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Picking a pasta sauce.

Picking a Pasta Sauce

Pasta. Aside from the more subtle benefits--like having the occasion to say words like fettucini, linguini, and vermicelli--it's so-o easy.

Of course, the easiest, quickest way to serve pasta is with (shudder) bottled sauce. But who knows what fat and sodium lurk inside most of the precooked concoctions? And if the manufacturer has cut those unwanted ingredients, what can your taste buds expect?

Several of my hearty colleagues at CSPI recently taste-tested more than a dozen of the lower-fat, lower-sodium pasta sauces and noodle side dishes. Happily, two of the best-tasting were the most healthful. Tomato Sauces. Because tomatoes are naturally fat-free, it's not difficult to find a low-fat spaghetti sauce. All of Hunt's, Newman's Own, Chef Boyardee's, Pritikin's, Tree of Life's, Enrico's, and some of Ragu's, Francesco Rinaldi's, and Contadina's sauces have no more than 3 grams (less than a teaspoon) of fat in a 1/2-cup serving.

Prego makes the fattiest spaghetti toppings, but even they usually don't rise above 6 grams. Only its Extra Chunky Sauce with Italian Sausage and Green Pepper is higher. It tops the tomato-based chart with 9 grams (two teaspoons) of fat.

Fat's easy. A far tougher challenge is to skirt the excess sodium. A serving of Chef Boyardee regular, or Ragu's Old World or Thick & Zesty, for example, will give you more than 700 milligrams. (An adult's recommended sodium allowance for an entire day is only 1,100 to 3,300 mg.)

Ragu's Homestyle and Gardenstyle lines, Enrico's Mushroom, and Tree of Life's sauces hold the sodium to a more reasonable 345 to 400 mg. per serving.

Our first real surprise was Enrico's No-Salt-Or-Sugar-Added Spaghetti Sauce. Most of our tasters actually preferred this product--made and distributed by Ventre Packing Co., of Syracuse, New York--over the saltier sauces. Its rich tomato flavor truly deserves the "homemade style" claim on the label.

By contrast, Pritikin's no-salt-or-fat-added sauces were not palate-pleasers. It's doubtful the single gram of fat in Enrico's accounted for its superiority. Processing and ingredients probably made the difference.

Both brands start with tomato paste, water, tomatoes, and spices. But Enrico adds a touch of olive oil, while Pritikin uses apple juice concentrate, corn starch, and natural flavors.

Still, people on stringent low-fat, low-sodium diets may want to settle for Pritikin...or make their own.

The second find in our search for the perfect sauce was Tree-of-Life's Pasta Sauce made with organic tomatoes. The fat (2 grams) and sodium (350 mg.) are respectably low, the organic tomatoes, tomato puree, olive oil, and basil are a comfort, and the taste is remarkably good. It's hard to say whether the organic ingredients are what do it, but this St. Augustine, Florida firm is clearly doing something right.

In fact, Tree-of-Life's sauce has fewer calories than its (slightly) lower-fat competitors. That's because Tree starts with real tomatoes, not paste.

Granted, both of our top-rated products cost more. Enrico's No-Salt-Added sauce sells for $1.90 and Tree-of-Life for $1.83 per 15.5 ounces in Washington-area stores. You can get the same size jar of Ragu Old World Style for only $1.39. Creamy and Other Sauces. Once you go beyond tomato-based sauces, it's fat city. A serving of Contadina's Italian Clam or Spinach & Parmesan sauce has 13 to 14 grams (3 teaspoons) of fat. Contadina's Alfredo Sauce has 24 grams (more than 5 teaspoons). Some of that fat is partially hydrogenated soybean oil; the rest is cream, cheese, and butter.

Adding insult to injury, Contadina dumps more than 1,000 mg. of sodium into the Alfredo and the Spinach & Parmesan.

The bottom line: if you want a non-tomato sauce, make your own. Noodles and Sauce. Perhaps because consumers would balk at shelling out $1.29 for a tiny packet of dry sauce mix, Mueller's, Golden Grain, and Hain supply the noodles along with the topping.

Unfortunately, with a few exceptions, such as Golden Grain's Chicken Mushroom Noodle Roni, these dishes drag pasta's good name through the grease. Fat levels start at 7 grams, and don't stop until they hit 24.

And that's for 1/2 cup of sauce and pasta. A half cup of the sauce alone would have much more fat. Even worse, many people are likely to eat products like Noodle Roni's Stroganoff or Hain's Fettucini Alfredo as an entree, which means at least a one-cup serving.

But if you enjoy these products, there is something you can do. Since most of their fat comes from margarine or butter and milk that you add at home, simply use skim milk and leave out the margarine or butter entirely. That way, the fat falls to no more than 3 or 4 grams (one teaspoon) per 1/2 cup.

Maybe it's a comment on our tasters' taste buds, but we could barely tell the difference.
COPYRIGHT 1989 Center for Science in the Public Interest
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Title Annotation:includes recipes for home-made sauces
Author:Liebman, Bonnie
Publication:Nutrition Action Healthletter
Date:Apr 1, 1989
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