Why we avoid it:
America’s favourite condiment is not particularly healthy. After tomatoes, the next major ingredient is high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS). This cheap sweetener causes huge spikes in your blood sugar levels and is a major contributor to the obesity epidemic. Not only should we all avoid anything with HFCS in it, but we should also avoid or limit the type of foods we usually put ketchup on. So where does that leave ketchup?
Why we should eat it:
Ketchup is definitely worth keeping in your diet, but you need to find the brands without added high-fructose corn syrup. Heinz eliminated HFCS from two of its ketchup varieties known as Organic and Simply Heinz, but you won’t find them on your restaurant tables. What makes ketchup healthy is the lycopene content. Lycopene is an antioxidant that is about 100 times more powerful than vitamin E and is found in tomatoes and other bright red fruits and vegetables. The weird thing is that lycopene isn’t that well absorbed unless the tomatoes are cooked. Therefore, processed tomato products like tomato juice, soup, sauce, and ketchup contain the highest concentration of bioavailable lycopene.
Given its potent antioxidant activity, substantial research has been devoted to a possible correlation between lycopene intake and health. So far, there is good evidence to suggest that lycopene is helpful to treat cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes, osteoporosis and male infertility. A 2004 study released from the Harvard School of Public Health found that women who had higher levels of lycopene in their blood had a 50% lower risk for developing heart disease. There is also evidence that it might be effective in reducing the risk of certain cancers, especially prostate cancer. Such studies were good news for ketchup manufacturers who touted their brands as being healthy. But the benefits of lycopene in the commercial stuff don’t outweigh the risks of HFCS. Ketchup should be made from tomatoes, vinegar, salt and spices, so look at the label or make your own. And instead of slathering it on French fries, hamburgers and hot dogs, pour some on your eggs and grilled meats.