As kids, we love ketchup with our fries and burgers, and as we get older, that doesn't really change. It's sweet and delicious, and we probably aren't using that much of it, so how bad can it really be for us?
"The typical bottle of ketchup is a source of added sugars and added sodium — two nutrients that your body almost never needs more of!" said Jackie Newgent, RDN, culinary nutritionist and author of The All-Natural Diabetes Cookbook.
Ketchup is fairly high in sugar, nearly four grams of sugar per tablespoon (and many of us use a lot more than one tablespoon!). This can add up quickly in terms of calories and added sugar in an entire meal, especially when considering this is just the condiment. "This can ultimately drive the desire for sweet tastes, which can be a hindrance when trying to change one's taste preferences and develop a palate more accustomed to unsweetened flavors," said Amanda Baker Lemein, MS, RD, LDN, a registered dietitian.
While it's made from tomatoes, we need to be careful not to consider ketchup a health food. It tends to have not only that added sugar but also salt. Ketchup contains 160 mg of sodium per tablespoon (about eight percent of the recommended daily value). "While it's not considered a high-sodium food, it's often paired with other foods that contain a lot of salt (fries; cheese and buns in a burger; other condiments), making the sodium content of the meal quite high in sodium," said Kelly Houston, MS, RDN, LD.
However, ketchup, like all processed tomato products, is also high in lycopene. "Lycopene is a carotenoid with antioxidant properties, and research suggests it may have protective effects against free-radical damage," Lemein said.
There's good news: enjoying tomato products, including ketchup, is associated with a reduced risk of chronic inflammatory diseases. "One of the top reasons is that they're loaded with lycopene, a carotenoid antioxidant. If you're gonna squirt on some ketchup, select one that's lower in sugar or fruit-sweetened, lower in sodium, and organic or non-GMO," Newgent said.
So enjoy that ketchup, but use it sparingly and save it for when it really matters — like with those fries!