Ask Keri: Is ketchup really that bad for me? What if I buy the “natural” brands?
Keri Says: If your kids want to put ketchup all over everything, you’re not alone. The all-American condiment has some sort of magical appeal, right? Even when we grow up, it’s hard not to crave it on a burger or as a dip alongside those sweet potato fries.
But is ketchup really that unhealthy? Let’s look at what’s in it.
Here’s the ingredient list from classic Heinz Tomato Ketchup: “Tomato Concentrate From Red Ripe Tomatoes, Distilled Vinegar, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Corn Syrup, Salt, Spice, Onion Powder, Natural Flavoring.”
Heinz also makes a “healthier” version now called Simply Heinz Tomato Ketchup. The only difference to the ingredient list above is that “high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup” is replaced with “cane sugar.”
Which leads me to what you’re probably expecting: as with many processed foods, added sugar is my biggest issue here. Whether it’s coming from corn syrup or cane sugar, this classic ketchup contains 4g of the sweet stuff per tablespoon. That might not sound like a lot, but it is.
Current recommendations on daily added sugar intake are that adults should get less than 5 percent of their daily caloric intake from sugar, which works out to about 25g. Most kids should be getting about half of that. (A quick reminder: These are limits. We don’t need any added sugar in our diets and most people, especially kids, get a lot.) I don’t know about you, but if I hand my kids a bottle to top their chicken burger and flavor their potatoes, they’re easily going to squeeze out a few tablespoons, which means they could quickly reach the amount of sugar they’re supposed to be limited to in an entire day, just from ketchup.
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Other potential issues: “Natural flavoring” is basically an ingredient euphemism for “we’re not telling you what this ingredient is,” so I don’t love when I see it. And since they’re using tomatoes that have been processed into concentrate, it’s hard to know how much of the nutritional value of the tomato has been lost. (In other words, sorry kids, ketchup doesn’t count as eating your veggies.)
Are Natural Brands Better?
So should you switch to some of the newer “natural” brands that are popping up?
Here’s the ingredient list for the most popular and widely available option, Sir Kensington’s: “Tomatoes, Tomato Paste, Organic Cane Sugar, Onions, Distilled Vinegar, Water, Salt, Lime Juice Concentrate, Green Bell Peppers, Allspice.”
I like that whole tomatoes are the first ingredient and that instead of natural flavoring they’re using other healthy veggies like onions and peppers for taste. This upgraded ketchup contains 3g of sugar per tablespoon, so slightly better, but still more than you want.
At the end of the day, ketchup might not be a superfood, but it’s certainly not a deep-fried donut. So if all of this stressed you out, take a deep breath. The bottom line is try to choose a cleaned-up brand, and then pay super close attention to portion size, so that when you top a veggie patty, it doesn’t end up delivering more sugar than a chocolate chip cookie. Another tip: Dijon mustard (which is soooo delicious!) generally has zero grams of sugar and no flavorings added. And have you ever tried a burger topped with fresh, homemade salsa? Yum!
(Featured Photo: Shutterstock)