When it comes to clean eating, condiments usually get the cold shoulder. After all, "clean" food is simple food and it doesn't need to be all doctored up, right?
That's not always the case, said Sharon Palmer, RDN, a dietitian and author of Plant-Powered for Life. While it's true that many condiments are more junk than health food (here's looking at you, mayo and bottled salad dressings), there are plenty that do add a ton of flavor and nutrients to your favorite foods. So, the next time you toss all of those expired, crusty bottles of sugar-filled salad dressings and emulsifier-laden mayo, here's your guide to the "clean" replacements that deserve a place in your fridge door.
This plant-based condiment is one of the healthiest you can put in your fridge, said Palmer, as it's low in fat, has no added sugar, and powers up the flavor of everything from homemade salad dressings and marinades to meatloaf and burgers. Be sure to choose one with a moderate amount of sodium, and avoid honey mustard, which can pack in a lot of extra calories
Yes, most versions you see on store shelves are anything but clean. They're filled with ingredients like soybean oil, high fructose corn syrup, and emulsifiers, which research has shown can lead to obesity and inflammatory bowel disease. So, what constitutes clean mayo? Look for ones that are made only with free-range eggs, lemon or vinegar, and non-GMO oil (not soybean or canola), said Liz Barnet, a fitness and food coach in New York City. Can't find one that's clean? Dust off your blender and make your own, or order a healthy version online, she said.
3. Tomato Paste
Most you'll find at the market have just two ingredients: tomatoes and water.
Doesn't get much cleaner than this. Plus, tomato paste adds lots of flavor to all kind of dishes—not just Italian ones—and if you buy a paste that comes in a tube, it'll stay in the fridge for a super long time.
Packed with veggies, herbs, and healthy fats, pesto can be a real powerhouse on the nutrient front, Palmer said. It's also one of the most versatile condiments you can buy. It's just as great on the usual suspects (pasta, pizza) as it is on foods you've never paired it with before (sandwiches, on top of fish, mixed in with rice, the list goes on). Just be sure to read the ingredient list to make sure you're getting a clean pesto, Palmer said. "The simpler the ingredient list, the better."
5. Nutritional Yeast
With a cheese-like flavor—not to mention lots of vitamin B12, which vegetarians often need more of—nutritional yeast boosts the health and flavor factor of many dishes, said Nichole Dandrea, MS, RD, a dietitian and yoga instructor in Atlanta. Sprinkle some over everything from roasted veggies to pasta to popcorn.
This beloved dip ticks off multiple nutrient boxes: It qualifies as a protein, healthy fat, healthy carbohydrate, and vegetable. Like pesto, it's important to read the ingredient list and make sure you see real ones (like chickpeas, garlic, tahini, and olive oil), not additives (like sugar and soybean oil).
7. Nut Butters
Peanut, almond, cashew, macadamia—go for whatever nut butter floats your clean-eating boat, Palmer said. Just be sure there's no extra salt and sugar in the ingredient list. Look for those that contain nuts and, if necessary, a little bit of good, healthy oil (which some companies use for blending purposes).
8. Apple Cider Vinegar
It's next to impossible to get apple cider vinegar that's not clean. It has no unwanted sodium, sugar, or additives. Use a dash or two to add a mild sour flavor to salad dressings, marinades, and more.
9. Hot Sauce
It's low in sodium, fat, and calories—and high on flavor and anti-inflammatory antioxidants.
That's a combo that makes hot sauce deserve a regular place in your fridge. Just make sure all you see on the ingredient list is some combination of peppers, spices, and vinegar; steer clear of sauces that contain soybean oil or unnecessary gums or fillers. It tastes great on everything from stir-fries and soups to sauces and scrambled eggs.
Fermented foods are having a major moment thanks to their big health benefits, and sauerkraut is filled with those healthy bacteria that are great for your gut and immune system. Just be sure to read the label closely and avoid products with lots of sodium, Palmer said. And don't just whip out this jar when you're having hot dogs or sausages. You can serve it as a side to most meat dishes or add it to a bowl of quinoa and greens.
11. Less-Sodium Soy Sauce
This naturally fermented ingredient can add a lot of flavor without the fat. "It adds that wonderful umami, savory flavor that is so important in cooking," Palmer said. However, there's a catch: You've got to use this sparingly, as even the less-sodium version has quite a lot of sodium. Gluten-free? Opt for tamari instead, which is wheat-free soy sauce, said Lauren Kretzer, a holistic health coach and natural foods chef in New York City.
Made simply of ground-up sesame seeds, tahini is a naturally-clean condiment—as long as you avoid brands with added oil or other additives, such as sugar. Use it to make your own healthy salad dressings, dips, and spreads.
Great on its own or as a substitute for mayonnaise or other spreads, guacamole is a seriously healthy staple.
If you don't make your own, be sure to read the label closely for simple, pure ingredients and no added sugar or oils.
Sure, it's a must for Mexican fare—but this chopped tomato condiment also tastes amazing on top of eggs, sautéed greens, salad, and countless other dishes. While making your own is always your best bet, plenty of clean, store-bought salsas do exist. Just make sure there are no preservatives or seemingly strange-for-salsa ingredients, like sugar.
This fridge staple has gotten a bad rap, due to many brands loading up their recipes with sugar and high fructose corn syrup. Luckily, there are a few versions out there that don't have these unnecessary ingredients, so read labels carefully and then dip away.
This Korean staple is becoming more popular in this country, and dietitians everywhere are rejoicing, thanks to kimchi's heath and digestion benefits. It's fermented, which means it's loaded with gut-friendly and immune-boosting probiotics, and also low in sugar. Look for products with a moderate amount of sodium (some can be loaded with salt) and serve over burgers or fish, or include in a bowl with brown rice, crumbled nori, and roasted vegetables, said Dana Cheney, a cookbook author and recipe developer.
17. White Miso
This salty paste has next to no calories and adds a lot of flavor to marinades, sauces, soups, and salad dressings. Bonus: It stays good for at least a year, so you don't have to worry about it going bad before you have a chance to use it all. "Look for unpasteurized miso, which contains health-boosting probiotics, protein, and amino acids,"Kretzer said.