Nothing is more frustrating than seeing your weight increase despite sticking to meals built around lean proteins, veggies, and whole grains. The problem could be the sauces, spreads, and dips you add to your otherwise health meal. No one wants to eat bland food, but the condiments we harmlessly add to our meals are often full of sodium, sugar, fat, and preservatives. With just a few pours or dollops, your nutritious meal could be ruined.
The trick is figuring out which ones are thwarting your efforts to eat better. Some are obvious; others are a little sneakier. Fortunately, we’ve done the research to reveal 15 condiments you should avoid. An occasional splurge is OK, but keeping these additions out of your fridge will go a long way toward improving your diet.
Everyone’s favorite French fry dip seems like a decent choice — it’s made from tomatoes after all. The sad reality is this condiment is packed with sodium and sugar. Eating one tablespoon will set you back 167 milligrams of sodium and 3.4 grams of sugar, and most of us are using far more than that tiny portion.
Men’s Journal warns ketchup could actually cause you to eat more than you otherwise would, making matters worse. For a healthier alternative, try adding salsa to your favorite meals. It has just as much flavor without all the added sugar and sodium. You can even make your own with tomatoes, onion, garlic, jalapeño, cilantro, and a squeeze of lime.
Next: Spice isn’t always so nice
No hot sauce gets the kind of love Sriracha does. There’s even a cookbook full of things you can cook with Sriracha. Hot sauces tend to receive praise because they’re low in calories, but calories don’t make much of a difference when a condiment is off the charts in other nutrients. There are 80 milligrams of sodium in one tablespoon. Other than that, it doesn’t offer much nutritional value — and eating too much hot sauce can actually hurt you.
Hot sauces like Sriracha are extremely acidic, which can lead to stomach pain. According to Livestrong.com, the capsaicin found in hot peppers and used in condiments like Sriracha, can irritate the lining of your stomach if you consume too much of it. And while Sriracha might not cause a digestive disorder, it can cause flares for people who already have them. Cooking with fresh hot peppers to add a little spice to your food is the best way to decrease your sodium intake.
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3. Ranch dressing
If you find yourself ordering a side of ranch with everything you eat, you’re not alone. But it’s dangerous stuff — a measly tablespoon of ranch contains 73 calories, almost 8 grams of fat, and 122 milligrams of sodium. Once again, big portion sizes can do quite a bit of damage. When you order a side of dressing at a restaurant, it typically comes in a ramekin that’s about 2.5 ounces, which holds five tablespoons of ranch. That’s almost an entire meal’s worth of calories you’re adding to your salad or entrée.
If you crave a creamy dip, try seasoning some Greek yogurt in a similar way. A little bit of minced garlic, some chopped dill and parsley, a dollop of hot sauce, and some black pepper will transform it into a topping that’s pretty tasty.
Next: Be careful at your next cookout
4. Barbecue sauce
Grilling is a smart strategy for making healthy food that’s also loaded with flavor, if you do it right. Sadly, 2 tablespoons of standard barbecue sauce contain about 60 calories and 13 grams of sugar. Since the American Heart Association recommends limiting your intake of the sweet stuff to no more than 9 teaspoons of sugar a day for men and no more than 6 teaspoons for women, eating this sweet, tangy sauce can easily send you past that point.
For an occasional treat, making the cookout condiment at home is a healthy option. A serving of The New York Times’s barbecue sauce recipe is just 45 calories with three grams of sugar. You can also add flavor to your proteins by mixing up a marinade. Try using ingredients like garlic, lemon, and fresh herbs for tons of taste without all the bad stuff.
Next: A low-cal ingredient turns sinful when mixed into a creamy sauce
5. Horseradish sauce
Horseradish sauce is most commonly served with meat or fish, or as part of a shrimp cocktail sauce. It adds a spicy kick to whatever you serve it with, but not without cost. The majority of the calories you get in one single tablespoon serving of horseradish comes from saturated fat. This probably wouldn’t matter so much if you ate it along with something low in fat. But that’s not the case with beef or seafood.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend no more than 10% of daily calories come from saturated fat. Just one tablespoon of horseradish sauce yields almost 2 grams of saturated fat, which can start to add up if you’re being generous with your portions. For a healthier way to enhance your food, opt for herbs and spices.
Next: Don’t believe what the bottle says about this bottled dressing
6. Light salad dressing
Bottled salad dressing is never a good choice thanks to mediocre taste and an expensive price tag. Surprisingly, the relatively high fat content should be the least of your worries. Dr. Axe explains removing the fat from salad dressing means it has to be replaced by sugar and other additives in order to achieve the same texture and flavor. Fat isn’t the enemy, though. A little bit of oil is actually good to include with vegetables since it allows you to absorb the fat-soluble vitamins.
Skip the fake stuff and make your own. As long as you have vinegar or citrus, some healthy cooking oils, and a few seasonings, you can whisk something together in seconds.
Next: You’re better off substituting something in place of this schmear
7. Cream cheese
Bagels aren’t the greatest breakfast choice, though you can make the carb-heavy food a lot healthier by opting for whole wheat. Regardless, you’ll run into trouble if you’re topping it off with tons of cream cheese. At Panera Bread, a typical serving of the spread is four tablespoons, which will add 190 calories and 18 grams of fat to your bagel.
The good news is you have tons of other tasty options that are a lot healthier. If you crave some sort of creamy dairy, you can spread on ricotta for fewer calories, less fat, and more protein. Other good choices include hummus, nut butters, and mashed avocado.
