Health Benefits of Condiments, Sauces, and Flavorings

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Not all flavorings are created equal! Before you top your dish with mayo, ketchup, soy sauce, or other condiments, check out how they may affect your health.

Condiments aren’t just toppings, they are food — with calorie counts. Using condiments, as well as other sauces and flavorings, can add dimension to a dish, but if you’re not careful with what you choose and how much you use, they can also add a lot of extra calories and get in the way of your weight-loss program. But not all condiments are created equal. While a tablespoon of creamy salad dressing typically has 80 calories and a tablespoon of regular mayonnaise contains a whopping 100 calories, you can dress up a dish using condiments that have intense taste but minimal calories, like mustard (only nine to 15 calories per tablespoon), reduced-fat mayo (around 25 calories per tablespoon), light salad dressing (typically 15 to 25 calories per tablespoon), pickle relish (14 calories per tablespoon), reduced-sodium soy sauce (three calories per teaspoon), and hot pepper sauce (one calorie per teaspoon), among others. However, if you do choose to use a calorie-laden condiment, be prudent when pouring or spreading it on.

In general, condiments do not offer high nutritional value on their own, but they can certainly make foods that are already nutrient-dense more flavorful. Be aware that some condiments, sauces, and flavorings may trigger migraine headaches or IBS, and some may contain gluten, which exacerbates symptoms of celiac disease.

 
Mustard | Vinegar | Soy Sauce | Ketchup | Salsa | Hot Sauce | Cocktail Sauce | Steak Sauce | Jelly | Extracts

 

Mustard
There are many different types of mustards, including spicy mustard and Dijon, and most have only nine to 15 calories per tablespoon. Mustard can be used on its own as a low-calorie but highly flavorful condiment; it can also be used as an ingredient in sauces, marinades, and dressings. Swapping out high-calorie condiments for mustard can help you lose weight; however, mustard is high in sodium, so go easy if you have high blood pressure. Keep in mind that spicy mustard may be a trigger food for people with IBS. If you experience discomfort after eating spicy mustard, eliminate it from your diet. If you have celiac disease, check the label on the jar to make sure the mustard is gluten-free.

Vinegar
Vinegar is a low-calorie condiment that is often used as a food preservative or an ingredient in salad dressing. When combined with heart-healthy oils (like olive oil) to make vinaigrette, it’s a good substitute for creamy, calorie-laden salad dressings and a smart choice for people trying to lose weight.

There are a number of different kinds of vinegars, including white, balsamic, red-wine, and apple-cider vinegars. You may need to avoid or limit certain types of vinegars (and condiments made with them) if you suffer from migraines. Balsamic and wine vinegars contain amino acids that are common migraine triggers. Apple-cider vinegar has tannins from the apples in it, which can also trigger migraines.

Distilled white vinegar is very acidic and is used for medicinal purposes, cleaning, and sometimes cooking. The most common use in cooking is pickling, which is a way to flavor and preserve food. If you suffer from migraines, you may need to avoid pickled foods since they can be a trigger food for some individuals — but distilled white vinegar on its own is perfectly fine.

Soy Sauce (Reduced-Sodium)
Soy sauce is made from fermented soybeans, salt, and often wheat. Reduced-sodium soy sauce is a low-calorie condiment (only three calories per teaspoon). By using it to replace higher-calorie condiments, such as oily marinades and sauces, it can help you lose weight. Although it contains 40 to 50 percent less sodium than regular soy sauce, reduced-sodium soy sauce is still very high in sodium, which can raise blood pressure. If you suffer from migraines or IBS, soy sauce can sometimes be a personal trigger food that you may need to avoid or limit. Be sure to check the ingredients label on soy sauce if you have celiac disease, as some brands contain wheat.

Ketchup
Ketchup is a good source of lycopene, a carotenoid that may help protect against certain cancers, cardiovascular disease, macular degeneration, and other conditions. Ketchup can be part of a healthy diet when used in moderation. However, some people smother their food in ketchup and those 15 calories per tablespoon add up fast — and may derail your weight-loss program — so use it sparingly.

