Are ketchup and mayonnaise healthy?

If you and your family find yourselves reaching for the sauce bottle most mealtimes, it may be time to get full-on flavour in a healthier way. But what else could you use instead?

Four spoons with varieties of condiments

Ketchup and mayonnaise are firm favourites in many households, with adults and children often reaching for them at mealtimes. However, those bottles of sauce often have hidden sugar, fat and salt.

Condiments and marinades are used to add familiar flavours to a meal. However, they can also mask the real flavour of food and encourage us to develop a taste for food to be sweeter, or saltier, than it is.

It’s easy to overlook the calories in a dollop of sauce, but they can quickly add up, especially if we use them too generously. The good news is there are alternatives that can enhance flavours without adding unhealthy things too.


Mayonnaise is a popular condiment typically made from egg yolks, oil, vinegar or lemon juice. Due to the amount of oil used to make mayonnaise, it’s high in calories so should be used in small amounts.

Shop-bought versions can be unhealthier than homemade versions as they often contain a lot of extra ingredients including added sugar and salt.

On average, 1 tablespoon (about 13 grams) of shop-bought mayonnaise contains 90 calories, the equivalent of 3 small squares of milk chocolate.

Light or reduced-fat versions of mayonnaise have fewer calories, typically around 35–50 calories per tablespoon. There are now also lighter than light versions available.


Ketchup is mainly made from tomatoes, vinegar, sugar and spices, but shop-bought versions often have added sugar and salt. There’s nearly 1 teaspoon of sugar in a typical serving (1 tablespoon) of ketchup and is also used in marinades such as BBQ sauce.

If you add ketchup, then opt for reduced sugar and salt options – read the nutrition labels and pick the ones with the lowest amount.

Alternatives to ketchup and mayonnaise

  • A selection of homemade sauces and marinadesAs an alternative to mayonnaise use Greek yogurt and add herbs for extra flavour: chopped chives, torn basil leaves and crushed garlic. Or dilute mayonnaise by adding Dijon mustard, lemon, garlic and herbs.
  • If your children like dipping food in ketchup or mayonnaise, why not offer a little saucer of balsamic vinegar and olive oil as a dip instead.
  • Make your own mayonnaise to give you control over the ingredients. You can find various recipes online that use healthier oils and fewer additives.
  • Make your own ketchup by trying our tomato sauce – remove the onions and reduce it right down. Or for the simplest ketchup, use tomato puree diluted with a few drops of water, or tomato passata (used for pizza toppings) with a few drops of balsamic vinegar.
  • Chilli sauce and chilli oil if you are looking to add a little heat – there are many options here, but you can simply thinly slice chillis, add grated garlic and ginger, a squeeze of lime and a little oil. A top tip: if you buy a pack of chillis and have too many just pop them in the freezer in a zip bag.
  • Spices – by using different spices like cracked pepper or smoked paprika you can also bring lots of flavour to your meals.

Healthy marinades

Instead of adding sauces to your cooked food, you can also add flavour to meat and vegetarian dishes before cooking. Try our chimichurri or chilli, cumin, paprika, garlic and lime marinade.

And you’d be surprised how tasty a lettuce can be when charred on a BBQ with a little seasoning. Marinate your dishes a few hours before cooking.

3 top tips for flavour

  1. Use homemade or low sugar, salt and fat versions at home.
  2. Offer alternatives to mayonnaise, ketchup and BBQ sauce.
  3. Keep sauces at the back of the fridge, and put them away after adding a dollop to plates, making it a lot easier to keep portions small.

Read more

> Recipes for homemade tzatziki, red lentil, broad bean and pineapple dips

> Explained: the links between your weight and your cancer risk