The Healthy Case for Mayonnaise

healthy case for mayo
Jason Hoffman/Thrillist
Jason Hoffman/Thrillist

I was 7 or 8 years old when I first converted to the cult of mayo. It was on a family vacation to Florida and I, padded in baby fat, was perusing the table of condiments beside the poolside snack bar. I grabbed an overflowing handful of ketchup packets for my fries, and then a bin of silver and yellow caught my eye.

When I tentatively dipped that first fry into a pile of the whitish, viscous greatness, my life was forever changed.

"Mom?!" I cried, hungrily scooping it up as she turned in horror to see what I'd discovered. "Is this something we can buy at home?!"

This story has been recounted countless times over the years, especially funny to those who know my health-conscious mother and remember the days when I coated even my hot dogs in mayonnaise. There was no turning back for me once I'd discovered my favorite condiment. It went on every sandwich, between every bun, and when I was deemed overweight by my pediatrician, it was one of the first things that got cut from my lunchbox and life. But was it really necessary to cut it out of my life completely?

Why mayo gets demonized

Mayonnaise gets a bad rap for several reasons. For one, it's high in fat and calories. Just 1tbsp of the stuff packs 90 calories and 10g of fat, the latter of which is 15.4% of your daily recommended intake. And, let's be real, who breaks out the measuring spoons when making a sandwich? Mayonnaise lovers can easily smear on hundreds of extra calories a day without even realizing it.

Additionally, those high stats aren't coming from the most virtuous ingredients. Mayonnaise, you may be surprised to know, is mostly oil. A bit of egg yolk and an acidic component like lemon juice round out the basic ingredients, and the process of emulsification transforms the liquid into its signature creamy texture. Mass producers often use soybean oil or other vegetable oil blends, which are very likely coming from genetically modified ingredients -- not bad for you per se, but it's the kind of thing that encourages widespread pesticide use.

But what if the bad guy isn't really the condiment itself? What if the real culprits are our propensity for liberal application and the convenience of GMOs? Mayonnaise, at its most basic, isn't that bad.

The case for mayo

In fact, the biggest argument against mayonnaise is its fat content. And guess what? Your body needs fat! The unsaturated kinds, which are liquid at room temperature, are particularly beneficial, improving blood cholesterol levels and stabilizing heart rhythms.

Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are the types that are found in several popular oils, from olive to sunflower. The problem with the oils used in commercial mayo is that they're high in omega-6 fats.These fatty acids are no doubt essential to human health, but most Americans are consuming way too much omega-6 and not enough omega-3. This unhealthy ratio is often the result of a diet high in processed foods and it can lead to an increased risk of heart disease and inflammatory disorders.

Since it’s hard to argue that something made from raw eggs yet capable of surviving for months in a jar is a wholesome and natural choice, go back to the basics. By making homemade mayo without any additives or preservatives, you can directly enjoy the fruits of your labor and rest assured that you're making a better choice for your body. Unrefined oils and farm-fresh eggs make for healthy ingredient alternatives, and mayo is incredibly easy to whip together. 

Making your own mayo isn't as hard as it sounds

A classic, real mayonnaise recipe includes egg yolks, oil, vinegar and/or lemon juice, and spices added to taste. Throw some curry powder in there, add a dash of paprika, or chop up some sun-dried tomatoes to customize it however you want. As long as you're not adding, say, high-fructose corn syrup, healthy innovation in mayonnaise knows no bounds!

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Sarah Anderson is a former Thrillist employee and current law student. Her law school notes are covered in mayo stains. Follow her @smileforsarah and @sarah_jfa.