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Condiments enhance the flavor of any meal. They add flavor, color, juiciness, texture, and visual appeal. Whether it’s a sauce or spread, dip or dressing, pickle or preserve, condiments complement the food on the plate.

But it’s easy to forget that not all condiments are “free.” They do contain calories and carbohydrates that need to be factored into your nutritional meal planning.

Examples of those that don’t contain any carbs may include lemon or lime juice, flavored vinegar, and dill pickle relish. Yet the most common condiments do have carbs and need to be considered when meal planning.

For people with any type of diabetes, paying attention to condiments is an important part of managing a meal plan and knowing how they affect our blood glucose levels.

Condiments mostly contribute carbohydrates and fat to what you’re eating. Both of these macronutrients have a direct effect on glucose levels, either by breaking down into glucose or by slowing digestion — both of which affect your blood sugars

That’s why it’s helpful to understand how many grams of carbohydrates and fat are in any condiments eaten. For store-bought condiments, the Nutrition Facts label is a trusted source for this information.

How to read nutrition labels for condiments

When reading the Nutrition Facts label, focus on two things:

  • Serving size: Match the serving size with the amount of condiment you are putting on your plate. Serving sizes can be surprisingly small, as was pointed out in The Great Ketchup and Blood Sugar Experiment. Scott Johnson, who has lived with type 1 diabetes for more than 3 decades, was shocked to realize that the typical restaurant-sized ramekin of ketchup measures out to 4 or 5 tablespoons, translating into 25 to 30 grams of carbohydrates.
  • Nutrients: When looking at the nutrients, focus on the total grams of carbohydrate and be sure to include the appropriate amount when carb counting or tracking.

If salt and fat are also factors you keep track of, note the total grams of sodium and fat in each serving. Pay attention to how much of the fat is saturated fat.

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If you don’t have a specific brand in mind but want to get a sense of the general nutritional information for a condiment, the website has a searchable database of nutritional information presented as Nutritional Facts labels.

Unless there’s a specific diagnosed medical reason, like an allergy or gluten intolerance, no food is forbidden under current dietary guidelines.

Yet, actively managing the amount of carbohydrates and fat you eat is an important part of managing diabetes, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease.

If you have diabetes, this means you need to choose when to eat a particular food or condiment, how much of it to eat, and whether to eat a substitute instead.

Yes, a person with diabetes can eat mayonnaise.

Mayonnaise has less than a single gram of carbohydrates per tablespoon. But with 10 grams of total fat (1.6 grams of that coming from saturated fat) it can be considered high fat. So you may want to limit the amount of mayonnaise you eat or find an alternative.

Here are a couple of alternatives to consider:

  • Raw avocado, which has just under a single gram of carbohydrates and 1.5 grams of total fat in a tablespoon
  • Plain, low fat Greek yogurt, which has 0.4 grams of carbohydrates and 0.2 grams of total fat in 10 grams

Mustard comes in a lot of varieties, from standard yellow to spicy brown. Generally, it is low in carbohydrates and adds a lot of flavor without driving blood glucose levels up.

Even so, because of the variety of ingredients that can go into mustard, it’s important to check the nutritional information for the specific mustard being used.

A tablespoon of prepared yellow mustard contains 0.6 grams of carbohydrates per serving of 10 grams, or 1 tablespoon. Dijon mustard, spicy brown mustard, and whole grain mustard all have 0 grams of carbohydrates per tablespoon. However honey mustard dressing has 3.6 to 6.0 grams of carb in each tablespoon serving.

Yes. With ketchup, the concern might not be with the condiment itself but with the amount eaten. A tablespoon of ketchup has just under 5 grams of carbohydrates. But who eats just one tablespoon?

No-sugar-added ketchup is also available. It contains only 10 calories and 1 gram of carb per serving, which makes it a great alternative for people living with diabetes.

With soy sauce, the concern is not with carbohydrates (less than 1 gram per tablespoon) but rather sodium (salt). A single tablespoon of regular soy sauce packs in 879 milligrams of sodium. That’s 38% of the daily allowance for someone eating 2,000 calories per day.

Some people use Worcestershire sauce or Bragg Liquid Aminos as substitutes because they have 0 carbs. There are also lower sodium versions of soy sauce. But all these versions of soy sauce still contain a large amount of sodium per tablespoon.

People with diabetes, just like many people across the world, often turn to different spices to add some extra flavor or character to what they’re eating.

Spices are OK for people with diabetes. In fact, research from 2019 shows that some spices actually help lower glucose levels and improve diabetes management overall.

In a 2019 research article, the scientists state the following: “Conventional dietary methods to treat (diabetes mellitus) include the use of culinary herbs and/or spices. Spices have long been known for their antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-diabetic properties. This review explores the anti-diabetic properties of commonly used spices, such as cinnamon, ginger, turmeric, and cumin, and the use of these spices for prevention and management of diabetes and associated complications.”

However, while research from 2017 notes that cinnamon and other spices have diabetes benefits, the American Diabetes Association’s Standards of Care 2022 points out there is insufficient evidence to support the routine use of herbal supplements and micronutrients in diabetes care. Research conflicts and more science is needed, the guidance states.

Much like anything consumed, the calorie and carb count of any condiment or spice remains an important factor.

The big advantage to using homemade sauces, spreads, dips, dressings, pastes, and more is that you know the ingredients and amounts that went into making them.

There are no hidden ingredients to cause surprise blood glucose spikes. And you have the opportunity to substitute ingredients that are more glucose-management-friendly.

Sometimes sauces are looked at with suspicion, especially when the ingredients aren’t known. It can be difficult to know the amount of carbohydrates (or sodium or fat) and anticipate the effect on glucose levels.

Diabetes-friendly options for recipes and homemade sauces

Homemade sauces can also open up a whole new world of flavor, especially when those sauces are based on cultural traditions and personal preferences. Here are some options for tweaking recipes that might be less impactful on your health and blood sugars:

  • Instead of a sweet barbeque sauce, try a chimichurri sauce with a base of olive oil, fresh herbs, and a bit of pepper.
  • An herb-and-nut pesto can be used in place of sugary tomato sauce from a jar.
  • Olive oil, with or without herbs, can take the place of dairy butter and bring a healthy unsaturated fat to the plate.
  • Salsa brings brightness based on fresh tomatoes, onion, chilies, lemon juice, and spices. It can be used as a dip, on a sandwich, or to add flavor to a stew.
  • You can make a vinegar pepper sauce (made of peppers steeped in vinegar).
  • Lemon and lime juices are also an alternative for people with diabetes to jazz up their recipes without adding calories or carbs.
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The possibilities seem endless.

Condiments are not off-limits for people with diabetes. Yet, the same as any food or drink, they can contain calories and carbohydrates and must be factored into meal planning.

The condiments we choose can affect glucose levels, which play a big role in diabetes management. Making sure you know the nutritional information in any condiment — including carbohydrates, fat, and sodium — is key to deciding what’s best for you.