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Mustard, Ketchup and Relish--Hold the Mayo

Summer barbecues don’t have to be unhealthy. In addition to vegetarian versions of traditional hot dogs, burgers can be made from lean turkey, salmon or even beans. But what about condiments like ketchup, relish, mustard and mayonnaise?

Turns out some are healthier than you may think, while better-for-you versions exist for nutrition no-no’s (like mayo). Below we’ve gathered research on your favorite summer sandwich toppings, some of which are packed with surprising nutrient content!

Cutting the Mustard: Believe it or not, this spicy condiment comes high in terms of polyphenol content. While manifold mustard varieties exist, what most share in common is a base of ground mustard seed that has almost five times the polyphenol capacity of blueberries when measured on a gram-per-gram basis. With lots of flavor and just three little calories in a one-teaspoon serving, mustard lets you savor your food without the peril of extra pounds. Don’t confine mustard to the picnic table: Try it in salad dressings and marinades.

Anticipation: Thick ketchup can be worth the wait, at least when it comes to lycopene content. On a gram-per-gram basis, one tablespoon of ketchup has five times as much lycopene as a medium tomato. While this may not come as a surprise–given that tomato concentrate largely constitutes ketchup–it also suggests other nutrient benefits. After all, tomatoes themselves are rich in vitamins A and C, which, together with their potassium, make them healthy for the heart. But there’s a condiment caveat: Start drowning your food with ketchup and the health benefits may be a wash, as most brands contain significant amounts of sodium and high fructose corn syrup. Be sure to check nutrient panels before you purchase.

With Relish: Like mustard, there are multiple varieties of relish, though common ingredients include cucumbers, salt and vinegar. At 13 calories per 2/3 tablespoon serving, this condiment can help you keep weight under control when used for its literal purpose: letting you truly relish your food. While there’s hardly a nutrient standout among the more prosaic kinds of relish, one ingredient–vinegar–remains a potentially healthful common constituent among most condiments (mustard, ketchup and, sometimes, mayo). A Japanese study published in the British Journal of Nutrition found that vinegar lowered serum cholesterol levels in animal research.

Apropos Mayo: In this case we haven’t saved the best for last, as mayonnaise is high in calories–90 per tablespoon–all of which come from fat. This is hardly a surprise when you see that the main ingredients of top brands include soybean oil, sugar and egg yolks. Fortunately, healthier alternatives exist. Fat-free mayo contains less than 15 calories per tablespoon, while vegan varieties made from soy come in both regular and fat-free versions.

In addition to giving plant-based mayo a try, consider vegetarian versions of your barbecue staples. Increasing your intake of vegetable protein could slash your heart disease risk by nearly a third, while too much red meat could raise your risk of colorectal cancer, inflammatory arthritis, endometriosis and obesity. Processed meat may pose a particular threat, as research has linked high consumption levels with an increased risk of pancreatic cancer.

While fond memories of your early years may make burgers and fries seem like an integral part of childhood, New Zealand researchers found that 75% of kids who eat even one burger a week were 100% more likely to experience wheezing problems than those who steered clear of ground steer. Moreover, Harvard research found that preschool girls who consumed french fries on a weekly basis raised future breast cancer risk by more than a quarter. For carnivores who can’t help but indulge in the occasional lean burger, try experimenting with this Scarborough fare: Kansas State University researchers found that adding rosemary to ground beef significantly reduced the formation of cancer-causing compounds created during the grilling process.

Published August 1, 2013

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