Health Benefits of Condiments, Sauces, and Flavorings

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Not all flavorings are created equal! Before you top your dish with mayo, ketchup, soy sauce, or other condiments, check out how they may affect your health.

Condiments aren’t just toppings, they are food — with calorie counts. Using condiments, as well as other sauces and flavorings, can add dimension to a dish, but if you’re not careful with what you choose and how much you use, they can also add a lot of extra calories and get in the way of your weight-loss program. But not all condiments are created equal. While a tablespoon of creamy salad dressing typically has 80 calories and a tablespoon of regular mayonnaise contains a whopping 100 calories, you can dress up a dish using condiments that have intense taste but minimal calories, like mustard (only nine to 15 calories per tablespoon), reduced-fat mayo (around 25 calories per tablespoon), light salad dressing (typically 15 to 25 calories per tablespoon), pickle relish (14 calories per tablespoon), reduced-sodium soy sauce (three calories per teaspoon), and hot pepper sauce (one calorie per teaspoon), among others. However, if you do choose to use a calorie-laden condiment, be prudent when pouring or spreading it on.

In general, condiments do not offer high nutritional value on their own, but they can certainly make foods that are already nutrient-dense more flavorful. Be aware that some condiments, sauces, and flavorings may trigger migraine headaches or IBS, and some may contain gluten, which exacerbates symptoms of celiac disease.

The first known use of the word “condiment” dates to 15th-century England and France, where it was derived from the Latin word condire, meaning “to season.” Today, a condiment is defined as “something used to enhance the flavor of food, especially a pungent seasoning.” This broad definition encompasses an array of sauces, spreads, pastes, dips and dressings to please the palate.

The best-selling condiment in America is mayonnaise ($2 billion) followed by ketchup ($800 million) and soy sauce ($725 million), according to a Euromonitor report based on annual sales in 2013. Hot sauce sales are surging in part due to the rise in Asian and Latino immigrants seeking to re-create traditional spicy cuisines, and because of younger consumers who have adventurous palates and an affinity for fiery foods.

Many condiments add taste appeal and scant calories to healthful foods such as lean proteins, whole grains and vegetables. Certain condiment components come with potential health benefits. For example, there are reported uses of capsicum (also known as red pepper or chili pepper) for a range of conditions including digestive issues and pain relief. In 2009, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a patch containing capsaicin, the active ingredient in capsicum, for long-term pain relief after shingles attacks.