Why Ketchup Is Evil (And Some Alternatives That Aren't)

Chow on 09.23.11
Contributor bio

Photo: Sean Justice/Corbis

I hate ketchup. 

It is the enemy, maybe even a gate-way drug. I do not hate the taste necessarily, but the overuse of this condiment in our kid's diets is what drives me insane. As you'll know if you've learned to read your food labels, most major ketchup brands have an ingredient list that includes high fructose corn syrup and corn syrup as the 3rd and 4th ingredients. This means that after tomato concentrate and vinegar the major ingredients of this product is sugar. And not just any sugar, High Fructose Corn Syrup!  A sweetener that has been linked to obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. (As Sarah has already revealed, there are many other surprisingly common foods that are also high in High Fructose Corn Syrup.) So, as both a registered dietitian and a mother, I consider this condiment a junk food.

For most people, a condiment is used in moderation or with certain foods.  However, I have found that children (or should I say many parents) use ketchup as a daily food or even with each meal.  Let's be honest, kids love the taste and parents love anything that will get their kids to eat food. Kids become addicted to the sweet stuff and use it to camouflage other foods.

The other day, I had a mom mention that her child will only eat saltine crackers with ketchup and milk to drink.  After I picked my mouth off the floor and begun to assess the child's diet, I assured the mom that this was probably a short phase that will hopefully end soon. I encouraged her to continue to offer healthy nutritious foods and wean her kid off ketchup. This is known in the nutrition world as a food jag. (A food jag is when a child eats only one or two items meal after meal)  I have also seen kids at restaurants using chicken nugget as a utensil to eat ketchup, while their unknowing parents continue to squeeze more on their plates. 

Now I should mention that there are several organic ketchup brands that leave the high fructose corn syrup out (even Heinz makes one), but the condiment still contains too much sugar per serving considering the serving size most kids can eat.        

While I believe in moderation in most things (hey, I even think sweets are OK if they are not eaten excessively), my professional experience leads me to recommend that parents simply hold the ketchup.  Consider offering your kids alternatives to the sugary condiment instead. Here are a few ideas. 

  1. Mustard: It may take your kids awhile to develop a taste for mustard and the vinegar may or may not bother your kid's tummies, but mustard does not contain sugar and has little sodium.
  2. Low-Fat Ranch Dressing: Most kids love ranch dressing, it can count as a dairy serving, and it contains calcium.
  3. Hummus: Hummus can be used as a dip for many foods and is high in protein and fiber.
  4. Low-Fat Mayonnaise: This tends to be lower in sodium and fat than the regular mayo.
  5. Yogurt-Based Sauce: Dips like tiziki or a home-made veggie dip are high in calcium and contain healthy probiotics.
  6. Salsa: Some salsas are filled with a great variety of veggies and are low in fat, sugar, and sodium.
  7. Make your own ketchup!  This will give you control of the ingredients. Try substituting sugar for agave syrup.
  8. Kelly shares a recipe for tomato jam.

Top Articles on Kid's Nutrition

Nutrition Facts Lables and How to Read Them
Vegetarian Nutrition for Kids: The Basics
Healthy Alternatives for School Birthday Treats