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How to pick ketchup

Kolasa, Kathy

Kathy Kolasa


Wednesday, May 29, 2019

A shout out to Mile of Hope: to the children struggling with cancer and their families; friends and volunteers who participated in Mile of Hope in Atlantic Beach recently. Most of the 35 families had a child receiving cancer care at Vidant Medical Center. A few came from Duke and UNC-CH. Read more about Mile of Hope at http://mileofhope.org/2019/02/17/2019-mile-of-hope-brochure/.

Special recognition goes to Ed and Sally Moore who have been the energy behind this event that for many years treats families to an all-expense, fun-filled weekend. Sally and Ed are from Raleigh (Meredith and N.C. State graduates) and we are grateful for the treasure they offer eastern North Carolina. Special thanks to Steve the Pirate (you have seen him at ECU football games) and the Shadow Players for their “arghs,” sword fights, smiles, hugs and songs — kids love the pirates. Also, kudos to the staff from ECU and Vidant including Dr. Cathleen Cook, Chaplain Calvin Bradley, and supporters Marcus Perry and Charmaine Bond.

Q: What kind of ketchup should I buy? This is a serious question. I was sent to the store for a bottle of ketchup and was faced with a dilemma. I used to just pick between two named brand ketchups and figure out what size I needed. Part of my family liked one brand — it was a bit sweeter. The rest of the family like the other major brand. Now there are lots of choices on the shelf. — KM, Greenville

A: It is picnicking time and I imagine your dilemma could be shared by others, so I took time to study the ketchup shelf in a local store. The traditional ketchup ingredient list has tomato concentrate or tomato paste, vinegar, onion powder, sugar, spices and natural flavors. I counted 17 different ingredient lists on products from 8 different companies. How to choose?

The first bottle I looked at was labeled: “reduced sugar tomato ketchup.” In larger letters it said “sweet sweetened with honey,” 15 calories per tablespoon. You could pick your ketchup based on calories — most are 15 or 20 calories/ tablespoon. But as the label on one brand reminded us, “ketchup is not a substitute for tomatoes in the diet.” Some of you will remember when one of our President’s declared ketchup a vegetable. But it really is not.

The next bottle I picked up said “simply H….” No artificial sweeteners.” So, you could pick based on what type of sweeteners you like. You really must read the ingredient label to figure that out. Getting tired, I sat on the floor and found a combination of sweeteners are used. Many bragged no high fructose corn syrup (HFCS); others had cane sugar, organic cane sugar or organic evaporated corn sugar; sucralose; HFCS alone or also with corn syrup; tapioca syrup; agave nectar; or honey and organic honey. One bragged “absolutely no refined sugar” and another “no added sugar.” There was one unsweetened product (the most expensive at 48 cents per ounce ) and it was the lowest in calories — 10/ounce.

Regardless of the sweetener, the ketchups had 2-5 grams of carbohydrate. Some had the new label format and you could tell if the sugar was added or not (e.g. 2 grams of sugar — 1 gram added). You could choose based on the sodium content which ranged from 90 milligrams to 190 milligrams (most around 140 mg). If the product was a source of vitamin A it would read 2 percent DV. While that’s not a lot of vitamin A, it is a clue that the product has more tomatoes in it than those that don’t have vitamin A listed. All had some type of spice listed from just onion powder to one that had jalapeños, lime juice, green bell pepper, cilantro, chipotle pepper, coriander, chili pepper and allspice.

I smiled when I read a claim “made with paste of 6 tomatoes per bottle.” Some that bragged “organic” ingredients also carried a symbol of certification. If I was going to choose organic, I would make sure it read “certified USDA organic.” Other certifications I saw included “certified gluten free,” and “certified vegan by vegan.org.”

You could pick by price. Using unit pricing they ranged from 3.7 cents to a high of 48 cents per ounce. Most were in the 10 cents/ounce range. The cheapest (a store brand) made no claims except “Made in the USA.”

Remembering that the only spot on the label that is really regulated is the Nutrition Facts label I guess you could pick the ketchup that spoke to you: “elevate your food with RDF;” “it’s ketchup honest and simple” (it’s ingredient list read: organic evaporated cane sugar, organic honey, sea salt, organic garlic granules organic onion granules, organic black pepper;” “made with goodness;” “traditional British flavor;” “100 percent natural H… best ever tomato ketchup — thicker and richer;” “grown not made;” “simple blend;” and finally “BPA container.”

I am curious. Which one did you pick? Happy picnicking.

Professor emeritus Kathy Kolasa, a registered dietitian nutritionist and Ph.D., is an affiliate professor in the Brody School of Medicine at ECU. Contact her at kolasaka@ecu.edu.


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