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Pasta perfect: new lower-sodium sauces really hit the spot.

As if you needed another reason to eat spaghetti. the average American consumes just under 20 pounds of pasta a year. While that's pretty meager compared to the average Italian's 65 pounds, it does represent some serious fork twirling.

And if the results of a new study from Harvard University are confirmed by further research, we could end up giving the Italians a real run for their linguine.

According to the latest findings, men who eat tomato sauce just once a week have a 23 percent lower risk of prostate cancer than men who never eat it (see March 1996, p. 12).

Researchers think the benefit may come from lycopene, a carotenoid that gives tomatoes their red color. But even if tomatoes turn out to be nothing more than tomatoes, there are other reasons to eat pasta.

To start with, for every half cup of tomato sauce you use, you can scratch off one of the five-to-nine servings of fruits and vegetables you should eat every day.

Maybe that's one reason the spaghetti-loving southern Italians have lower rates of cancer and heart disease. Or maybe it's just that the more pasta they consume, the less room they have for red meat, high-fat dairy products, and other sources of saturated fat. Or perhaps it's all the fresh fruits and vegetables they eat.

Either way, few meals are as satisfying as a bowl of al dente spaghetti with tomato sauce, a hunk of crusty bread, and a green salad fragrant with garlic and vinegar.

Unless, of course, the sauce comes out of a jar.

Just kidding. That may have been true a few years ago. But our latest survey turned up a passel of sauces that taste great, are low in fat, and aren't salty enough to boost your blood pressure or cause calcium losses (see p. 2).

YOUR SERVE

Before you can figure out if a pasta sauce is worth buying, you need to know how much you're likely to use. The Food and Drug Administration, which is in charge of such things, says that a typical serving is a half-cup of sauce over a cup of pasta.

Try that at home. When you're done laughing, fill up your plate. We bet you end up with at least one cup of sauce over two cups of pasta. That's why we've doubled the numbers we got from the manufacturers. Make sure you do the same at the supermarket.

If you do, it will become clear that the problem with pasta sauces isn't fat ... as long as you steer clear of cream-based Alfredos and oil-drenched pestos. Just a half-cup of Contadina Alfredo sauce, for example, will infuse your poor arteries with 38 grams of fat (half a day's worth) and 21 grams of saturated fat (a full day's worth).

In contrast, it's easy to find a great-tasting tomato sauce with no more than eight grams of fat per cup. Pour it over two cups of spaghetti and you're at a nice 15 percent of calories from fat. While you could also try a fat-free sauce, if the Harvard researchers are right, a few grams of oil may help our bodies absorb the tomato sauce's potentially beneficial lycopene.)

So fat's not a worry. Unfortunately, salt is. Spoon out a cup of tomato sauce from one of the top two manufacturers, Ragu or Prego, and you're pretty much guaranteed 850 to 1,200 milligrams (mg) of sodium--almost half a day's worth. Grab a jar of Ragu Old World by mistake and you hit 1,600 mg.

If you go upscale with a designer brand--you know, the pricier kind that often comes in a mason jar--you'll get more taste ... but not necessarily less sodium:

* Prego's new Barilla line may be delicious, but not one of its six (meatless) flavors qualified for even an "Honorable Mention"--800 mg of sodium or less.

* Five Brothers Mushroom, the lowest-sodium of Ragu's six-flavor yuppie line, was still too high.

* Classico Spicy Red Pepper was the only major upmarket flavor that was low enough for a "Best Bite"--no more than 600 mg of sodium.

LESS-SALTY SAUCES

We found an abundance of delicious tomato sauces with no more than 600 mg of sodium per cup. Among our favorites were Muir Glen Fat Free Pepper Onion, Colavita Marinara, and DiGiorno Fat Free Chunky Tomato with Basil. A handful of companies, like Eden, Enrico's, Millina's Finest, Muir Glen, and Tree of Life, even use organically grown tomatoes in some or all of their flavors.

The information for this article was compiled by Trish Treanor.

RELATED ARTICLE: Hitting the Sauce

"Best Bites" contain no more than 600 mg of sodium and 8 grams of fat per cup. "Honorable Mentions" can have up to 800 mg of sodium. Taste was not a consideration in choosing them. "Worst Bites" contain at least 20 grams of fat or 7 grams of saturated fat. The numbers in the chart are for one cup of sauce (except for pestos and Alfredos, where we used a more-realistic half-cup). Food labels use a side-dish-sized half-cup serving of tomato sauce. Sauces are ranked from least to most fat, sodium, then calories.

RELATED ARTICLE: WHERE TO FIND 'EM

Can't find one of our "Best Bites" where you shop? Call the manufacturer for the nearest outlet.

Classico -- (800) 426-7336 Colavita -- (800) 825-6633 DiGiorno -- (800) 248-1998 Eden -- (800) 248-0301 Enrico's -- (315) 463-2384 Mama Rizzo's --(713) 782-6262 Medei Cuisine -- (315) 463-2384 Millina's Finest -- (800) 775-5297 Muir Glen -- (800) 832-6345 Tree of Life -- (800) 260-2424 Uncle Dave's -- (802) 824-3600

RELATED ARTICLE: Hitting the Sauce

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COPYRIGHT 1996 Center for Science in the Public Interest
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Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:Brand-Name Comparison
Author:Schmidt, Stephen
Publication:Nutrition Action Healthletter
Article Type:Buyers Guide
Date:Apr 1, 1996
Words:930
Previous Article:That zincing feeling.
Next Article:Healthy ... and delicious.
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