Salsa is a traditional dip from Mexico that has become exceedingly popular worldwide for dunking chips, vegetables, and crackers in. Spicy or mild, this blend typically includes tomatoes, chilies, onions, garlic, and a blend of spices and flavorings (1). Tomatoes also contain a lot of water, making this a hydrating food. So, is salsa good for you? High in vegetables, which lend many different micronutrients and fibers to the dish, salsa is a good way to fulfill your five-a-day without sacrificing taste and snacking.
Health Benefits of Salsa
The high fiber content of vegetables can protect against Type 2 Diabetes
Fiber from cereals and vegetables have been used historically to reduce symptoms and prevalence of Type 2 Diabetes (2). Type 2 Diabetes occurs when the body cannot efficiently utilize the insulin it produces. Blood glucose levels rise, leading to symptoms like excessive thirst and exhaustion, and later organ and nerve damage from sugar in the blood (3). Increasing dietary fiber could help to ward off this chronic disease. High fiber is found in the tomatoes, onions, and other vegetables that make up salsa. If you make it yourself, you can use any number of vegetables you like to increase your fiber intake even more (3). Oats and celery are two foods incredibly rich in fibers. Check out the “12 Health Benefits of Eating Celery” and “The Benefits of Steel Cut Oats”
Salsa is low in calories
Salsa is very low in calories, making it a great choice for those trying to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight (4). It’s unlikely you could eat enough salsa to build up to a substantial amount of calories. Always read the nutritional guide on the label of store-bought salsa, as some can be high in sugar, which will add to your daily calories, and isn’t healthy (5). Look for store-bought salsa that is high in vegetables, low in sugar and oil, or better yet, make your own with fresh vegetables and a bit of salt.
Salsa is high in Vitamin C
Onions are very high in vitamin C, even when processed (onions in salsa can be pre-dried before use, as a cost-saving method for the producer, or fresh). Studies done on onions showed freeze-dried, air-dried, and high-pressure treated onions (all of which can appear in different salsa varieties) maintained their vitamin C levels (6). Tomatoes also have moderate vitamin C levels, and since they make up the primary ingredient of salsa, this also boosts the vitamin C content of this tasty side-dish (7). Particularly if you make your own, a popular addition to salsa is fresh lime juice, which adds even more vitamin C to your salsa (8). If you buy store-bought salsa, it may be time to add a twist of lime juice to the bowl before you dig in. Vitamin C and citric acid also are great for heart health, as shown in a recent Norwegian study where the intake of these nutrients resulted in improvements in coronary health and protection against carotid atherosclerosis (9).
Vitamin C is a vital nutrient that our body uses for collagen (healthy skin and joints) and neurotransmitters (these are used to send signals through the brain and the rest of our body, forming our nervous system) synthesis. It’s important to get enough in our diet because we cannot manufacture it ourselves. Vitamin C may also play a role in cancer prevention, and a lack of this vitamin can cause several issues, including scurvy (10).
Tomatoes contain lycopene, which can prevent disease
Preliminary tests suggest that tomatoes can reduce oxidative stress (which can cause cellular mutations and cancer) and chronic inflammation. Some researchers believe this can be attributed to lycopene or vitamin C (11). While some research has suggested lycopene’s effect on cancer reduction, the FDA has so far found no conclusive evidence that this is the case (12). That said, tomatoes have shown anti-cancer and cardio-protective benefits, but whether these are because of lycopene remains a mystery (13).
Jalapenos are also a health booster
A popular addition in store-bought or homemade salsa is jalapenos. Jalapenos have been credited with lengthening lifespans and relieving pain (thanks to capsaicin, the active ingredient of jalapenos that has been used to treat arthritis, sore muscles, and nerve problems) (14). Jalapenos and other peppers with capsaicin have also been credited with speeding up metabolism, which would be a great thing for maximizing nutrient extraction from food and weight loss and maintenance (15). A higher metabolism means we burn through our food and calories faster, which leads to less weight gain and more efficient body functioning. So next time you’re making salsa or buying some, add a smidge of jalapenos to enhance the health benefits!
A note of caution about store-bought salsa: some salsas are high in salt, oil, and sugar, none of which are good for your health. Look for salsas that contain vegetables primarily with a bit of added salt for flavor. Read the ingredients list and check your sodium, sugar, and fat quantities on the jar before you buy.
Also, note what you dunk in your salsa. Instead of choosing fatty potato chips, try to opt for heart-healthy tortilla chips or vegetables. This will hydrate you, fulfill your vegetable needs for the day, and maximize your nutrient intake while minimizing fat and carbohydrate-laden accompaniments. So, reach for your salsa jar with some healthy tortilla chips or vegetables and enjoy reaching your vegetable intake goals!