With portion control and balanced plates in mind, you can eat just about anything you want and still maintain a healthful eating pattern. But dressing your healthy food with unhealthy condiments could derail your efforts.
“I love condiments for adding flavor to food,” says Connie Cheng, Gold’s Gym wellness director. “The big things you have to watch out for are sodium and added sugars.”
Look for the sugar
Ketchup, barbecue sauce, pasta sauce, hoisin sauce and teriyaki sauce are some of the worst added sugar offenders, Cheng says.
The top two healthy condiments not riddled with added sugars, she says, are mustard and apple cider vinegar.
“Vinegar helps with blood sugar because it slows down the digestion of carbs,” she says. “Say you’re eating a salad with a lot of dried fruit in it. That fruit is a simple carb — it goes into the blood quickly without much digestion. Dressing that salad with vinegar slows down that process so you don’t have a sugar spike in your bloodstream.”
Read product labels to see the total carbohydrate amount and check if the first few ingredients listed are different words for sugar. Follow the tips and see our “sweet cheat sheet” here: Where Sugar Loves to Hide.
Look for the salt
The American Heart Association recommends a daily sodium intake of no more than 2,300 milligrams per day and an ideal limit of no more than 1,500 per day. That may seem like a high limit, but one teaspoon of salt contains a full day’s worth of sodium.
“Other than processed and cured meats, one of the largest contributors of sodium is condiments,” Cheng says.
Don’t be fooled by labels claiming reduced or low sodium, she says. “When you see a low sodium label, it means it has 25 percent less than the original product. A light sodium label means it has 50 percent less. But they can still be pretty high in sodium.”
A true low sodium product contains 140 mgs or less per serving, and a true sodium-free product contains 35 mgs or less per serving. Be sure to read the labels carefully as you shop for healthy condiments.
Think of the flavor or texture you want — creamy, tart or spicy. Here are some healthy condiment alternatives that will give you those flavors without adding empty calories from sodium and sugar to your meal:
- Greek yogurt instead of sour cream
- Ricotta cheese instead of cream cheese. “Ricotta has less saturated fat,” Cheng says.
- A dry spice blend instead of barbecue sauce
- Avocado or guacamole instead of mayonnaise
- Mashed fresh berries instead of jelly. “If you want to sweeten it, use raw honey instead of sugar. It’s less processed,” she says.
- Yogurt dressing for creamy dressing. Cheng likes this tahini-ranch dressing from Bon Appétit.
- Greek yogurt with dill instead of tartar sauce
- Salsa instead of ketchup
“Salsa is simple to make at home,” Cheng says. Here’s how she does it:
If a swap doesn’t hit the spot, you can try making your favorite condiment at home.
“I’m in love with honey mustard,” Cheng says. “I often make my own by mixing raw honey and mustard. I do a 1 to 3 teaspoon ratio of honey to mustard. It is to taste, but I make sure I am using honey sparingly, and I know it doesn’t have any extra stuff in it.”
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