When it comes to dieting and eating healthy, there is one big thing that can really affect your meals that you may not even think about: condiments. Dressings, sauces, oils, even some seasonings can add unnecessary calories to your meals and you may not even realize it. Take salads, for example: (I am using Applebee’s because we just ate there and I have them on the brain): a standard House Salad is 230 calories without dressing (15 grams of fat, 12 grams of carbs, and 13 grams of protein) – add any of their available dressings and you add anywhere from 170-250 calories and 10-32 grams of fat – just in the dressing! That salad that you thought was a healthy choice can quickly become not-so healthy. And that’s just a House Salad – their entrée salads vary anywhere from 180 calories (half portion grilled chicken caesar salad without dressing) to 1390 calories (regular sized oriental chicken salad) – that’s a huge difference!
There are a lot of choices out there that may seem healthy but secretly aren’t – and some that may not sound healthy but actually are! This is why being able to read and understand a nutrition label is incredibly important – it can help you navigate through all of the choices out there so you can make healthier decisions! Always make sure when looking at nutrition labels you are focusing on key factors:
- Serving size
- Calories per serving
- Fat per serving
- Carbs per serving – and how many of those carbs are sugar
- Sodium per serving – if you are watching your sodium intake
- Also, take a look at the ingredients – if you are concerned about overly-processed foods, this is important – check for the number of ingredients and for large words that don’t sound like real food – google ingredients you don’t recognize!
- Don’t fall for keywords like ‘low-fat,’ ‘light,’ ‘low-calorie,’ without checking the nutrition label first – these labels can be deceiving.
Here are some of my tried and true favorites, broken up into categories. This list is in no way inclusive, just some things I have come to rely on over the years.. If there is something you don’t see on this list, or something you are unsure of – feel free to email me and let me know!
Salad Dressings – with these, it is a good rule of thumb to stick to vinegar based dressings, creamy dressings tend to have higher calorie counts (even the ‘light’ versions):
- Kraft offers a lot of really great low calorie and reduced fat options, some of my favorites are: Zesty Lite Italian, Balsamic Vinaigrette Lite & Roasted Red Pepper Italian (this one is a good example – nothing on the bottle or in the name suggests that it is low calorie or low fat – but it is one of the best choices! Per 2 TBSP serving there are only 30 calories, 1 gram of fat, and 4 grams of carbs).
- Bolthouse Farms also has a line of low calorie salad dressings (including the creamy ones!) and they are made with healthy ingredients like yogurt and greek yogurt – these are a great option and worth looking into!
- Another option is to make your own – using high quality olive oil or coconut oil, your choice of vinegar, and spices – that way you know exactly what is in it, and you can make it to meet your macros.
Marinades – a lot of people think that when you are dieting all of your food has to be bland, and you have to eat plain, boiled chicken – this is not the case! I love marinating my protein sources, here are some good options:
- Dales Seasoning is really good! But it has a pretty strong flavor, so make sure you taste-test it first and go easy on it – a little goes a long way! It is good with pretty much anything you can think of.
- Worcestershire sauce is another great option – I like this on red meat but I know some people like it on chicken too.
- Use salad dressing as a marinade – the examples I gave above would all work great to marinade meat, just be sure to check those serving sizes.
- Make your own – just like with the salad dressing, by making your own you know exactly what is in it and can customize for your diet.
Sauces – these can get really tricky! Red sauces, cream sauces, barbeque sauce, etc… are all pretty high on the calorie chart – Prego offers a line of reduced calorie options and Stubb’s Original Barbeque Sauce is a really good option for BBQ – depending on how strict your diet is though, these may or may not be an option for you.
Spices/Seasonings/Rubs – most spices and herbs are a perfectly fine choice for seasoning your food – just be careful with rubs as they tend to have added sugars in them.
Vinegars – Vinegar is pretty much a ‘free-food’ meaning you can use essentially as much as you want, as often as you want. Some people will disagree with that, but I have found it to be a great choice for lots of flavor with minimal calories – red wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar, and balsamic are great options.
Other Condiments – I didn’t know where else to group these, so they get their very own ‘misc.’ category:
- Heinz reduced sugar ketchup is amazing! Tastes identical to regular ketchup with a fraction of the calories and carbs.
- Mustard – generally speaking, most mustards are fair game. Watch out for honey mustard but regular yellow mustard, spicy mustard, and most other variations are a great choice.
- Red hot – and other vinegar based hot sauces are also a great choice – like the commercials say – I put that shit on everything!
- Spray butter – this one you need to be careful with – watch your sprays! Spray butter is a great option as long as you don’t overdo it – it is still butter and if you use more than is recommended you are getting more calories than you think.
- Sriracha Sauce – I LOVE this stuff, but you need to be careful with it too – check your serving sizes.
- Salsa – I love using salsa to flavor dishes – most salsa comes in around 30-60 calories per ¼ cup serving and is naturally low in fat.
- Walden Farms – I am sure many of you have heard of the miracle “zero-calorie” line of products. I have to advise caution here – it is up to you if you want to try these out, I honestly never have, but I do know some people that swear by them. They scare me a little (lots of fake stuff) but that decision is entirely up to you.
**If you are watching your sodium, please opt for reduced sodium versions as many of the options I listed are NOT reduced sodium, but many can be found with reduced sodium options – a great brand to look into is Mrs. Dash. Sodium is incredibly important in bodybuilding and in strength training in general, but if you have been told by your doctor to limit your sodium please, please do so.**