40 Best and Worst Pasta Sauces—Ranked!
Even though research done in Italy has shown that eating pasta isn't associated with a higher BMI, something tells us most Italians aren't eating at Olive Garden. And while the Mediterranean diet has been getting plenty of buzz, we know those residents most likely whip up their own fresh sauce rather than pour one out of a jar like most Americans. Our point? Pasta's not really that bad—it's the spaghetti sauce brands loaded with excess calories, mounds of salt, and buckets of added sugar that give your plate of carby heaven such a bad reputation. These jarred, ready-to-eat sauces from the grocery store are often made with oils that are full of inflammatory omega-6s—a stark contrast to the oleic acid found in extra virgin olive oil that actually helps you lose belly fat, not gain it.
By the end of this list, you'll be able to eat like the Europeans eat and still keep the weight off. Here, we've found the 40 most popular plain tomato sauces (which include marinara, "traditional," and tomato basil), and ranked them according to ingredients and nutrition. Simply use our simple swaps and you can whip up tasty, guilt-free pasta dishes that you can even feel good about! And when you've picked out the best sauce, cover all your carb-loving bases by checking out these ultimate pasta tips to stay skinny. Buon appetito!
First… The Worst
Not only do each of these spaghetti sauce brands contain added sugar—some with more than a bowl of Frosted Flakes!—but many also contain canola or soybean oil in lieu of or in addition to the more traditional extra virgin olive oil. This is a costly switch, as studies have shown that EVOO contains the highest amount of disease-fighting polyphenols and fat-blasting oleic acid of all plant oils. Contrarily, the seed- and bean-derived oils are full of unhealthy fats like omega-6s, a group of fatty acids that have been connected to increased levels of inflammation and weight gain.
Bertolli Organic Traditional Olive Oil, Basil & Garlic
Pasta sauce is one of the top sources of cancer-fighting lycopene in the American diet thanks to the Italian gravy's use of cooked tomatoes. Bertolli doubles down on the benefits by using organic tomatoes, a variety that research suggests may have higher levels of these disease-fighting polyphenols and vitamin C than conventionally-grown varieties. That's why we're even more disappointed Bertolli chose to bog down this sauce with sugar—even if it is organic.
Ragu Old World Style Organic Traditional
Like Bertolli, Ragu does right by using all organic products in their Traditional sauce. (In case you didn't know, Ragu's "Traditional" sauces differ from their "Marinara" sauces because of the addition of Romano cheese). Unfortunately, their attempt to do right is foiled by their offenses of adding inflammatory soybean oil—which, we're happy to say is at least organic, and thus pesticide- and carcinogen-free—and sugar to the sauce.
Prego Farmers' Market
Tomato & Basil
Prego Farmer's Market sauces are definitely a step up from their conventional varieties. While there are no organic products—as you may have been led to believe by the "Farmers' Market" labelling—the ingredient list is short and without any questionable additives. That is, except for sugar. Go with the Tomato & Basil jar if you're looking for more ways to cut calories.
Ragu Hearty Traditional
We approve of a short ingredient list, but we're skeptical of Ragu's inclusion of the always-ambiguous additive, "Natural Flavor," one or many chemical compounds derived from "natural sources" which can include anywhere between 1-100 different ingredients. Talk about sketchy spaghetti sauce brands!
Ragu Old World Style Marinara
Here's where it starts to get dicey—and we're not just referring to the diced tomatoes. Ragu adds something called "Calcium Chloride" to their crushed tomatoes as a "firming acid." The additive is Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) by the FDA, but we're assuming Ragu uses it to thicken up their otherwise watery sauces instead of adding more tomato meat. They also use more soybean oil than extra virgin and, like in many Ragu sauces, natural flavor. There are better spaghetti sauce brands to drown your penne in.
Emeril's Tomato & Basil
We were shocked to discover the celebrity chef made famous for his Italian dishes uses more soybean oil than extra virgin olive oil in his recipe. Choose one of our healthier spaghetti sauce brands for a more wholesome bowl.
We wished Barilla could have made it higher on the list thanks to its low-fat content, average sodium levels, and use of only extra virgin olive oil. But unfortunately, this spaghetti sauce was a little too heavy-handed with the sugar shaker, racking up nearly as much sweet stuff as a bowl of Trix.
Ragu Old World Style Traditional
Ragu's Traditional sauce sinks down below their Marinara offering because of their excessive use of sugar and soybean oil. Seems like this is one of the unhealthiest spaghetti sauce brands across the board.
