Nutrition Facts, Benefits, Downsides, Alternatives

Ketchup is a sweet and tangy condiment.

It’s made from pureed tomatoes and seasonings including garlic, onion, and allspice.

Ketchup goes well as a topping for your comfort foods like hamburgers, hotdogs, and french fries.

It’s often associated with fast food, yet it’s made from a highly nutritious food — tomatoes. You’re not alone if you’ve ever wondered if ketchup’s healthy.

This article dives into the nutrition of ketchup, including its health benefits, potential downsides, and a few suggestions for other condiments that you can use in its place.

Ketchup recipes vary, but it’s made from a core set of ingredients including tomatoes, sugar, salt, and vinegar. This explains the sweet but tangy flavor it packs.

Spices like allspice, cloves, coriander, and even cinnamon or ginger may be added too.

Since it’s a basic tomato-based condiment, ketchup boasts a simple nutrition profile. Moreover, since you’re often just using a small amount of ketchup with your meal, you won’t get your essential nutrition from ketchup.

1 tablespoon (17 grams) of ketchup contains (1):

  • Calories: 17
  • Carbs: 4.5 grams
  • Protein: less than 1 grams
  • Fiber: less than 1 grams
  • Fat: less than 1 grams
  • Sugar: 7% of the Daily Value (DV)
  • Sodium: 7% of the DV

Compared to other condiments, 1 tablespoon of ketchup contains nearly twice as many calories as mustard but fewer than a fourth of the amount of calories that mayonnaise contains (2, 3).

With regard to sugar, ketchup tends to contain more than mayonnaise or mustard which each contain less than 1% of the DV for sugar per 1-tablespoon (17-gram) serving compared with the 7% found in the same amount of ketchup (1, 2, 3).

SUMMARY

Ketchup proves low in calories, carbs, protein and fat. Still, the condiment does contain moderate amounts of sugar and salt as these are two of its main ingredients.

Some people consider ketchup “empty calories” because it contains salt and sugar yet lacks many vitamins or minerals.

At the same time, the main ingredients in ketchup are tomatoes, which are packed with healthy plant compounds.

Research suggests any of ketchup’s health benefits likely come from the carotenoid lycopene in the tomatoes.

Lycopene itself is believed to have anticancer, anti-inflammatory, and antidiabetic properties, yet there’s little research to suggest that eating ketchup itself will have the same effects (1, 4).

However, one recent study did link eating a variety of tomato-based foods rich in lycopene, including ketchup, to a lower risk of gastric cancer (5).

In fact, ketchup remains one of the most concentrated sources of lycopene. When making ketchup, the heat used to process tomatoes allows your body to absorb lycopene more easily (6).

When you eat ketchup, you may reap some of lycopene’s health benefits. Lycopene may (7):

  • Act as an antioxidant. Lycopene’s potent antioxidant activity may protect your DNA and cellular proteins from inflammation (4).
  • Protect against cancer. Test tube studies show that lycopene may prevent against prostate cancer. Human studies link a higher dietary intake of lycopene from tomatoes and ketchup with a lower risk of stomach cancer (5, 6, 8).
  • Support your brain. Studies indicate that lycopene may help treat conditions like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. Some early research in animals suggests it might protect against brain impairment due to chronic disease (9, 10, 11, 12).
  • Promote heart health. Lycopene’s antioxidants may help fight off heart disease. Human studies associate a diet higher in lycopene with a lower risk of heart disease. Animal studies suggest lycopene lowers blood fat and cholesterol levels (13, 14, 15).
  • Fight reproductive disorders. One human study observed lower lycopene blood levels in infertile men while an animal study found oral lycopene supplements effective in treating testicular hypofunction, a condition that sometimes causes infertility (16, 17).

Nevertheless, since ketchup is usually eaten in small amounts, fresh or canned whole tomatoes may provide you with more lycopene and fewer calories, less sugar, and more nutrients overall.

Finally, health issues like fertility and heart health may be better addressed by focusing on the quality of your diet overall. Ketchup and its lycopene content won’t turn an unhealthy diet into a nutritious one (7, 18).

SUMMARY

Though ketchup doesn’t contain many vitamins or minerals, it’s rich in the powerful plant chemical lycopene. Lycopene is a carotenoid with antioxidant properties that may fight cancer, protect your heart and brain, and offer fertility support to men.

For most people, ketchup proves perfectly safe when consumed in moderation. The condiment can easily be included in your well-balanced diet.

Still, eating too much ketchup may cause you mild side effects.

The potential downsides of ketchup are:

  • It’s fairly high in sugar. 1 tablespoon of ketchup could contain 7% or more of your DV of sugar. If you love ketchup and have 4–5 Tablespoons with a single meal, you could consume 35% or more of the DV for sugar from the ketchup alone (1).
  • It’s fairly high in salt. Most packaged ketchup products are also high in salt. If you’re sensitive to salt, eating too much salt may contribute to high blood pressure, heart disease, and other health concerns (1, 19, 20, 21).
  • It’s an acidic food. Tomatoes prove a highly acidic food, so concentrated tomato products like ketchup are no different. If you suffer from heartburn or reflux, eating too much ketchup could worsen those conditions (22, 23, 24).
  • Some people may be allergic. Though uncommon, it is possible to have an allergy or sensitivity to ketchup. A ketchup allergy could be caused by tomatoes or other ingredients in the condiment like vinegar that contains sulfites, salicylates, and gluten (24, 25).

SUMMARY

Eating ketchup in moderation — such as a few tablespoons at a time — doesn’t carry many risks. Still, if you’re worried about your sugar or salt intake, or if you have acid reflux, heartburn, or food allergies, you may want to limit your intake.

Though ketchup can be part of a balanced diet when used in moderation, there may be times when you want to use a healthier alternative instead.

There are many brands and varieties of ketchup available, so if you’re looking for a variety that meets your specific needs, there’s a good chance you can find a product that works for you.

For example, there are many ketchup brands that make versions of the condiment that are:

If you’re looking for a variety like these, most labels make these distinctions clear.

Perhaps you love the tomato taste of ketchup but want to find a less processed version. In that case, you could try making your own at home.

Making homemade ketchup can also be a great way to moderate how much sugar and salt is in your condiment.

If you’re looking for options that are lower in sugar, you could also explore other condiments like:

  • salsa
  • tomato chutney or jam
  • hot sauce
  • harissa

SUMMARY

Healthier versions of ketchup are low in sugar and salt, organic, and/or free of high fructose corn syrup. You can also try making your own ketchup at home or substituting another condiment like salsa in its place.

Ketchup is a classic condiment that you may love with your sandwiches, burgers, french fries, and more.

If you enjoy ketchup, you may be happy to hear that because it’s made with tomatoes, it’s a good source of lycopene.

Adding more lycopene to your diet may help protect you from cancer, heart disease, and other chronic conditions.

However, some ketchup varieties prove high in sugar and salt. Plus, a few of ketchup’s ingredients could aggravate your stomach if you have acid reflux, gluten-related disorders, or tomato allergies.

To get the most health benefits from ketchup, try to limit your intake to no more than a few tablespoons at one time. Pair ketchup with other nutritious foods and choose ketchup varieties that are lower in sugar and salt.

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