Let's face it: Food is only as healthy as the extras we dump on top of it. A nutritious meal can quickly take a turn for the calorie-laden if we're too liberal with our condiments--but who wants to deny their taste buds the joys of special sauce? These smart swaps cut down the calories, sodium, and fat common condiments pack, without sacrificing flavor. In fact, you might even like them better. (Discover simple ways to stock your kitchen for weight loss.)
This spreadable substitute turns a sad sandwich into a filling, protein- and fiber-rich lunch, says Karen Ansel, RD, a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. One tablespoon saves 34 calories, 3.6 g of fat, and slices the sodium down to 53 mg--just half the amount found in mayonnaise. (Video: See how hummus can lighten up your tuna salad!)
If hummus doesn't satisfy your need for a creamy sandwich spread, try avocado. "I love swapping fresh guacamole for mayonnaise because it adds so much flavor," says Ansel. What's more, avocado is a fantastic source of heart-healthy monounsaturated fat. One tablespoon of fresh guac saves about 33 calories and contains nearly no sodium. Want to make your sandwich even healthier--and tastier? Add fresh, chopped tomatoes to your guacamole for a boost of lycopene, which can help reduce your risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and macular degeneration. The healthy fat in avocado helps your body absorb 4.4 times more lycopene than it usually would, according to a study published in the Journal of Nutrition.
Grilling is a healthy way to prepare food, as long as it doesn't involve dousing your meat in a sticky and salty glaze. Half a cup of barbeque sauce --and you better believe there's more than that on your baby backs--contains a whopping 1,019 mg of sodium. That's just over two-thirds of the American Heart Association's daily-recommended allowance. Ansel suggests adding a bit of horseradish instead. Horseradish sauce (Boar's Head makes a good one) contains a slim 58 calories, less than 1 g of fat, and 377 mg of sodium in half a cup--and you will never need more than half a cup of this potent spread, says Ansel. "You still get that zippy, zingy flavor without the insane amount of salt."
When the spicy kick of bite-size buffalo proves to be too much, bleu cheese dressing is a wing lover's best friend. Too bad half a cup saddles you with 617 calories, 64.1 g of fat, and 1,340 mg of sodium. This homemade dip will cool your mouth down just as quick for one-third the fat and less than half the calories and sodium found in bottled dressing.
Combine 1/4 cup of reduced-fat mayonnaise with 1/4 nonfat plain Greek yogurt. Whisk in 2 tablespoons of bleu cheese crumbles, chill, and serve, suggests Ansel.
If you like to sprinkle your food with tongue-numbing flavor, skip the hot sauce and go straight to the spicy source--peppers. Sauces like Sriracha and Cholula deliver quite a bit of sodium with their peppery punch, says Ansel. Adding fresh peppers instead helps you incorporate an additional vegetable into your sandwich while also achieving the flavor you want. When only jarred peppers are available, try to let as much oil drip off of them as possible before eating, says Ansel. Each tablespoon of oil adds an extra 120 calories.
Don't let your eyes deceive you. "Pesto is green, so people just assume that it's a healthy option," says Ansel. But in terms of calories, fat, and sodium it's hardly any better than mayonnaise. Just 2 tablespoons of pesto contains 139 calories, 14.1 g of fat, and 260 mg of sodium. "Usually you have nuts, cheese, and oil in there with the basil leaves--and that's how things start adding up." You're much better off adding flavorful, fresh basil leaves and a drizzle of olive oil to your sandwiches, says Ansel.
Go gourmet and give your bagel a healthy makeover in the process by swapping in ricotta cheese. Ricotta is thick, creamy, and actually good for you, says Ansel. The calcium- and protein-rich food spreads like cream cheese but saves you 60 calories, 8 g of fat, and 48 mg of sodium. It's also more filling than cream cheese, which will help prevent overeating when lunch rolls around. If you like flavored cream cheese, drizzle a little bit of honey over the top or add slices of fresh fruit, says Ansel.