Ketchup is a sweet and spicy condiment.
It is made with tomato puree and seasonings including garlic, onion, and allspice.
Ketchup works well as a topping for your comfort foods like burgers, hot dogs, and fries.
It is often associated with fast food, yet it is made up of a highly nutritious food: tomatoes. You’re not alone if you’ve ever wondered if ketchup is healthy.
This article delves into the nutrition of ketchup, including its health benefits, potential drawbacks, and some tips for other toppings you can use in its place.
Ketchup recipes vary, but it’s made up of a set of key ingredients including tomatoes, sugar, salt, and vinegar. This explains the sweet yet spicy flavor it packs.
Spices such as allspice, cloves, coriander, and even cinnamon or ginger can also be added.
Because it is a tomato-based staple condiment, ketchup boasts a simple nutritional profile. Also, since you often only use a small amount of ketchup with your meal, you won’t get your essential nutrition from ketchup.
1 tablespoon (17 grams) of ketchup contains (
- Calories: 17
- Carbohydrates: 4.5 grams
- Protein: less than 1 gram
- Fiber: less than 1 gram
- Fat: less than 1 gram
- Sugar: 7% of the daily value (DV)
- Sodium: 7% of the DV
Compared to other condiments, 1 tablespoon of ketchup contains nearly double the calories of mustard but less than a quarter of the amount of calories contained in mayonnaise (
As for 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 to 7% found in the same amount of Ketchup (
Ketchup turns out to be low in calories, carbohydrates, proteins and fats. However, the dressing contains 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 but lacks many vitamins or minerals.
At the same time, the main ingredients in ketchup are tomatoes, which are rich in healthy plant compounds.
Research suggests that all of the health benefits of ketchup likely come from the carotenoid lycopene in tomatoes.
Lycopene itself is believed to have anticancer, anti-inflammatory, and antidiabetic properties, but there is little research to suggest that eating ketchup itself will have the same effects (
However, a recent study linked eating a variety of lycopene-rich tomato-based foods, including ketchup, to a lower risk of gastric cancer.
In fact, ketchup remains one of the most concentrated sources of lycopene. When making ketchup, the heat used to process the tomatoes allows the body to absorb the lycopene more easily (
When you eat ketchup, you may be reaping some of the health benefits of lycopene. Lycopene can (
- Act as an antioxidant. The powerful antioxidant activity of lycopene can protect cellular DNA and proteins from inflammation (
- Protect yourself from cancer. Test-tube studies show that lycopene can prevent 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 can help treat conditions like Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. Some early animal research suggests it may protect against brain damage from chronic disease (
9, 10, 11, 12).
- Promotes heart health. The antioxidants in lycopene can help fight heart disease. Human studies associate a diet higher in lycopene with a lower risk of heart disease. Animal studies suggest that lycopene lowers fat and cholesterol levels in the blood (
13, 14, 15).
- Combats reproductive disorders. A human study observed lower blood levels of lycopene in infertile men, while an animal study found oral lycopene supplements effective in treating testicular hypofunction, a condition that sometimes causes infertility (
However, since ketchup is usually eaten in small quantities, whole fresh or canned tomatoes can provide you with more lycopene and fewer calories, less sugar and more nutrients overall.
Finally, health issues such as fertility and heart health can best be addressed by focusing on the quality of the diet in general. Ketchup and its lycopene content will not turn an unhealthy diet into a nutritious one (
Although ketchup doesn’t contain many vitamins or minerals, it is packed with the potent plant chemical lycopene. Lycopene is a carotenoid with antioxidant properties that can fight cancer, protect the heart and brain, and offer fertility support for men.
For most people, ketchup is perfectly safe when consumed in moderation. Seasoning can easily be included in your balanced diet.
However, eating too much ketchup can cause mild side effects.
The potential drawbacks of ketchup are:
- It is quite high in sugar. 1 tablespoon of ketchup may contain 7% or more of your DV of sugar. If you love ketchup and eat 4-5 tablespoons with one meal, you may be consuming 35% or more of the DV for sugar than ketchup alone (
- It is quite rich in salt. Most packaged ketchup products are also high in salt. If you are sensitive to salt, eating too much salt can contribute to increased blood pressure, heart disease, and other health problems (
1, 19, 20, 21).
- It is an acidic food. Tomatoes prove to be 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 make these conditions worse (
22, 23, 24).
- Some people may be allergic. While not common, it is possible to have an allergy or sensitivity to ketchup. A ketchup allergy could be caused by tomatoes or other ingredients in the dressing such as vinegar which contains sulfites, salicylates, and gluten (
Eating ketchup in moderation, for example a few tablespoons at a time, does not carry many risks. However, if you are concerned about your sugar or salt intake, or if you have acid reflux, heartburn, or food allergies, you may want to limit your intake.
Although ketchup can be part of a balanced diet when used in moderation, sometimes you may want to use a healthier alternative.
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 produce versions of the condiment which are:
If you’re looking for a variety like this, most labels make these distinctions clear.
Maybe you love the tomato taste of ketchup but want to find a less elaborate version. If so, you might want to try making one at home.
Making homemade ketchup can also be a great way to moderate the amount of sugar and salt in your dressing.
If you’re looking for low-sugar options, you can also explore other toppings such as:
- tomato sauce or jam
- spicy sauce
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 sauce.
Ketchup is a classic condiment you may love with your sandwiches, burgers, fries, and more.
If you like ketchup, you might be happy to hear it because it’s made with tomatoes, it’s a good source of lycopene.
Adding more lycopene to your diet can help protect you from cancer, heart disease, and other chronic conditions.
However, some varieties of ketchup are found to be rich in sugar and salt. Additionally, some of the ingredients in ketchup may aggravate your stomach if you suffer from acid reflux, gluten-related ailments, or tomato allergies.
To get the most health benefits from ketchup, try limiting your intake to no more than a few tablespoons at a time. Pair ketchup with other nutritious foods and choose low-sugar and low-salt varieties of ketchup.