Next: A creamy spread can turn your favorite sandwich unhealthy with one swipe
This creamy spread makes just about any sandwich taste a lot better, though it comes at a cost. Made from mostly eggs and oil, it’s almost 100% fat. And don’t be fooled by restaurants that use the word aioli. It’s pretty much the same thing but with garlic, olive oil, and maybe a few other flavorings.
Try using a small amount of the spread when making a sandwich. You can also stretch it by mixing in some mustard, herbs, or chopped veggies. Greek yogurt is another great substitute, and many tuna and chicken salad recipes use it to great effect.
Next: So much sodium
9. Soy sauce
Unlike most of the other choices on this list, soy sauce is low in calories, fat, and sugar. The problem with this Asian staple is the sodium. While proper seasoning is a good way to ensure flavorful food without having to add tons of other ingredients, it’s easy to go overboard with soy sauce. If you top your rice with one tablespoon of this condiment, you just increased the sodium by 600 milligrams.
What’s the deal with salt? Consuming a lot of this mineral has been repeatedly linked to elevated blood pressure. One example followed more than 4,000 adults and found those who consumed high levels of sodium and those who gradually increased their consumption were more likely to develop hypertension. So, the next time you head to the grocery store, look for low-sodium soy sauce and be sure to keep your portion size under control.
Next: This stuff is seriously sweet
10. Maple syrup
Derived from the sap of maple trees, maple syrup is nearly 100% sugar. Syrup contains sucrose, which is broken down into glucose and fructose. While too much glucose can cause spikes in blood sugar, research suggests too much fructose can actually increase your risk for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
Don’t fall for claims that a certain brand of maple syrup is sugar-free, either. According to Eat This, Not That!, sugar-free means a product can contain less than 0.5 grams of sugar per serving. A standard serving of maple syrup is 1 tablespoon — but most of us don’t measure out how much syrup we pour onto our pancakes, let’s be honest. And real maple syrup simply can’t be low in sugar. If you really need something sweet to accompany your pancakes, try using light molasses or even whipped cream instead of a sugar-loaded syrup.
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Avocados by themselves are an excellent source of healthy fats, according to Authority Nutrition. But the amount of guacamole a typical person eats in one sitting is problematic. Dipping just one chip into a bowl of guac and walking away is nearly impossible, and you know it. Most guacamole recipes call for two to three whole avocados, which adds up to as much as nine total avocado servings. There are about 15 grams of fat in 100 grams of avocado. They might contain healthy fats, but too much of any kind of nutrient can still be harmful.
Making your own guacamole is a good first step to cutting back on sodium. You can also make less of it than what a typical recipe calls for, which decreases your chances of eating too much.
Next: Your baked potato might need a new condiment
12. Sour cream
Your favorite baked potato accessory is less healthy than you think. Full-fat sour cream contains around 3 grams of saturated fat per tablespoon. There are also about 30 calories per serving, which might not seem like a lot — until you consider how small a tablespoon actually is — your thumb, from knuckle to tip, is the size of a tablespoon. Your Wendy’s baked potato comes with an entire packet of sour cream, not just one thumb-size serving.
Instead of sour cream, use plain Greek yogurt as a condiment. Unlike sour cream, Greek yogurt, according to Greatist, is full of protein and probiotics. The texture and taste are extremely similar when used as a topping.
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13. Honey mustard
You might prefer honey mustard over regular mustard for the added sweetness, but if you’re buying it off the shelf, you’re at a huge disadvantage. A bottle of Sweet Baby Ray’s honey mustard includes ingredients like sugar, soybean oil, egg yolk, and yellow dye 5. Like many processed sauces, the extra ingredients are mostly there to preserve the product and extend its shelf life. However, research suggests dyes like yellow 5 might be carcinogenic. This might be an animal study, but it’s hardly encouraging.
Homemade honey mustard is simple to make, and much healthier than anything you can buy in a jar or bottle. All you need is honey, mustard, cayenne pepper, and a little bit of vinegar. No yellow dyes or other additives, and a much better taste.
Next: One condiment can turn a fish dinner into a fish disaster
14. Tartar sauce
Seafood tastes great with a little more flavor. Tartar sauce might not be the best way to get that added flavor, though. Two tablespoons of McCormick brand tartar sauce yields 3 grams of sugar, 140 calories, 14 grams of fat, and 190 milligrams of sodium. Ingredients include high fructose corn syrup, lemon juice concentrate, and natural flavor.
Food labels are notorious for their vague phrases like “natural flavor.” As David Andrews, Ph.D., tells Life by Daily Burn, natural flavorings are nothing more than chemicals extracted from whole foods and added to processed foods in a lab. Grilling fish with herbs and olive oil is a much healthier way to eat seafood.
Next: You wouldn’t even know this condiment started off with fresh veggies
For many, a hot dog isn’t complete without a crunchy, dill-infused relish topping. Unfortunately, store-bought relish has one of the highest sodium-per-serving counts on this list. Heinz Dill Relish has zero calories, fat, or sugar listed on its nutrition label. However, 1 tablespoon equals 230 milligrams of sodium. This is largely due to the condiment’s high vinegar and salt content.
You’ll also find preservatives, natural flavorings, and yellow dye 5 on this label — enough to tell you that adding a little crunch to your hot dog might not be a good idea after all. Foods high in preservatives and other additives have been linked to possible weight gain and obesity.
You can make your own relish at home using fresh dill, cucumbers, vinegar, onions, and other healthy ingredients while avoiding unnecessary food additives. Or you can skip the relish altogether and try to enjoy your cookout without it.