Francesco Rinaldi Hearty Tomato & Basil
Despite working for Ragu while growing up, the founder of Francesco Rinaldi somehow manages to make nutritionally-inferior options to the well-recognized brand. This sauce falls short because it's high in sodium and full of extra sugar.
Emeril's Chunky Marinara Sauce
Thanks to an extra gram of sugar, Emeril's Chunky Marinara falls below its Tomato & Basil cousin. We had high hopes for this pick considering it's chef-made, but there are better spaghetti sauce brands to smother your noodles with.
Emeril's Homestyle Marinara
Homestyle refers to the way you'd make a stewed sauce at home, but we'd bet you wouldn't add as much soybean oil or sugar as Emeril does. This sauce falls below the chunky one above because it's higher in calories and carbs, which won't help you melt away that stomach fat.
Francesco Rinaldi Traditional Flavors
Francesco's Traditional flavors, both Original, which includes an imported Pecorino Romano cheese, and Marinara are made with similar ingredients and are thus nutritionally similar in that they're high in sodium and sugar.
Bertolli Organic Traditional Tomato Basil
Sure it's organic, but that isn't enough of a reason to buy Bertolli's Tomato Basil, which is high in calories, fat, sodium, and sugar compared to other conventional brands. Here's a weight loss tip: don't grab this jar off the shelf.
Prego Lower Sodium Traditional
It might be good for your heart because it's lower in sodium—compared to the other Prego sauces, that is. But if you're looking for low sodium, check out our best list of healthy spaghetti sauce brands below for an "Eat This"-approved recipe. Because between the excess amount of sugar and inflammatory omega-6s from the canola oil, this sauce really isn't as heart-friendly as we'd like.
This "Traditional" sauce is far from traditional, as it is completely free of any extra virgin olive oil and only contains canola oil. That's not the only problem—the sauce also boasts as much sugar as a French Cruller donut from Dunkin' Donuts. Find out which other sneaky foods besides these spaghetti sauce brands are hiding sugar in our exclusive report, "health" foods worse than a donut.
Prego Tomato Basil Garlic
Although lower by a single gram of sugar than the Prego before it, the Tomato, Basil, Garlic version is higher in fats—all from canola oil—and higher in calories.
Bertolli Tomato Basil
Reading Bertolli's Tomato Basil nutrition label is like walking on a sidewalk during an ice storm. Everything is fine for a while until BAM you hit black ice and are sprawled on the floor. That's how we felt when we saw relatively healthy nutritionals and then glanced at how much sugar was in this sauce — 11 grams! When you're looking for healthy spaghetti sauce brands, make sure it's got less than 8 grams of sugar per serving.
Ragu Homestyle Thick & Hearty Traditional
High in calories, inflammatory fats, and sugar mean this Homestyle sauce will blunt your efforts to lose 10 pounds.
AND THE #1 WORST PASTA SAUCE IS… Ragu Chunky Tomato, Garlic & Onion
Lo and behold the worst of the worst of spaghetti sauce brands. A glance at the name gives you an idea of how you'll look after spooning this sauce over your pasta: chunky. Full of more sugar than a bowl of Froot Loops cereal and fats entirely from likely pesticide-laden soybean oil, this pick is definitely a Not That!
And Now… The Best
We gave preference to spaghetti sauce brands that are made with organic ingredients, those who used only extra virgin olive oil, and those without added sugar. From there, we sorted by nutrition, primarily looking at calories, sodium, fat, and added sugar.
Newman's Own Tomato & Basil Bombolina
Although similar to the Marinara listed below, this Bombolina sauce has an extra gram of fat and carb and an extra 10 calories. It also ranked higher because we're skeptical of Newman's Own's use of "Natural Flavor."
Newman's Own Marinara
Newman's Own is one of our best spaghetti sauce brands nutrition-wise if you're looking for basic marinara. Unfortunately, Newman's adds cane sugar to the sauce, an unnecessary addition.
Prego Light Smart Traditional Italian Sauce
We're pleased by the low-calorie option out of Prego, but they still add sugar as a stand-in for fat—an unfortunate substitution as the vitamin A found in tomatoes is a fat-soluble vitamin, which means your body won't be able to reap its free-radical-fighting benefits without a little drizzle of EVOO. That's why it's one of our foods you're eating wrong.
Classico Tomato Basil
For a sauce that adds sugar to the mix, this Tomato Basil by Classico is still impressively low in sugar, and contains even less sweet stuff than some brand with no sugar added! They rank farther back compared to some of the sugar-added varieties below because Classico isn't organic, which has been connected with a greater concentration of vitamin C and polyphenols in tomatoes. They also use "calcium chloride" a thickening agent and just plain old "olive oil," which has fewer antioxidants than the extra virgin variety.
