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Condiment Crackdown: What to know about your favorite food add-ons

I don’t want to spend three hours in the kitchen making my own marinara, but I’ve been on a healthy eating kick since April and I’ve been very conscious about what ingredients are in my foods.

Preservatives, coloring and stuff that sounds like it should be in a science lab lurk in some of the most popular grocery items.

I feel your pain — it’s so much easier to buy what’s cheap and convenient.

But if you look in the right places, there are other affordable and easy options. Let’s tackle condiments to start.


Generic brand peanut butter from Meijer

  • Contains: Peanuts, sugar, 2 percent or less of fully hydrogenated vegetable oils (cottonseed, soybean, rapeseed), dextrose, salt, molasses and monoglycerides.
  • Calories: 180 per serving
  • Grade: D+

Most of us don’t know what dextrose is. I didn’t, but I looked it up for you: it’s a naturally occuring form of sugar used in packaged foods to extend its shelf life. According to, there’s also greater potential for dextrose to be derived from genetically modified corn and enzymes so you’ll want to take that into account if it’s a concern for you. Monoglycerides? Trans fat hiding in things like baked goods.

Fresh Thyme's powdered chocolate peanut butter. Flavor 574 photo/Haley Church
Fresh Thyme’s powdered chocolate peanut butter.
Flavor 574 photo/Haley Church

A better alternative: Generic brand chocolate peanut butter powder from Fresh Thyme

  • Contains: Roasted peanuts, sugar, organic cocoa powder and sea salt.
  • Calories: 45 per serving
  • Grade: A

I was skeptical about the powder format of peanut butter, but it is surprisingly tasty and simple to make. Just add water. No crazy additives, just water. PB2 is a brand found in most grocery stores, but it’s a bit more expensive than the generic version.


Sweet Baby Ray’s Honey Barbecue

  • Contains: High fructose corn syrup, distilled vinegar, tomato paste, honey, modified food starch, less than 2 percent of: salt, natural flavor, caramel color, pineapple juice concentrate, spices, sodium benzoate as a preservative, natural smoke flavor, molasses, garlic, corn syrup, sugar and tamarind.
  • Calories: 70 per serving
  • Grade: C-

In a class I took during my undergraduate at Indiana University, we had to study ingredients in the foods served on campus, and we had to flag anything with caramel coloring, which is found in soft drinks and brown bread; the coloring is linked to cancer in animals and high blood pressure, though the Food and Drug Administration maintains that it’s safe for consumption. I gave this a C- because although people try to make high fructose corn syrup a villain, it’s no worse than regular table sugar, according to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Stubb's Sticky Sweet Legendary Bar-B-Q Sauce. Flavor 574 photo/Haley Church
Stubb’s Sticky Sweet Legendary Bar-B-Q Sauce. Flavor 574 photo/Haley Church

A better alternative: Stubb’s Sticky Sweet Legendary Barbecue Sauce

  • Contains: Water, brown sugar, cane sugar, tomato paste, apple cider vinegar, molasses, distilled vinegar, corn starch, salt, natural flavors, spices, less than 0.5 percent of tamarind flavor and natural smoke flavor.
  • Calories: 45 per serving
  • Grade: B+

While this sauce still contains a lot of sugar, it has more natural ingredients and is gluten free.


Prego Original Pasta Sauce

  • Contains: Tomato paste, water, diced tomatoes (tomatoes, tomato juice, citric acid and calcium chloride), sugar, dehydrated garlic, canola oil, onion powder, spices, sea salt, citric acid and parsley flakes.
  • Calories: 70 per serving
  • Grade: B+

Generally speaking, store bought marinara doesn’t have all the crazy ingredients that other condiments have. This one is found in any grocery story and contains the same kinds of ingredients as the organic one I’ll list below. The only issue: calcium chloride, which is a preservative that gives it a salty taste without actually adding salt.

Newman's Own marinara sauce profits go to charity. Flavor 574 photo/Haley Church
Newman’s Own marinara sauce profits go to charity.
Flavor 574 photo/Haley Church

A (slightly) better alternative: Newman’s Own Organic Marinara 

  • Contains: Organic tomato puree, organic diced tomatoes, organic extra virgin olive oil, sea salt, organic cane sugar, organic onion, organic basil, organic garlic, organic black pepper and organic fennel.
  • Calories: 70 per serving
  • Grade: A

Not only are all of the ingredients USDA certified organic, but Newman’s Own Foundation carries on the tradition begun by Paul Newman by donating all royalties of the product to charity.


  • Trade ketchup loaded with sugar for mustard, a low-calorie and no sugar alternative.
  • Switch it up from the french onion vegetable dip to the healthier chickpea-based hummus.

Haley Church is a Mishawaka resident and writes for Flavor 574. Follow her on Instagram @HaleyDrewChurch.

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