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Getting sauced.

There is no more painless way to get your complex carbohydrates than to eat pasta (even refined-flour pasta).

And while nothing beats a do-it-yourself sauce (Don't believe us? Check out the recipes on page 12), sometimes it's nice to pop open a bottle, heat it up, and pour it over your favorite spaghetti, linguini, fusilli, or whatever.

So what's it going to be? Bottled, canned, refrigerated, or dried? Tomato, mushroom, Alfredo, clam, marinara, or pesto? Chunky, traditional, or homestyle? Fat-free, light, or no-salt-added?

Before you throw in the oregano and toss a couple of burgers on the grill, check out our "Four Rules to Better Pasta Sauces."

Rule 1. Stick to tomato. That way, you're not likely to stray into Fat Land (although you could end up in Sodium City).

Prego, which is the second leading seller (Ragu is first), makes the fattiest tomato sauces. But even they rarely go above six grams of fat in a half-cup serving.

(Prego's fattiest--Chunky Sausage & Green Pepper--has eight grams. But if it's your whole dinner, we could be talking a cup of sauce. And that means 16 grams of fat.)

Our cutoff for a "Best Bite" was a modest three grams of fat in a half-cup serving. Even so, we came up with more than 100 sauces. That even included a sprinkling of meat sauces, which average only about a gram more fat than the non-meats.

Rule 2. Keep the sodium to 300 mg or less. That puts the kibosh on most packaged mixes. A serving of French's Thick Homestyle, for example, will gobble up almost half your day's maximum sodium allowance.

You'll have an easier time with bottled and canned sauces, since some of the larger companies now offer lower-sodium lines: ConAgra's Healthy Choice, Campbell's Healthy Request, Ragu's Today's Recipe, and Hunt's Light all manage to cut the sodium by about a third--from an average 525 milligrams down to 350 mg.

But to get below our "Best Bite" cutoff of 300 mg, we had to turn mostly to smaller, regional brands.

Millina's Finest Fat Free Organic, Colavita, Casa Visco Marinara, Uncle Dave's Excellent Marinara, and Tree of Life all hold the salt to 150 to 250 mg. Most make up for the reduced zing by adding extra herbs and spices, which can lead to some peculiar tastes. So caveat taster.

We liked the taste of Colavita and Tree of Life best. Neither of them, by the way, is sweetened with sugar, corn syrup, or honey. (Pritikin uses fruit-juice concentrate, which is nutritionally about the same as sugar.)

A handful of sauces manage to cut the sodium to 40 mg or less. But the ones from Pacific Gardens and Pritikin had an unpleasant, metallic taste. Only Enrico's Organically Grown No Salt Added Pasta Sauce tasted like something you'd actually enjoy putting on your spaghetti.

When doing your sodium label reading, watch out for these two sneaky sauces:

* Weight Watchers shrinks its serving size to just a third of a cup. That makes its sodium levels appear to be lower than sauces that use a more typical half-cup serving.

* Contadina's Light Garden Vegetable contains more sodium than its regular Garden Vegetable. The "light" only refers to less fat and calories, the company says.

Rule 3. Don't expect pasta primavera in a bottle. Tomato-based sauces are reasonably good sources of vitamins A and C, but vegetable gardens they're matter what the names or labels imply.

When we picked apart a 28-ounce jar of Ragu Today's Recipe Garden Harvest, for example, here's what we found: 1/6 of a mushroom, 1/5 of a carrot, 1/17 of a green pepper, 1/11 of an onion, 1/16 of a celery stalk, 1/7 of a zucchini, and two tablespoons of unidentifiable vegetable sludge. That was in the whole jar.

If you like veggies in your pasta sauce, you'll have to put them there yourself.

Rule 4. Refrigerated doesn't mean better. On the contrary. The ones that were low in fat had too much sodium. The ones that were okay in sodium had too much fat. The ones that weren't tomato-based had too much of both. And they all cost two to four times more than sauces packaged in jars or cans.

Only one refrigerated sauce (Di Giorno Plum Tomato & Mushroom) managed a "Best Bite."

Another reason to avoid the refrigerator case is that most of the fatty Alfredos and pestos hang out there.

A serving of Contadina's Alfredo sauce has 34 grams of fat--20 of them saturated. That's more saturated fat than you should eat in a whole day. You could open a dairy with all its cream, cheese, and butter.

And Di Giorno's Alfredo has 40 grams of fat--almost as much as half a stick of butter. Oh yes. It also has 24 grams of saturated fat and close to 1,000 mg of sodium.

As for the pestos: While most of their oil is unsaturated (it comes from olive oil and pine nuts), a quarter-cup serving of anything with 25 grams of fat (Casa Di Lisio's Pesto alla Genovese) to 35 grams (Trio's) is too much.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Center for Science in the Public Interest
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Title Annotation:Brand-Name Comparison; pasta sauces
Author:Schmidt, Stephen
Publication:Nutrition Action Healthletter
Date:Mar 1, 1993
Previous Article:Alice in label-land.
Next Article:Pumping immunity.

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