The 7 Best Summer Condiments

Don't top your summer fare with unhealthy ingredients. Use our recommendations to make healthier choices.

July 9, 2012

Top It Off Right

When it comes to summertime cooking, condiments are often just as important as the actual main course. What’s a hot dog without the right relish? A grilled burger with no ketchup? But unless you’re clued in to better brands, you could be smothering your fare in condiments tainted with mercury, harmful chemicals, or nasty ingredients like high-fructose corn syrup and fake food dyes. On top of that, the food industry’s go-to methods for cheap flavor enhancement might be good for the bottom line, but not our bodies. “By definition, condiments are designed to add flavor to foods,” explains Bruce Bradley, former food industry executive turned food advocate, and author of the upcoming thriller Fat Profits. “Unfortunately, the main way big food companies know how to add flavor is by using lots of salt, sugar, and fats.”


Ketchup can be healthy, although most store-bought options are anything but. Ketchup is adored in America, and that’s a good thing, because it’s loaded with lycopene, a tomato-derived nutrient that helps protect skin from sunburn. The bad news? Most food manufacturers load perfectly good ketchup with excess sugar, heart-harming high-fructose corn syrup, and salt. America’s top-selling ketchup tips the sodium scales at 190 milligrams a tablespoon, nearly 10 percent of the recommended daily allowance—that really adds up during grilling season!

Healthier solution: 
Organicville Ketchup, a healthier ketchup option with no added sugar and significantly lower sodium levels compared to other brands.

Or, try making your own "Better Than Ketchup" Tomato Chutney!

Read More: 13 Foods That Fight Sunburn 

Photo: Isabelle Rozenbaum/Photo Alto


Salsa is America’s most popular condiment, thanks to a surge in Mexican food popularity. Now outselling ketchup in the condiment category, salsa is generally more nutritious than plain old ketchup, thanks to accompanying ingredients like black beans, herbs, and other veggies. Just avoid salsa in metal cans; this type of food packaging is almost always coated in a harmful chemical called bisphenol A, or BPA, a chemical linked to heart attacks, brain cancer, and obesity. 

Healthier solution: 
Drew’s Organic Salsa in glass jars. We like the Black Bean, Cilantro & Corn variety…all ingredients grown without chemical pesticides and genetically engineered seeds. We can all dip to that!

Read More: 6 Farmer's Market Scams

Photo: Kurt Wilson

Steak Sauce

Steak-sauce sales line the pockets of food-corporation executives, but many of these sauces are processed and do little for your health. “This restaurant favorite is literally like liquid gold to manufacturers, making them more profit per ounce than almost any other product they sell,” explains Bradley, who notes that some contain ultra-high sodium levels—we’re talking 280 grams of sodium per tablespoon. On top of that, many contain controversial fake caramel coloring that could cause cancer. 

Healthier solution: 
Focus on high-quality, grass-fed beef for tastier meats with higher omega-3 fatty acid levels. For a yummy steak topping, head to your garden, the farmers’ market, or your store’s organic produce section to whip up an amazing chimichurri, Argentina’s version of barbecue sauce.

1 1/2 cups Spanish olive oil
Juice of 2 limes
1 1/2 cups finely chopped fresh parsley
8 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 shallots, minced
2 tablespoon each finely chopped fresh basil, thyme, and oregano
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Combine the ingredients in a bowl and season with salt and pepper.
2. Divide the chimichurri between 2 bowls. 
3. Use half as the marinade and half as the dipping sauce.

Read More: The 13 Best Food Combinations 

Photo: Thinkstock

A staple in almost every refrigerator in America, mayonnaise adds a creamy, rich base to many sandwiches and salad dressings. In the past 15 years, though, the most popular mayonnaise brands on the market started using oil from genetically engineered soybeans, a dangerous move considering this novel technology has never been tested for long-term impact on human health. Some research links genetically modified crops, also known as GMOs, to digestive diseases and allergies. “The leading manufacturer, Hellmann’s/Best Foods, likes to claim its mayonnaise is made from real ingredients, but since when did GMOs count as real food?” Bradley says.

Healthier solution: 
Spectrum’s artisan Organic Olive Oil Mayonnaise. Free of industrial trans fats that harm the heart and GMOs, this mayo uses eggs from hens that ate food free of pesticides, too. Instead of questionable fake flavors, this mayo uses organic honey, organic vinegar, and sea salt for an added kick. 

Try making your own mayo with only 3 simple ingredients!

Read More: 6 Shocking Salad Dressing Facts

Photo: Thomas MacDonald

Mustard deserves a spot on every picnic table in America, but don’t be duped by elaborate labels. Be wary of “fancier” mustard brands, warns Bradley. This often just means that manufacturers added more sugar, salt, or even carcinogenic caramel coloring. In an adventurous mood? Whip up your own Harbour Guinness Mustard—it stores in the fridge for 6 months.

Healthier solution: 
Try organic Brown Mustard from Eden Foods, made with sea salt and a touch of raw apple cider vinegar, which promotes healthy bacteria levels in the body.

Read More: 7 Food Swaps That Will Make You Skinny 

Photo: Duncan Smith/Artville


Revel in relish; just be smart about the source. Many relish products on store shelves contain unnecessary ingredients like artificial (and potentially harmful) food-coloring agents. It’s a food-processing trick that makes food appear fresher than it really is. Scan the label and make sure your favorite relish is free of high-fructose corn syrup, too. The processed sweetener contains significant levels of fructose, which can cause memory problems.

Healthier solution: 
Get a jar of Woodstock Farms Organic pickles and chop them up for a homemade relish effect.

Photo: (cc) Kim/Flickr


Hot Sauce
Most hot sauces contain simple ingredients: Peppers, salt, vinegar, and water. Keep a close eye on the sodium content, though. Many popular brands contain upwards of 200 milligrams of salt per teaspoon—2 servings of that and you’ll already have hit 17 percent of your daily recommended intake. 

Healthier solution:
Use hot sauce sparingly, and look for brands that offer other health benefits, too. Try Benito’s Habanero Infused Maple Syrup hot sauce for a unique sweet-heat kick for your steamed squash, or as a glaze on ribs, pork chops, chicken, or beef. It’s made with the purest Vermont Grade B maple syrup, a natural sweetener that contains anti-inflammatory compounds that can protect the heart, fight cancer, and ward off type 2 diabetes.

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Photo: (cc) Steven Depolo