16 Condiments That Are Secret Health Bombs (And What to Eat Instead)

Updated: Mar. 16, 2023

You wouldn’t think a little drizzle or a sprinkling of your favorite condiment could make any difference in your quest for healthy eating. Trouble is, most of us go overboard and a “little something” becomes a dollop, which could mean a big bomb of extra salt, fat, and sugar.

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“With processed refined soybean oil as the main ingredient in most mayo’s, there’s nothing healthy about mayonnaise,” says registered dietitian Asvini Mashru, RD, of Wellness Nutrition Concepts in Malvern, Pennsylvania. “Tartar sauce has the same issues as mayo. If you can find a mayo made with 100 percent olive oil instead of soybean oil, this would actually be a healthy choice.” Or make your own mayonnaise for a healthier option. (Here’s another healthier version of mayo.)

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Piping hot French fries with a side of ketchup (here’s the difference between regular ketchup and fancy ketchup) is an American favorite side but even if the fries are baked and not fried, dipping them in ketchup isn’t the healthiest way to go. According to Monica Auslander, a registered dietitian and founder of Essence Nutrition, one teaspoon is the equivalent of eating a sugar packet. “It’s deceiving because it has no fat, so people think they can enjoy freely. Unfortunately, we now know that sugar is for more insidious than fat.” Her recipe for healthier ketchup includes: a jar of organic, unsweetened tomato paste and add a teaspoon of onion powder, 1/2 teaspoon of turmeric, 1/2 teaspoon of paprika, 1 teaspoon Himalayan salt, 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar, and 1/4 cup water. Short on time? Here are some healthy ketchup alternatives that you can buy.

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Honey mustard

When mustard met honey, it wasn’t a good thing for our waistline. Although mustard isn’t salt-free, it’s almost calorie-free but when honey is added to mustard it becomes as sugar-laden as ketchup. Mashru says to stick with plain mustard with no added sugar. A healthier and tasty option for sammies is pesto and hummus. Just make sure the humus is made with olive oil and not soybean or canola oil. These are clear signs you’re eating too much sugar.

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Fat-free dressing

Turns out your healthy salad isn’t so healthy when you drizzle on fat-free dressing. “Most fat-free salad dressings are simply loaded with extra sugar,” states Mashru. “Remember that you need a good fat source to go with your salad to help absorb the vitamins and minerals in your veggies, so fat-free dressing is not a good option.” Look for creamy alternatives made with Greek yogurt. These salad tricks can help you lose weight.

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Hoisin sauce

It’s been called the Chinese version of American BBQ sauce because like BBQ sauce, it’s deliciously sweet, spicy, and salty. Unfortunately, it’s a sugar bomb for your chop sticks. Danielle Flug Capalino, a registered dietitian in New York City recommends oyster or sweet and sour sauce as a healthier option. “Oyster sauce another staple Chinese flavor is also sweet but has half the sugar as hoisin sauce.”

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Ranch dressing

“Salads are healthy, so we are quick to ignore the nutritional value of the dressing we drizzle over them,” says Capalino. Instead of pouring on extra fat and calories with ranch dressing, try a tablespoon of tahini instead, suggests Capalino. “Tahini is made of ground sesame seeds, and although it is high in fat, it is good unsaturated fat.” She suggests diluting the tahini in a 1:1 ratio with water to thin out the consistency if desired.

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Hot sauce

Adding a little kick of hot sauce could add a big bang of sodium to your favorite dish. Hot sauces can contain upwards of 200 mg of sodium per teaspoon. The American Heart Association recommends staying within 1,500 mg of sodium daily. Let’s face it: You’re probably using more than a measly teaspoon on your wings and nachos. Lori Williams, a registered dietitian at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center recommends using red pepper flakes or fresh hot peppers, like jalapenos to get the heat you desire—or you can try a low-sodium hot sauce option like this one from Disco Sauce, which only contains 20 mg and is packed with real ingredients.

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Soy sauce

It’s easy to go overboard with soy sauce. Apparently, the abundant salt and sugar in it are taste bud activators, according to Auslander. She recommends Bragg’s amino acids or coconut amino acids for a healthier alternative. This is how to trick your taste buds into eating healthier.

