Mayo: Good or Bad?

It’s the quintessential “bad” food laden with artery clogging saturated fat. For years, we’ve been told to “hold the mayo,” but is it really as bad as they say?

It’s the quintessential “bad” food laden with artery clogging saturated fat. For years, we’ve been told to “hold the mayo,” but is it really as bad as they say?

Nutrition Lowdown

There’s no doubt that mayo is brimming with fat. One cup contains 1440 calories, 160 grams fat, and 24 grams saturated fat. It is an excellent source of vitamins E and K, but  it also contains almost 50 percent of your daily recommended amount of sodium.

Compromising Fat and Flavor
Fatty foods like mayo have flavor and mouth-feel that many folks enjoy. Adding a cup of mayo to a dish will rack up the calories quickly. So what’s a mayo-lover to do?

Moderation is one direction to take. Instead of drowning tuna or pasta salad in boatloads of mayo, use 1 tablespoon per person. One tablespoon contains 103 calories, 12 grams fat, and 2 gram saturated fat. This keeps things much more reasonable.

Mayo Alternatives

If you’re worried about too many calories or just don’t want regular mayo around, there are many alternatives available at the market. Lighter varieties use a laundry list of fat replacers (like xanthan gum and corn starch), preservatives (like citric acid), or add sugar (like high fructose corn syrup) to increase the flavor. So they may be lighter on calories, but heavier on additives.

Lighter versions
  • Light mayo: Any food labeled as “light” contains one-third fewer calories than the regular version. Per tablespoon this mayo contains 45 calories, 4.5 grams fat, and 0.5 grams saturated fat.
  • Reduced fat mayo: Any food labeled as “reduced fat” contains 25 percent or less cholesterol and 2 grams of saturated fat or less than the full fat version. Per tablespoon this mayo contains 25 calories, 2 grams fat, and no saturated fat.
Alternate oil-based mayonnaise

Canola and olive oil mayonnaise are available as “healthier” options. Both are higher in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, but the calories are the same. Additionally, olive oil mayos tend to combine olive oil with other vegetable oils so that the flavor isn’t too overpowering. Here is the nutrition info per tablespoon.

  • Canola oil mayo: 100 calories, 11 grams fat, 0.5 grams saturated fat
  • Olive oil mayo: 100 calories, 11 grams fat, 1.5 grams saturated fat
  • Reduced fat olive oil mayo: 45 calories, 4 grams fat, 0 grams saturated fat.
Vegan mayonnaise

Some vegan varieties include a canola-oil based eggless mayo by Spectrum Organics. Another is soy-based mayonnaise by Nasoya, made without eggs and a variety of spices. They’re both suitable for folks who follow a vegan diet or are allergic to eggs.

  • Light canola eggless mayo: 35 calories, 3.5 grams fat, 0 grams saturated fat
  • Nayonaise: 35 calories, 3.5 grams fat, 0.5 grams saturated fat

Bottom line: There’s no denying that mayo is very high in fat. That doesn’t mean you should ban it for life. It can be a part of a healthy diet when eaten in very small amounts. If you’re trying to cut calories and keep the mayo, many light and reduced fat varieties are available at the market. If you're trying to cut back on additives, you can always make your own.

TELL US: What's you favorite brand of mayo for our upcoming taste test?

Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian and consultant who specializes in food safety and culinary nutrition. See Toby's full bio »

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