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Correction to This Article
The column misstated the cholesterol content of regular mayonnaise: It contains five milligrams, not five grams, per tablespoon.

Just in Time for Cookout Season: The Pros and Cons of Condiments

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By Jennifer LaRue Huget
Tuesday, May 26, 2009

When President Obama and Vice President Biden stepped out recently for a couple of burgers, pundits and other observers had a lot to say about the topping each chose. As you'll recall, the president asked for mustard, preferably a Dijon style, while the vice president went for ketchup.

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As the rest of the world teased out the political implications, I, of course, got to wondering which was the more nutritious pick. Must be the mustard, I figured. But that question raised others: Is mustard much better than mayo? Does pickle relish -- or, to revive an old controversy, ketchup -- count as a vegetable?

Now that the cookout season is upon us, I think this is information we can all use. So here's the scoop on the sauces, plus some thoughts on healthful alternatives.

Ketchup

What's Good: A tablespoon of Heinz ketchup has just 15 calories and no fat. Its main ingredient is tomato concentrate made from actual tomatoes, which contain Vitamin C, folate and potassium. As you may already know, processing tomatoes to create products such as ketchup actually concentrates the lycopene therein; studies have found a correlation between lycopene, an antioxidant, and a reduced incidence of cardiovascular disease, some cancers and macular degeneration.

What's Bad: Though it doesn't taste all that salty, ketchup has lots of sodium: That single tablespoon delivers 190 milligrams (mg), about 8 percent of the recommended daily limit (between 1,500 and 2,300 mg) for most people. (Yes, Heinz contains high-fructose corn syrup, or HFCS, as do many processed foods. But the latest research suggests that the syrup, though icky in its ubiquity, is no worse for us than regular sugar.)

What's Better Than Store-Bought: Homemade ketchup can be made with fresh or canned tomatoes; either way, it will contain about the same nutrients as store-bought, including lycopene. It's typically sweetened with brown sugar, which some may find more palatable than HFCS. Calorie count is about the same for both. But by making your own, you can adjust the salt and sugar levels to your own taste; every teaspoon of sugar you eliminate saves 15 calories from the total recipe.

Want an Alternative? Salsa, which recently bypassed ketchup as the nation's top-selling condiment, can be a more healthful choice, particularly if you buy a refrigerated version rather than one sold in room-temperature jars; the latter are more likely to contain added sweeteners and sodium. If you don't mind swapping ketchup's smooth mouth feel for salsa's more crisp texture, you can get a few extra nutritious vegetables -- such as sweet and hot peppers and onions -- in addition to tomatoes, for fewer calories (about five per tablespoon).

Mayonnaise

What's Good: Mayonnaise is made mostly of eggs and oil; eggs are a good source of alpha-linolenic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid that appears to promote cardiovascular health. Look for mayo made with olive or canola oil, both of which are also good for your heart. Don't worry much about the cholesterol: Even full-fat mayo has just five grams per tablespoon, and the Hellman's variety made with canola oil has no cholesterol. Canola-based mayo also provides six grams of calcium and 6 percent of the government-established daily value of Vitamin E per tablespoon plus 25 percent of the daily value for alpha-linolenic acid.

What's Bad: Full-fat mayonnaise has about 90 calories per tablespoon and 10 grams of fat; the same amount of a reduced-fat variety has 35 calories and 3.5 grams of fat. And watch out for the sodium: 130 mg per tablespoon.

What's Better Than Store-Bought: Homemade mayonnaise is a creamy luxury that can be made with fewer than a half-dozen ingredients: eggs, oil, and salt plus some lemon juice or vinegar and, in some recipes, a bit of mustard. Though it's more caloric than store-bought (about 130 calories per tablespoon, according to one recipe), it's so rich, a little goes a long way. As with ketchup, making mayo at home lets you adjust the salt, and you can choose your preferred oil and use eggs with extra omega-3s. While salmonella contamination from raw eggs is fairly rare these days, it's still a concern, especially for little kids and pregnant women, so using pasteurized eggs might be your safest bet.

Want an Alternative? If it's smooth creaminess you're after, why not mash up a ripe avocado and spread it on your burger bun? Avocado, like mayonnaise, is pretty much pure fat (about five grams per tablespoon) -- but most of it is oleic acid, the kind that's good for your cardiovascular system. You'll also be getting potassium, which helps regulate blood pressure, and heart-healthy folate, all for about 55 calories per tablespoon.

Mustard

What's Good: Dijon (such as Grey Poupon) and plain yellow (such as French's) mustards both contain mustard seed, which is full of selenium, a nutrient thought to protect against some cancers, and omega-3 fatty acids. The little seeds are also surprisingly good sources of iron, calcium, zinc, manganese, magnesium, protein, niacin and even fiber. Plain yellow mustard also features turmeric, a spice common to Indian cooking that has recently received attention in the West for its anti-inflammatory properties. Neither has any fat, and both kinds are low in calories: Dijon has about the same as ketchup, 15 per tablespoon, and yellow mustard boasts zero per serving!


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