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Sour cream

Drop a dollop of sour cream on your baked potato and you could easily add hundreds of extra calories and fat. “Avoid the artery-clogging version of saturated fat by swapping it out for Greek yogurt,” says Tody Amidor, a registered dietitian and author of The Greek Yogurt Kitchen. Amidor recommends a 50:50 ratio of reduced-fat sour cream and nonfat plain Greek yogurt combo to satisfy your creamy sour cream craving. You can also give this healthy vegan sour cream recipe a try if you’re cutting back on dairy.

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Chocolate syrup

This decadent dessert condiment main ingredient is usually high fructose corn syrup. “Refined carbohydrates like high fructose corn syrup are associated with abdominal obesity, elevated cholesterol and triglycerides, diabetes, and increased inflammation,” says Edwina Clark, a registered dietitian and head of Nutrition and Wellness at Yummly. “If you’re desperate for chocolate, skip the imposters.” Clark recommends a dark chocolate that contains at least 70 percent of cacao. Need another reason to make the switch? Here are some major health benefits of dark chocolate.

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High in calories, saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium, this popular nacho topper is far from artery-friendly, according to Heather D’Eliso Gordon, a Kaiser Permanente registered dietitian. Gordon suggests a non-dairy sauce combining one-cup nutritional yeast (a non-dairy cheesy flavoring), one onion, one pepper and 3 tablespoons of cashews.

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Meat-based gravy

If you crave a hearty sauce on your roast beef, gravy isn’t a heart-friendly way to go. “It’s high in saturated fat, cholesterol, and refined carbs,” says Gordon. Her healthy swap is easy to whisk up by using two cups of low-sodium broth, two tablespoons of low-sodium soy sauce, two tablespoons of tahini and ¼ cup of whole grain flour. You could also try this vegan mushroom gravy recipe that’s nutritionist-approved. (Here are the best and worst Thanksgiving foods for your weight – including gravy.)

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Parmesan cheese

We usually don’t use Parmesan cheese sparingly, and because of that it easily adds a lot of unwanted calories, saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium to our diet. If you’re a heavy parm shaker, you can still get that cheesy taste. Gordon suggests using a food processor to make a cheesy substitute. Combine one cup of mixed nuts and half cup of nutritional yeast.

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Duck sauce

There’s nothing ducky about this sauce. It’s made primarily of apricots (which is good), but one packet is loaded with added sugar and salt. “Luckily, it’s pretty easy to create your own version without the sugar,” says Amy Isabella Chalker. “A chutney-like mix of apricot, vinegar, spices, ginger, and a bit of raw unfiltered honey can create a healthier version with even more freshness and flavor.” If you’re not up to making your own, Chalker suggests asking for the nuoc cham, a fish sauce popular in Vietnamese restaurants.

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BBQ sauce

Where would pulled pork and chicken wings be without our beloved BBQ sauce? We wouldn’t use as many napkins, that’s for sure. Unfortunately, we drown our beloved meats in sugar-laden BBQ sauce. Too much sugar can contribute to heart disease, diabetes, and tooth decay. Homemade BBQ sauce with pureed blueberries, blackberries, peaches, mangoes, apricots and dates is all the rage, according to Gordon. Instead of using sugar for this version, try agave, coconut syrup, molasses, or unfiltered honey. “You may also want to experiment with Memphis style dry rubs and use spices like cayenne, paprika, red pepper flakes, cumin and vinegar to infuse flavor,” says Chalker.

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Blue cheese dressing

Those tasty, chunky pieces of creamy cheese aren’t doing our healthy salads any favors. A generous scoop adds unwanted fat and sodium to your otherwise healthy greens. Susan Albers, PsyD, a clinical psychologist at Cleveland Clinic, New York Times best-selling author and leading food and nutrition expert, suggests a creamy and tasty alternative with by replacing Blue cheese dressing with Greek yogurt, white vinegar, fresh lemon, garlic, salt and pepper mix.

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest