How Unhealthy is Store-bought Pasta Sauce?

Commercialized sauces can be a blessing on a busy day, but you'll pay for it with hidden ingredients that are bad for your health    

Credit: iStock / morgani

Pasta sauce in a jar can come in handy in a pinch, but many store-bought sauces are hiding unhealthy ingredients

Commercial pasta sauce has always been one of my guilty busy-day secrets. While I love taking the time to simmer a sauce from scratch, having access to a healthy instant option makes for an easy dinner.

I’ve always reassured myself that throwing a handful of spinach, some grated carrots or a few mushrooms into a commercial sauce makes it almost the same as homemade, but then I looked at the label.

Commercial pasta sauces can contain enough fat, salt and sugar to make them pretty unhealthy. Balance that with the fact some of them contain very little fibre and your nutritious convenient meal starts to look like unwholesome fast food.

Not all commercial sauces need to be avoided though; some options are almost as good as what you’d make at home, especially if you throw in a handful (or two) of fresh herbs or veggies.

Credit: Ragu

Watch the Sugar

While Ragu’s Mama’s Special Garden boasts that it contains two servings of vegetables, it also contains a whole lot of sugar. Measuring in at 90 calories per 1/2 serving, it has 11 g of sugar and 2.5 g of fat. But each serving contains only 2 grams of fibre.

Credit: Newman’s Own

Pass on Cream Sauces

Newman’s Own Alfredo tastes yummy, but that’s the cream and salt talking and not much else. A serving is 80 calories and 8 g of that is fat. It also contains 410 mg of salt – 17% of your daily recommended value.

Credit: Barilla

Keep an Eye on Sodium

With some pasta sauces containing more than 500 mg of sodium per half cup serving (and many of us eat more than a ½ cup of sauce) it’s good to check this one out.

Barilla’s Three Cheese sauce has a sodium count of 430 mg, mostly thanks to the cheese. It also has 6 g of sugar, 1.5 g of fat and 3 g of fibre.

Credit: Healthy Choice

Low Fat Doesn’t Equal Healthy

Watch for sauces that bump up the sugar in order to remove the fat. Healthy Choice Italian Style Vegetable sounds like a good idea until you discover that because the sauce has no fat, it boosts the flavour with 8 g of sugar (the ingredients contain glucose-fructose, sugar and corn syrup). On the positive side, it does provide a healthy serving of veggies and 4 g of fibre.

Credit: Eden Foods

Go Organic

Thankfully, there are healthy options out there. Eden Foods Organic Spaghetti Sauce is made from just eight real-food ingredients and contains no added sugar (tomatoes, like all fruit, have naturally occurring sugars).

The result is a serving of sauce with 70 calories and 2.5 g of fat, 300 mg sodium, 4 g of sugar and 5 g of fibre. Bonus: it’s organic.