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Is Salsa Healthy?

A Science-backed Approach to Nutrition

Article by City Lifestyle

Photography by Stock Images

Salsa. It’s spicy, flavorful, juicy, delicious, and it comes in a wide range of varieties. It can be used as a dip or poured directly on your meal. Either way, you won’t be sorry. Many people rely on salsa as a healthy alternative to other condiments and use it unreservedly as a result. That being the case, it is reasonable to wonder whether or not salsa really is good for your health.

So we decided to dive in and sleuth out the pros and cons of salsa to be able to answer the question, “Is salsa healthy?”

Is Salsa Healthy?

Overall, salsa is a much healthier option compared to other dips and toppings containing dairy, high amounts of sodium, and artificial flavorings. But not every salsa is created equal. And, as with any food, the key is moderation.

Most of the time, salsa it is made from tomatoes, onions, cilantro, peppers and garlic. All of that sounds extremely healthy, and it is.

Let’s take each of these key, traditional ingredients and examine them for their health-promoting properties.

Salsa Health Benefits

It’s something of a no-brainer to say that salsa is made of things that are good for your health. That being the case, there are plenty of potential benefits of eating salsa.

+ Salsa ingredients are packed with key vitamins that should be a part of your daily intake.

+ Spice from peppers can help open your sinuses if you are feeling stuffy.

+ Salsa ingredients contain antioxidants to help prevent a variety of diseases.

Salsa Ingredients

The Health Benefits of Tomatoes

Like most of salsa’s ingredients, tomatoes are full of vitamins such as vitamins C, K, and potassium. Tomatoes also contain lycopene, a powerful antioxidant that is believed to lower the risk of many leading causes of death such as heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.

The Health Benefits of Onions

Another nutrient-dense ingredient, onions contain a high dose of vitamin C, vitamin B, and B9, as well as potassium. The antioxidants contained in onions reduce inflammation by making your gut and circulatory system inhospitable environments to pathogens.

The Health Benefits of Cilantro

Cilantro is a bright green herb that is often used in Mexican food to add flavor. Its leaves contain manganese, potassium and folate as well as vitamins C, A and K. Several studies have also found that cilantro may reduce symptoms of cognitive diseases like Parkinson's and Alzheimer's.

The Health Benefits of Bell Peppers

When properly liberated from their skins and seeds, organic, and thoroughly washed, bell peppers are very good for you. Bell peppers are rich in vitamin C and dietary fiber. They can be eaten raw, which is the most nutritionally sound way to have them.

The Health Benefits of Garlic

The beneficial effects of garlic are similar to those of onion. But with garlic, the effects are more prominent, and you get them with smaller amounts. Garlic is just brimming with protective compounds and vitamins. In addition to being high in vitamins C and B6, garlic also has manganese, selenium, and phosphorus. All of these nutrients are anathema to viruses, harmful bacteria, and other pathogens.

Health Risks Associated with Salsa

While the health benefits of salsa are as many as they are powerful, this popular condiment can be made in ways that reduce or remove its healthy effects.

 Unhealthy Ingredients

This is where not all salsas are created equal. Some salsas contain lots of preservatives to extend the shelf life, but this kicks up the sodium content. Salsa can also be made with unhealthy fats such as vegetable oil, and they can also have quite a bit of sugar added to the recipe.

When picking out a salsa, always scan the ingredients and nutrition facts to check for sodium content, sugar, and saturated fats. Some salsas are even advertised as “low sodium” but it’s always good to read the label for yourself.

Fresh salsa made from scratch that day is always the best option. You don’t have to worry about preservatives, and you get the maximum amount of vitamins and antioxidants that you can from the fresh vegetables.

How You Eat Your Salsa Matters

Sure, salsa itself is a pretty healthy snack. But you’re probably not eating it by the spoonful. Most people use tortilla chips to eat their salsa, but that’s not always the healthiest option. Chips tend to be processed and high in sodium, and it’s easy to lose track of how many you have eaten while scooping your salsa.

There are some healthier chip options out there such as multigrain or multi-seed varieties.

 You can also try baking your own tortilla chips at home to be in control of the ingredients and cut down on sodium.

Alternatively, you can really up the health factor by using chopped vegetables as your salsa scoopers instead of chips. Celery stalks are the perfect shape for loading up on salsa, and you can also cut bell peppers into thin slices that are great for dipping. If you usually eat salsa with round tortilla chips, try sliced cucumbers instead! English cucumbers have the best flavor and a satisfying crunch too.

How to Make Sure Your Salsa is Healthy

Here are a few things you can do to reduce the risks of salsa and maximize the benefits.

1. Check the Label for “Organic”

Organic salsa is more likely to be made with few to zero pesticides, preservatives, and unnatural flavor enhancers. Still always check the ingredients and nutrition facts before you buy, but organic is a great place to start.

 2. Buy it Refrigerated

Salsa made correctly from fresh ingredients will spoil more quickly. For this reason, the salsas you find on the unrefrigerated shelves in your supermarket have preservatives that you will want to avoid. Check the refrigerated section at your local grocery store and just remember you’ll have a little less time to get through your container before it goes bad.

3. Make it Fresh

As always, growing your own vegetables is the best way to ensure they are fresh, organic, and chemical-free. It can be a lot of work, but the benefits for your health and the flavor of real fresh vegetables is well worth it.

Fresh Salsa Nutrition Facts

These nutrition facts are based on 1 cup of fresh salsa.

  • 75 calories
  • 0.4g fat
  • 1,845mg sodium
  • 17g carbohydrates
  • 10g sugar
  • 3.9g protein

FAQ

Is salsa good or bad for you?

It ultimately depends on the freshness of the salsa and amount of preservatives and sugar, but overall, the main ingredients of salsa are good for you.

How many calories in store-bought versus homemade salsa?

There is no significant difference in the caloric content of store-bought and homemade salsa. Both contain around 75 calories per cup.

How many calories in chips and salsa?

A basket of restaurant chips and salsa contains around 400-500 calories.

Fresh Salsa at a Local Kansas City Restaurant

Sometimes restaurant salsa can be healthier than the packaged salsas at the store. As long as the salsa is made fresh at the restaurant, it’s not too different than making your own at home. As always, be mindful of how many chips you are eating!

Try pouring the restaurant’s salsa on your meal when your food arrives to keep enjoying it without consuming the extra chips.

One Mexican restaurant with fantastic fresh salsa in KC is Zocalo. You can find Zocalo on the Country Club Plaza in Midtown. Zocalo is certainly not your typical greasy Tex-Mex. The food served there is high-quality and packed full of fresh vegetables. If you are looking for a healthier way to enjoy Mexican food and salsa in Kansas City, definitely give it a try.

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