I've always loved a well-seasoned homemade burger loaded with all the fixin's like, mustard, ketchup, mayonnaise, and a host of other toppings. In fact, during the days before I started watching my weight, I could easily overload a burger to the point where condiments were literally dripping down my arm.
I had the same issue with barbecue sauce, sometimes adding in excess of a cup to anything from grilled chicken to baked beans. Now, this might seem a tad bit trivial to some. After all, condiments undoubtedly add flavor and zest to foods that might otherwise be boring.
But, condiments aren't simply flavorful toppings. They are actually calorie-carrying foods and eating too much of them can do some real damage to your diet and sometimes even your health.
For instance, ketchup is packed full of added sugars including sucrose (table sugar) and high-fructose corn syrup. These sugars tend to digest rapidly causing pronounced rises in blood sugar (glucose) and even greater increases in insulin, which is the hormone responsible for lowering blood glucose.
Given that continuous elevations in glucose and insulin contribute to weight gain and possible obesity, haphazardly adding sugar-rich condiments like ketchup can put a real hurting on the waistline over time.
Does this mean that a single serve pack of ketchup is the kiss of death? Of course not!
However, if you find yourself repeatedly squeezing out pack after pack, you could have some problems in the long run.
Similar to ketchup, barbecue sauce contains very large quantities of added sugar but this condiment is also extremely high in calories, about 30-35 per tablespoon to be exact. Considering that the average portion size of sauce on a drenched quarter of barbecue is six or more tablespoons, you're easily looking at over 200 calories in a single sitting.
That's more calories than you burn during a 30-minute walk.
Dressings are another breed of condiments that can sabotage a diet, especially the creamier ones like Caesar, ranch, French, thousand island, and mayonnaise. Believe it or not, just one tablespoon of these dressings can house anywhere between 50 and 80 calories and a standard one-quarter cup package is typically around 300 calories.
Some people try to escape the calorie counts by switching over to "fat-free" versions. While such dressings are generally lower in calories, their subpar nutritional quality can do you more harm than good, as these typically contain higher levels of added sugars.
Using fat-free dressings on vegetables and fruit can also reduce the amount of nutrients absorbed by the intestines. This occurs because many of the vitamins and antioxidants (vitamins D, E, and K, beta-carotene, and lycopene) contained in these foods are transported through the body by attaching to fat.
It's better to add sensible portions of full-fat dressings to foods so that your body can better absorb the nutrients they contain. In this case, simply measure how much dressing you use and when dining out, request your dressing on the side and add it conservatively to your salad only as needed.
In addition to calories and sugars, all condiments contain unhealthy levels of sodium, which comes with its own set of risks.
The primary side effect of excess sodium is dehydration. Dehydration causes the body to retain water leading to bloating and unnecessary weight gain. Over time, excessive intake of sodium can significantly raise blood pressure, which greatly increases the risk of heart attack, stroke, and kidney failure.
While occasional use of condiments certainly won't pose any significant risks, using them in excessive amounts can easily turn otherwise healthy foods into unhealthy ones. To optimize your diet and your health, be sure to carefully monitor your portions of any condiments you use and always adhere to recommended serving sizes.
I also suggest experimenting with less processed varieties like herbs and spices, mustard, horseradish, low-sodium hot sauce, sriracha, salsa, and even vinegar, as these tend to be relatively lower in calories, sugars, sodium, and other additives. Such condiments also have the added benefit of boosting metabolism and curbing appetite in ways that support weight management.
Still, the next time you sit down to eat a meal, I challenge you to enjoy the sweet or savory tastes of your foods in their natural form. Don't be so quick to pile on the condiments before even taking a bite. Over time, you'll be amazed to see how much of a difference it makes!