How to pick healthy condiments at a barbecue

How to pick healthy condiments at a barbecue

When you’ve been handed a burger at a backyard barbecue, chances are you make a beeline for the condiment table. But how well do you know the nutrition status of your favorite burger and hot dog toppings?

While they may seem harmless, the usual suspects — mustard, ketchup, mayo and relish — can actually be loaded with sodium and added sugar. In fact, it’s easy to rack up sodium, sugar or calories if you use a heavy hand with the condiments. Here’s what to know before you head to your next summer barbecue.


Ketchup has about 4 grams (1 teaspoon) of sugar per tablespoon, most of which is added sugar. (A good guideline is to aim for no more than 6 to 9 teaspoons of total added sugar per day). There’s not a lot of variation among brands, so choose your favorite brand of ketchup and use a light hand when it comes to squeezing it on.


The top-selling condiment in America also packs the biggest calorie punch. You can save on calories with low-fat mayo (a mere 15 calories per tablespoon) or light mayo, but be aware that these may have added sugars and starches. For a cleaner ingredient list, choose regular mayo (about 100 calories per tablespoon) and smear on sparingly.


Whether you prefer sweet or dill relish, watch out for fake food dyes (like Yellow 5) and look for a jar with 90 mg of sodium or less per tablespoon–some have more than 300 mg!


Sodium is the biggest thing to look out for in mustards: different brands may have 30 mg to 125 mg of sodium per teaspoon — which is a pretty big range for such a small amount. Squeeze out a tablespoon of a higher-sodium variety, and you could be looking at 15 percent of the recommended 2,300 mg daily sodium limit. Look for a mustard with no more than 65 mg of sodium per teaspoon. Dijon mustard varieties tend to have the highest amounts of sodium, while deli mustard and spicy brown mustard tend to have lower amounts.

Other toppings

The healthiest way to add flavor to your burger, hot dog or sandwich is to load up on the vegetables. If you’re hosting the barbecue, serve plenty of lettuce, tomato, red onion and avocado for your guests to choose from. Or get fancy and add eggplant, mushrooms and peppers to the grill. Piling your burger or hot dog high with veggies will boost the taste and nutrition of your barbecue fare — a win-win for everyone.

(EatingWell is a magazine and website devoted to healthy eating as a way of life. Online at