Salsas: Add Flavor & Nutrition To Any Meal

Friday, December 15, 2006 - 10:00am

By Allison Stevens, MS, RD

We all know salsas are a great way to add flavor and spice to a meal. But did you know that salsas also provide nutrition? Before you load up on salsa, though, there are a few nutritional pitfalls to avoid.

Variations of salsa

The word “salsa” is Spanish for “sauce.” Traditionally made with tomatoes, cilantro, chiles and onions, today the word salsa has become associated with any cold chunky sauce or dip made with herbs, spices, fruits and/or vegetables. A quick glance at the supermarket shelf reveals a plethora of enticing ingredients now added to salsas: fire-roasted red peppers, juicy peaches, tart tomatillos, sweet mangos, smoky chipotle peppers, tangy pineapple, and much more!

Nutrition impact of salsa

Consider the ingredients that go into salsas: vegetables, fruits, herbs and spices. Each of which can stand alone as a nutrition powerhouse. By combining them into a salsa, the health benefits are offered in a palate-pleasing package! Here is just a sampling of the good-for-you compounds salsas offer:

  • Lycopene. This powerful antioxidant is an added bonus to any tomato-based salsa. Lycopene is found in tomatoes and other red-colored produce such as watermelon. It is thought to be especially beneficial in preventing prostate cancer. (For more information on lycopene and prostate cancer see the following article from TheDietChannel: Lycopene and Prostate Cancer.

  • Capsaicin. This compound is found in a variety of hot peppers, including jalapeños. The more heat, the more capsaicin! Capsaicin has anti-inflammatory properties that are thought to help with a variety of conditions, including arthritis.
  • Allicin. This component of garlic has antifungal and antibiotic properties. Claims have been made that garlic (likely due to its allicin content) may be good for everything from promoting heart health to preventing colds.

Even though some of these words sound pretty technical, the bottom line is that salsas contain healthful ingredients. As a result, they’re inherently full of great nutrition!

Health precautions for store-bought salsas

Although salsas have a lot to offer, there are two common nutrition pitfalls to watch out for:

  • High sodium content. As with most processed foods, salsas can be really high in salt, known to cause high blood pressure. Read the label and try to choose a salsa with less than 200 milligrams of sodium per serving. Remember the recommendation for sodium is less than 1500 milligrams per day. For more information on sodium and it's effect on blood pressure see the following article from TheDietChannel: Fight High Blood Pressure by Reducing Your Sodium Intake.

  • Added sugars. Many times salsas contain added sugars that should be avoided. Read the ingredients list and look out for words such as corn syrup, sugar, etc. These added sugars are unnecessary and do not benefit health.

Make your own salsa

An easy way to avoid the added sodium and sugars in store-bought salsas is to make your own. Salsas are easy to make and the flavor combinations are endless! You can use salsas as an accompaniment to meats, a topping on salads, or fillings for tortillas. And when sodium and sugar are kept to a minimum, you can scoop on as much as you want. It’s a great way to increase your intake of fruits and vegetables!

Black Bean and Nectarine Salsa
The following recipe is an excellent dip for chips. It’s also delicious served as an accompaniment with chicken, fish or pork.

1 can black beans
1 nectarine
1 avocado
1/2 red onion
1 clove garlic
1 jalapeño
1 cup fresh cilantro
1 lime
Cayenne, chili powder, cumin

  1. Drain and rinse the black beans. Empty into a bowl.
  2. Finely dice the nectarine, avocado, red onion, garlic, and jalapeño.
  3. Roughly chop cilantro.
  4. Add these ingredients to the beans. Mix together.
  5. Squeeze-in the lime juice. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir. At this point, you can add additional seasonings, as desired.

Eat and enjoy!

Note: This recipe can be made up to two days in advance. To prevent the avocado from browning, cut it no more than a few hours before serving.