Unfortunately, ketchup contains added sugar, so people with type 2 diabetes need to keep that in mind and be stingy with its use. Because ketchup is tomato-based, in rare instances, it may be a trigger for migraines. Ketchup is also high in sodium, so if high blood pressure is a concern, look for a brand with “no salt added,” or spruce up your food with fresh, salt-free salsa instead.

Salsa
Salsa can be a great low-calorie, low-fat flavor booster. One-quarter cup of tomato salsa has only 30 calories. I recommend using it to replace higher-calorie condiments, mayonnaise, creamy dressings, sauces, and dips. Tomato salsa contains lycopene, a carotenoid that may help protect against certain cancers, cardiovascular disease, macular degeneration, and other conditions. Store-bought salsas can be high in sodium, so go easy on it, look for low-sodium brands, or make a salt-free recipe at home if you have high blood pressure. Spicy salsa can also exacerbate IBS symptoms. If you have celiac disease check the label to make sure the salsa is gluten-free. And beware if tomatoes are a trigger for your migraines, as salsa contains tomatoes.

Hot Sauce
If you like kicking up the heat, hot sauce is a low-calorie condiment that can be added to intensify taste or used to replace other higher-calorie condiments like mayonnaise and creamy dressings. One teaspoon of hot pepper sauce has only about one calorie, so it’s an especially good flavor booster for people looking to lose weight. Be aware that some people with IBS are sensitive to spicy foods like hot sauce and may experience discomfort after eating them.

Cocktail Sauce
This low-calorie condiment can be used to spice up seafood, poultry, and grilled meat. It has only 15 calories per tablespoon, but use it in moderation because those calories can add up and sabotage your weight-loss goal. Like other tomato-based condiments, cocktail sauce contains lycopene, a carotenoid that may help protect against certain cancers, cardiovascular disease, macular degeneration, and other conditions.

Unfortunately, despite its low-calorie content, cocktail sauce also contains added sugar, so people with type 2 diabetes should use it sparingly. And because it’s also high in sodium, go easy on it, or make your own version using “no salt added” ketchup if high blood pressure is a concern for you. Finally, if you have migraines, be aware the tomato content in cocktail sauce may be a trigger for you and be sure to read the ingredients label if you have IBS or celiac disease, since cocktail sauce contains ingredients like spices and sometimes gluten that may trigger or worsen symptoms of these conditions.

Steak and Worcestershire Sauces
Even though steak sauce and Worcestershire sauce don’t offer much nutritional value, if used in moderation they can be part of a healthy diet. Unfortunately, these sauces may contain added sugar and sodium, so if you have type 2 diabetes or high blood pressure use them sparingly. They may also contain ingredients like tomatoes, garlic, onion, and spices that could trigger migraines or IBS, so check the ingredients label. If you have celiac disease, read labels and look for gluten-free brands.

Jam, Jelly, and Preserves
Spreads, such as jams, jellies, and preserves are made with fresh fruit or fruit juices. Low-sugar versions of these spreads can sweeten a dish and add new flavor possibilities while helping you stick with your weight-loss goals.

Because jams, jellies, and preserves (even the low-sugar varieties) are high in concentrated sugar, people with type 2 diabetes should dramatically limit or avoid these spreads because of their elevating effect on blood sugar. Some also contain high-fructose corn syrup and may trigger IBS. If you suffer from migraines look for spreads made from fruits you know aren’t triggers for you (i.e., berry, cherry, and peach flavors). Jams, jellies, and preserves may also contain gluten, so if you have celiac disease, seek out gluten-free jams.

Extracts
Extracts, such as vanilla, almond, maple, and mint, are great choices for adding calorie-free flavor to foods. Using these flavorings to add sweetness while cutting back on the amount of added sugar can help you lose weight and, ultimately, help prevent type 2 diabetes. Try them mixed in oatmeal, plain nonfat yogurt, low-calorie smoothies, or any other dish you want to add flavor to without the calorie cost.