Ragu Old World Style Light Tomato Basil
There's no sugar added, but there's also no fat added, which means you won't be able to absorb all those fat-soluble vitamin A antioxidants. Ragu also adds a firming acid to thicken the watery sauce as well as a yeast extract (which typically offers a source of appetite-revving MSG) to make up for the lost meaty, umami flavor found in tomatoes.
Amy's Organic Tomato Basil
This sugar-added variety is a little too high in calories, fat, and sodium to be ranked much better. Amy's did score points for being organic, though, meaning you won't be slurping up pesticides along with your spaghetti.
Rao's Homemade Sensitive Formula Marinara Sauce
This marinara was formulated without onions or garlic for those who suffer from gastric distress or are following a low FODMAP diet, have IBS, or have many food sensitivities. If you don't suffer from any of these ailments, don't bother with this sauce. It's high in calories and high in fat—even if it's the healthy kind, it should still be eaten in moderation.
Newman's Own "For The Common Good" Organic
"For The Common Good" didn't consider being good for your waistline. This sauce may be low in sodium and free of added sugars, but it's a bit too high in calories and fat.
Amy's Organic 'Light in Sodium' Tomato Basil
It's "Light in Sodium" but a bit heavy on the sugar. This Tomato Basil sauce from Amy's contains added cane sugar to sweeten up your sauce and to contribute empty calories but it's still one of our best spaghetti sauce brands because it contains less than 8 grams of the sweet stuff.
We commend Prego for a simple ingredient list with no sketchy additives, but we're disappointed that traditional extra virgin olive oil is replaced here with canola oil. That doesn't mean canola oil should never be used, considering the oil has one of the best omega-6 to omega-3 ratios out of many vegetable oils. Read more in our report on popular cooking oils and how to use them.
Muir Glen Organic Tomato Basil & Chunky Tomato and Herb
Chunky Tomato & Herb
For being so low-calorie, low in fat, and low in sodium, we were pretty disappointed to learn that Muir Glen adds sugar to their offering. Because it's not too high, we ranked these spaghetti sauce brands favorably among the no-sugar-added crowd, especially since they're all organic.
THE FOLLOWING SAUCES ARE FREE OF ADDED SUGARS
Amy's Organic Family Marinara
Organic isn't enough to make Amy's marinara rank better since it's a bit higher in fat, sodium, and sugar than other sauces below. We're commending Amy's for being our of our top spaghetti sauce brands across the board.
Rao's Homemade Marinara
If you're looking for a lower fat option, Rao's is a great pick. Not only is it low fat, it's also low in sugar and sodium. We're just disappointed they use normal olive oil instead of extra virgin, which means you're missing out on key belly fat-blasting compounds. Taste-wise, this pick surpassed all of our other spaghetti sauce brands!
Victoria Tomato Basil & Marinara
Tomato Basil & Marinara
The only thing that varies between the two brands is the placement of basil on the ingredient list, meaning one just has more basil than the other. (We're guessing it's the Tomato Basil version.) Both are great options to top your pasta!
Classico Riserva Marinara
A new addition to the Classico line, Riserva is a marinara sauce made with no artificial ingredients and no added sugar. Simple, delicious, and low-carb.
Newman's Own Organics Marinara
Don't worry about the higher-than-average sugar content for a no-sugar-added sauce. The sugar comes from au-natural sources like tomatoes and pureed carrots. You won't be Googling "how to get rid of bloating" after this sauce. Even though they don't mention anything about low-sodium, this organic marinara is actually a great option for those looking to cut back on salt.
Amy's Organic 'Light in Sodium' Marinara
Unlike Amy's Organic Light in Sodium Tomato Basil, this marinara sauce is free of any added sugars and is, of course, low in sodium.
Cucina Antica Garlic Marinara
You can't go wrong with Cucina Antica's simple spaghetti sauce, made with the best Italian San Marzano tomatoes and real extra virgin olive oil. This sauce differs from the winner below merely by the presence of garlic and less basil—which, apparently is a secret calorie-cutting ingredient.
AND THE #1 BEST PASTA SAUCE IS…Cucina Antica Tomato Basil!
Out of all the spaghetti sauce brands we ranked, this pick narrowly edged out its brand brother by being even lower in calories. Plus, made with all simple ingredients, you could easily whip this recipe up at home—but it may not even be worth it with this option being just a grocery-store trip away. Now that you know how fab your pasta can be, be sure to also avoid these surprising foods with more carbs than a bowl of pasta!
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