Condiments: Calories We Forget to Count

By Patricia Salber, MD, MBA | Published 8/3/2017 0

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Hey, calorie counters out there. Did you add it all up and think you did a pretty good job this week? But you still didn’t lose any weight. Must be your slow metabolism, right? Or maybe it’s your condiments.

Condiments are those little dabs of this and that we slather on food to make it taste better. There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of different kinds of condiments, ranging from the more mundane (ketchup and mayo) to the exotic, such as raita (a South Asian treat made from yogurt, vegetables, herbs and spices), bagoong monamon (salted fish sauce), and ponzu (a Japanese dipping sauce).

Like all other foods, some are low fat and low calorie and others pack a diet-busting wallop of both. If you aren’t paying attention, you could be getting more calories and more fat from your condiment than you are from the food you put it on. Here are some examples from my own refrigerator:

Toady’s Tasty Tartar Dill Sauce

This is a delicious tartar sauce. A few spoonfuls can make a bland (but healthy) baked fish taste terrific. It contains cucumbers, white wine vinegar, garlic, onions, and dill. But its number one ingredient is canola oil. The number five ingredient is eggs. It also contains sugar, fruit concentrates, and pineapple syrup. What shocked me most as I perused the sauce’s food label is that two tablespoons have 150 calories, almost all of them from fat. This amounts to 25% of the recommended daily value of fat. Luckily, only 1 gram of the fat is saturated and there is no trans-fat in the product. The important thing to remember is when you put this sauce on baked fresh Petrale sole, you convert a 100-calorie, 1 gram fat dish into 250 calories and 17 grams of fat. Holy cow! It would take about a half hour of walking at 3 mph to burn off. You might want to squeeze fresh lemon on it instead.


Best Foods Real Mayonnaise

Ok, so now you know, I don’t use reduced calorie mayonnaise because I can’t stand the taste. I grew up eating Best Foods Real Mayonnaise, and well, it is the only mayonnaise that tastes “real” to me. For years, I have made a simple mayonnaise-based sauce to pour over lightly steamed broccoli:

  • 2 tablespoons of Best Foods Real Mayonnaise
  • ¾ tablespoon of Grey Poupon Dijon style mustard
  • Curry powder to taste

Another smooth move on my part. This adds 100 calories to the 10 or so in my serving of broccoli—that’s assuming I only eat half of the sauce and my husband eats the other half.



Chiu Chow Chili Oil

I love to dip Dim Sum in chili oil…as if Dim Sum wasn’t fattening enough. I did notice but somehow failed to respond to the fact that it appears to be pure oil with some dried chilis, soybeans, sesame oil, and soy sauce. The food label states that there are only 35 calories per serving, but the serving size is one teaspoon! There is no way that you can eat a plateful of Dim Sum with only one teaspoon of chili oil. I can only imagine, but am not going to add up, the fat and calories I take in when I put 2 or 3 or 4 spoonfuls of this delicious sauce on my plate of Dim Sum.


E. Waldo Ward’s Seafood Cocktail Sauce

What could be better than a great big shrimp cocktail? Yum. But that benign looking red sauce is not calorie-free. In fact, one-quarter cup (said to be one serving size, but seems skimpy to me) has 90 calories. Not too bad, you might think, but if you are trying to lose weight, every little bit counts.


Cindy’s Fresh Buttermilk Salad Dressing

This dressing makes every salad a delicious, but high-calorie addition to your dinner. I simply love it. But the food label definitely pours some cold water over my enthusiasm. Two tablespoons (not sure I limit myself to that amount) has 140 calories with 130 of them coming from fat, most of which is unsaturated (that’s good). Luckily, there are good alternatives available, including a drizzle of plain old olive oil with lemon juice or vinegar.


The bottom line: Every calorie counts

I could go on and on about different condiments that we consume, often mindless of their contribution to our diet, but I think you get the idea. All of those bottles of stuff lining the doors of your refrigerator and tucked away in your cupboards are there because they add flavor and color to your food. But, remember, they also add calories.

The point is not that you have to abandon the condiments you love (although I was tempted to chuck the tartar sauce). The point is you have to count them. Read the labels, go to an online food database, or simply google the name of the condiment. Calories count even when they come in small packages…darn, again.

This article was first published on 07/14/06. It has been updated and republished.

Patricia Salber, MD, MBA


Patricia Salber, MD, MBA is the Founder. CEO, and Editor-in-Chief of The Doctor Weighs In (TDWI). Founded in 2005 as a single-author blog, it has evolved into a multi-authored, multi-media health information site with a global audience. She has worked hard to ensure that TDWI is a trusted resource for health information on a wide variety of health topics. Moreover, Dr. Salber is widely acknowledged as an important contributor to the health information space, including having been honored by LinkedIn as one of ten Top Voices in Healthcare in both 2017 and 2018.

Dr. Salber has a long list of peer-reviewed publications as well as publications in trade and popular press. She has published two books, the latest being “Connected Health: Improving Care, Safety, and Efficiency with Wearables and IoT solutions. She has hosted podcasts and video interviews with many well-known healthcare experts and innovators. Spreading the word about health and healthcare innovation is her passion.

She attended the University of California Berkeley for her undergraduate and graduate studies and UC San Francisco for medical school, internal medicine residency, and endocrine fellowship. She also completed a Pew Fellowship in Health Policy at the affiliated Institute for Health Policy Studies. She earned an MBA with a health focus at the University of California Irvine.

She joined Kaiser Permanente (KP)where she practiced emergency medicine as a board-certified internist and emergency physician before moving into administration. She served as the first Physician Director for National Accounts at the Permanente Federation. And, also served as the lead on a dedicated Kaiser Permanente-General Motors team to help GM with its managed care strategy. GM was the largest private purchaser of healthcare in the world at that time. After leaving KP, she worked as a physician executive in a number of health plans, including serving as EVP and Chief Medical Officer at Universal American.

She consults and/or advises a wide variety of organizations including digital start-ups such as CliniOps, My Safety Nest, and Doctor Base (acquired). She currently consults with Duty First Consulting as well as Faegre, Drinker, Biddle, and Reath, LLP.

Pat serves on the Board of Trustees of MedShare, a global humanitarian organization. She chairs the organization’s Development Committee and she also chairs MedShare's Western Regional Council.

Dr. Salber is married and lives with her husband and dog in beautiful Marin County in California. She has three grown children and two granddaughters with whom she loves to travel.