Are condiments healthy? Sure, you love smothering your food with them, but do they actually have health benefits (or detriments) of their own?
Let’s talk about some of the most popular—mustard, ketchup, mayonnaise and sauerkraut— and see what the science has to say.
Scouring the scientific literature for the health benefits of mustard, nothing much turns up. But, according to the USDA, mustard contains modest amounts of folate, potassium, selenium, phosphorous, and copper. You have to watch out though, because some mustard varieties are PACKED with salt and oil. In general though, we give mustard a thumbs up.
What’s the number one vegetable eaten in America? Gasp!—potatoes in the form of French fries. And the number two vegetable eaten in the USA? Gasp!—tomatoes in the form of ketchup. But is ketchup good for you?
It’s a similar story with this condiment: There’s not much evidence, besides a link between one of ketchup’s frequent ingredients (balsom of Peru) and skin rashes. Ketchup, like mustard, contains a good amount of phosphorous, copper, and potassium, and also vitamin A. So what’s the downside to this one? Many varieties contain a lot of added sugar, so buyer beware.
The story is a little more clear with mayo—it’s basically pure fat. In fact, nearly 100% of the calories in mayonnaise come from fat. It’s also a super high calorie food; 2 tablespoons of mayonnaise has almost 200 calories! It’s best to steer clear of this condiment if you’re trying to get healthy. Instead, try smearing mashed avocado on your sandwiches.
Finally, some scientific literature on a condiment! Sauerkraut is basically fermented cabbage. Here you get the good stuff associated with cabbage, like the antioxidants, the indole-3-carbinols that are thought to prevent cancer, and the fiber. The fermentation process results in the growth of probiotics, especially lactobacillus species. And we’ve all heard a lot in recent years touting the potential benefit of probiotics—everything from better digestion (on the obvious end), to more far-reaching benefits such as better mood, fewer respiratory illnesses, and fewer dental cavities.
So there you have it. Check the labels of the first two for sugar, salt and oil levels, skip the mayo if possible, and know that sauerkraut wins the contest for SuperFoodiness.