want some fruit jelly. A one-tablespoon serving is low in calories, has zero fat, and provides an impressive three grams of belly-filling fiber.