Healthy Sauce Choices: what’s sneaking in your sauce

Stop what you’re doing and take a minute to consider – what are the ingredients in that BBQ sauce sitting in your fridge? What about the taco sauce stored in your pantry? If haven’t been wondering, now you should be!

As a Registered Dietitian and sauce enthusiast, I’m here to tell you the saucy truth.

What are the healthiest sauces?

Unfortunately, many common commercial condiments and sauces are filled with ingredients working against your health. Particularly, soybean oil, added sugar, artificial coloring and dyes. These ingredients are known to contribute to inflammation and chronic disease. This is why Whitness Nutrition emphasizes the importance of educating on label reading and knowing how to look out for sneaky ingredients. As you know, sugar isn’t always just sugar, nor is the term “oil blend” always a good thing. One of the biggest culprits when it comes to having hidden ingredients and tricky marketing tactics are, you guessed it, jar and bottled sauces.

And honestly? I’m tired of all the seemingly healthy sauces on the market tricking my patients (and even me!) with hidden ingredients and unnecessary fillers. I mean really, does Italian dressing need to add cane sugar and highly processed safflower oil? No, it really does not. 

What are the best low sugar sauces on the market?

Keep scrolling to find out the best blood sugar friendly swaps for four popular sauces. I determined this list while considering each sauces:

  • sugar content
  • ingredient base
  • type of fat source
  • ingredients list!

It may just surprise you which sauce makes or breaks the #WWWO approved sauce list!

But first, let’s talk about the importance of label reading.  

When you’re looking at the ingredient’s list, consider how many ingredients are present and secondly, if they truly seem necessary. With this in mind, marinara seems pretty basic right? Tomatoes, basil, herbs, olive oil and simple seasonings. Marinara should be a simple recipe, but many companies opt to save money and fill their jars with high fructose corn syrup and vegetable oil. As you can imagine, these sauces are substantially cheaper for the producer, but they offer no nutritional value to the consumers – that’s you and me!sauce

First, read the ingredient list, and note that it will be in order of strongest presence to least present. The first ingredient is the bulk of the recipe; the farther you get down the list, the less prevalent that ingredient is. This is important to be aware of because the first three ingredients, at minimum, should contain zero sources of added sugar, artificial sweeteners and inflammatory oils. 

Second, review the nutritional breakdown of the macronutrients. Where does your favorite sauce fall into the our VPFC method? Many sauces will fall within the fats category, but some that are primarily veggie will fall into the carbohydrate category. For example, if you add pesto to your pasta, that pesto is going to contribute to your total fat due to the oil, cheese and nuts. But, if you’re doing a simple tomato sauce, this contributes to your carbohydrates per serving. Hence, why knowing how to read the label is always so important!

Lastly, check the added sugar! We want to aim for limited added sugars. This is because the added sugar could be a potential inflammatory food. Instead, we want naturally occurring sugars that may be present from the fruits and vegetables in a recipe. 

What sauce has the lowest sugar? 

The healthiest and blood sugar friendly sauce swaps! 

1. Swap Shelf Stable Pesto for Trader Joe’s Cashew Kale Peso 

Conventional shelf-stable pesto is full of added sugar, vegetable oil and highly-processed cheese. For example, Rao’s shelf-stable pesto contains 2g of added sugar per serving from both sugar and dried glucose syrup. Furthermore, that same serving contains 43% of your daily sodium needs! Meanwhile, Trader Joe’s fresh Cashew Kale Pesto is made with real-food ingredients full of antioxidants and heart healthy fats. One serving has 18g of healthy fats from cashew butter and extra virgin olive oil. It contains no added sugars, and has half the sodium of Rao’s. Clearly, I’m going with the more fresh and more flavorful option! 

What is the best marinara sauce for diabetes?

2. Swap the marinara with added sugar for Rao’s No-Sugar added Marinara 

The award-winner of sneaky sauces goes to jarred marinara! As I mentioned previously, many conventional marinaras use added sugar to emphasize the already sweet and tart tomatoes. For example, Bertolli Marinara sauce contains 2g of added sugar. Many marinara sauces use inflammatory vegetable oil, like Prego, which uses canola oil. For this reason, a no-sugar added marinara like Rao’s is a much more blood-sugar friendly and nutrient-dense option. Rao’s uses seven simple ingredients, one of which is olive oil, contributing 7g of healthy fats per ½ cup serving. Pair your no-sugar added marinara with non-starchy veggies and lean protein for a blood-sugar bliss meal. This zoodles and meatballs is a Sunday dinner staple in our house! 

3. Swap traditional BBQ Sauce for The New Primal BBQ Sauce 


Unfortunately, BBQ sauces are infamous for being a high-glycemic sauce, but don’t worry, there are better alternatives! Take the notorious Sweet Baby Ray’s BBQ sauce. This is arguably one of the most popular BBQ sauces on the market. It’s made with FIVE different forms of added sugar. That list of added sugars includes high fructose corn syrup, cane sugar and molasses. A 2 tbsp serving of SBR has 16g added sugar, as well as 13% of your daily sodium intake. Thank goodness for the healthy bbq sauces on the market! The New Primal BBQ sauce is my personal favorite and go-to BBQ sauce swap. It’s naturally sweetened with pineapple juice and only contains 4g of sugar per 2 tbsp serving; 75% less than Baby Ray’s! The New Primal also uses apple cider vinegar which can help maintain a stable blood sugar during digestion. For this reason, my personal favorite is The New Primal Mustard BBQ Sauce. It’s tangy, tart and so delicious with grilled chicken or in a veggie casserole! 

4. Swap soy sauce for coconut aminos

Finally, an easy way to decrease your sodium intake is by swapping traditional soy sauce for coconut aminos. Coconut aminos are made from the sap of young coconut trees. The sap is combined with salt to ferment and provide that soy-sauce-like taste. A bottle of coconut aminos contain 70 to 75% less sodium than regular soy sauce and still provides that savory, salty flavor. They are an excellent anti-inflammatory swap for those looking to reduce non-organic non-GMO soy intake. My personal favorite is Bragg’s Coconut Aminos, which has 140mg of sodium per 1 tsp serving. Traditional soy-sauce contains around 960 mg of sodium per 1 tbsp serving. Clearly, coconut aminos are a much more blood-sugar friendly option! Even low-sodium soy sauce contains around 590 mg of sodium per tablespoon, that’s 1/4th of your daily sodium intake!  

Use these favorite smarter sauce swaps to upgrade your veggies and take broccoli from bleh to yeah!

Shop all of my favorite sauces here!

Don’t let the food and beverage industry trick you with their marketing tactics and sneaky ingredients! Book a call to learn more on label reading, grocery shopping tactics and how to upgrade your meals with sauce. 

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