Ketchup goes with just about everything— French fries, eggs, hash browns, burgers, deli meats…the list goes on and on. This red condiment has been touted as being healthy by some, but does that mean we should be using endless amounts of it?
Ketchup is a low-calorie condiment, made from tomatoes, vinegar, salt, pepper, and spices. It contains 15 calories per tablespoon and vitamins A and C. Compared with its competitor mayonnaise, ketchup has no fat and far fewer calories per tablespoon (mayo contains 103 calories, 12 grams fat). This makes it a healthier choice for those trying to cut out added calories.
Processed and cooked tomatoes were also found to have high levels of the antioxidant lycopene. In 2004, a study released from the Harvard School of Public Health revealed that women who had higher levels of lycopene in their blood had a 50% lower risk for developing heart disease. That study also proved useful for ketchup manufacturers who got the word out that their product is “healthy.” After that I found friends, family and even clients who’d squeeze bottles of ketchup on their plate and rationalize its overuse by saying, “hey, it’s good for me!”
Two ingredients of concern in ketchup are salt and sugar. Per tablespoon, ketchup contains 4 grams of sugar and 190 milligrams of sodium. Although 4 grams of sugar doesn’t seem like a lot, much of it comes from added sugar, as opposed to the natural sugar found in tomatoes. The same goes for the added salt: consuming 8 tablespoons of ketchup will have you reaching your sodium needs for the entire day, so if you like to pour on the red stuff, it’s easy to overload on sodium.
Although ketchup is technically made with the 5 simple ingredients listed above (tomatoes, vinegar, salt, pepper, and spices), food companies have de-virginized its ingredient list by adding stuff like high fructose corn syrup, natural flavoring, and tomato concentrate.
If you use commercially prepared ketchup on your food, you might as well be starting an IV of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), because that’s primarily what glugs out of the bottle. Most bottled ketchups consist basically of overcooked tomatoes, water, and a large bolus of sugar, usually as some form of genetically engineered corn syrup. Many brands also add “natural flavorings,” which are really flavor-boosting chemicals, one being MSG. Here is a fairly typical ingredient list for Ketchup:
If you aren’t already familiar with how ingredient labels work, the label lists ingredients in order from most to least in the product, meaning that tomato concentrate from red ripe tomatoes is what is in this ketchup most, followed secondly by distilled vinegar, high fructose corn syrup etc. Onion powder and natural flavoring are a small percentage of the overall content of this bottle.
Due to growing consumer concerns over the health problems of high fructose corn syrup, many popular manufacturers of ketchup removed it from their ketchup in 2010. However, their reformulated product was not a big hit, so they added it back in two years later. It’s all about the bottom line. Just one tablespoon of commercially prepared ketchup typically contains four grams of sugar. And many people consume much more than one tablespoon at a time, which quickly builds up your daily sugar load. Like ketchup, sugar (especially HFCS) is added to nearly all processed foods, along with a lot of sodium and other flavor enhancers, and it doesn’t take too long to exceed your maximum daily fructose limit (25 grams or less).
Ketchup is another condiment you can make in your own kitchen, which gives you the advantage of controlling the amount and type of sweetener, as well as the other ingredients. Homemade ketchup is much better in every respect than anything that’s been bottled commercially. Or, try fresh salsa instead of ketchup. Remember, you can cut down drastically on the amount of sugar a recipe calls for, as well as substituting more healthful natural sweeteners.
If you are simply unable to make your own ketchup and feel you cannot live without it, find one organic brand that has half the usual amount of sugar and no HFCS. Don’t assume that just because a commercial ketchup is organic, it’s low in sugar. For example, one popular brand of ketchup has four grams of sugar per tablespoon, just like most of the non-organic brands. You will want to steer clear of these types of products by either finding organic alternatives, or making your own.
Ketchup can definitely be a wonderful addition to your healthy diet in moderation, of course. If you’re not a fan of some of the mainstream ketchups that contain a laundry list of ingredients, there are several brands you can find which contain the basic 5. Another option is to make your own or yes, substitute it with fresh veggie salsa.
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