When trying to stay slim, pasta isn’t usually the first thing that comes to mind as a diet food. That’s not surprising, but what is? That the pasta itself isn’t the only waistline-widening problem; it’s also what you’re tossing on top of it.
That’s right, we’re talking about pasta sauce. It may be shocking to hear, but some of the most popular store-bought bottles are just as waist-widening as the carbs they coat. That’s because many manufactured bottles are made with a list of less-than-stellar ingredients like soybean oil, added sugars, excess sodium, and preservatives.
To help you avoid the worst of the bunch, we rounded up these 19 unhealthiest pasta sauces. To qualify for our list, these jars had to contain added sugars, use inflammatory vegetable oils instead of heart-healthy olive oil, and be saturated with belly-bloating salt.
And for more advice on how to read nutrition labels and find the healthiest products at the grocery store, subscribe to the Eat This, Not That! magazine. For a limited time, you can get 50 percent off the cover price!
Ragu Old World Style Marinara
Ragu explains that this is their “richest, thickest recipe.” After glancing at the ingredients list we knew why. It appears that the brand uses calcium chloride to keep the sauce nice and thick rather than by just adding more tomatoes. While the FDA claims this additive is Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS), we’d rather Ragu use more of the nutritionally-benefiting fruit! Research has shown that tomatoes help battle cancer, stop belly bloat, and can even help to prevent heart disease.
Emeril’s Tomato Basil
Tomato Basil is a marriage and personal flavor profile we know and love. Yet, our hearts were broken when we found out the said-to-be-classic Italian celebrity chef uses more soybean oil in his formulation than traditional olive oil than an actual classic recipe would typically include. We can’t be on board with that change since a 2016 review in the journal Nutrients suggests that consuming more omega-6 laden foods, such as soybean oil, than omega-3-laden foods can actually increase appetite and put you at risk for weight gain. In fact, the recipe uses more of the saturated fat than the
From pizza to pasta or even with grilled vegetables, this sauce was close to being an Eat This! approved pick—that’s because compared to it’s competitors on the shelves it’s relatively low in fat, sodium, and only uses extra virgin olive oil. But unfortunately, Barilla piled on way too much added sugar for our comfort zone.
Emerils Alfredo Sauce
We get it. Sometimes there is really nothing better than some creamy, delicious, cheese sauce. But this is not the way to do it. The celebrity chef crafts this bottle with plenty of additives like soybean oil and whey powder concentrate (yes, just like the protein powders you put in smoothies). And even worse, unlike a fresh version of a dairy-based sauce, this bottle dishes you little to no bone-strengthening calcium at all.
Ragu Old World Style Traditional
Like its cousin, Old World Style Marinara, this sauce is far from “Traditional.” This sauce hands you an excess amount of sugar and soybean oil. Did you know that by consuming too much soy you’re prone to inflammation, gas, and weight gain?
Francesco Rinaldi Hearty Tomato & Basil
Fun fact: the founder of Francesco Rinaldi got his background by working for Ragu in his younger days. And despite his now home-team advantage, he couldn’t live up to the well-known brand’s reputation. In this case, the hearty sauce is a real heart-breaker! Just one serving holds more sodium than a large McDonald’s Fries!
Ragu Roasted Garlic Parmesan
Ragu tried to fool you by printing their nutrition facts for a serving of ¼ of a cup. So at first glance, you think you’re only consuming 100 calories, but that’s just for a quarter cup! Double up on your serving size and you’ll be taking in 200 calories—that’s a mini snack—without even accounting for the pasta that will go along with it. Not to mention, a half cup of this cheesy sauce is packed with a whopping 18 grams of fat—that’s as much fat as a Burger King Double Cheese Burger.
Francesco Rinaldi Traditional Flavors Sweet & Tasty Tomato
Sweet and Tasty may sound great, but that’s because it resembles something like dessert. A look at the label shows that this marinara sauce is made with an acceptable seven ingredients. But the whopping 11 grams of sugar it packs isn’t worth it when splurging on a carb-filled dish.
Emeril’s Homestyle Marinara
We think “homestyle” should resemble the kind of food you could make with your very own ingredients. That means: fresh ingredients, no preservatives, preferably flat-belly friendly. This sauce is quite the opposite thanks to its extreme amounts of soybean oil and sugar.
Prego Heart Smart Traditional
There’s no doubt about it: Labeling food to be good for your heart is a bold move. With a low-sodium count, this bottle of sauce would easily satisfy the Rx for your cardiologist because it’s lower in sodium compared to the other bottles they produce. But after sodium comes sugar. And in this case, this bottle is exploding with a solid 10 grams. Not too mention the ingredients list shows excessive amounts of foods that cause inflammation like the omega 6’s found in the canola oil. For all these reasons, this bottle isn’t as heart-friendly as we’d like.
Ragu Homestyle Thick & Hearty Traditional
Generally, home cooked meals help your efforts to shed a few pounds when you’re trying to lean out. This sauce, on the other hand, does quite the opposite. High in calories, inflammatory fats, and sugar—Ragu has plenty of better options to choose from.
Bertolli Tomato Basil
Another brand taking a chance on the epic flavor combination. And yet again, the bottled version couldn’t live up to our standards. Bertolli did a decent job by eliminating the use of canola oil, but squashed its own efforts by adding inflammatory soybean oil. But unfortunately, one serving of this sauce is even saltier than a serving of Rold Gold Tiny Twist Pretzels!
Like its competitors, this sauce is far from the real deal. This sauce is void of the traditional extra virgin olive oil and only contains canola oil. But to make things even worse, the sauce has 10 grams of sugar–that’s as much as Dunkin’ Donuts’ French Cruller.
Newman’s Own Vodka Sauce
We really do appreciate Newman’s effort to nix the commonly used soybean oil, and eliminating additives. But a sauce like this adds too many calories to be in the clear. Not too mention, it’s drenched in fat—five grams to be exact. And it doesn’t stop just there: The bottle holds too much sodium and sugar qualifying making it over-the-top.
Ragu Chunky Tomato, Garlic & Onion
Ragu knew what the deal was with this sauce. Choose this and you’ll be “chunky.” It has more sugar than a bowl of Lucky Charms—yes the marshmallow-filled cereal. Worse? This choice also gives you a helping of fat from inflammatory soybean oil and it contains more sodium than 2 bags of Lay’s Chips. All of which makes this sauce a Not That!
Bertolli Organic Traditional Tomato & Basil
Bertolli definitely took a step in the right direction by going organic. But that doesn’t make up for the bottle’s high serving of calories, fat, sodium, and sugar when compared to other brands.
Prego Artisan Three Cheese
Prego may market this bottle as “Made With Real Cheese” but we were disappointed to see that both parmesan and romano fall under the ingredients list of “contains less than 2% of.” And to make things even worse, the brand also lists the serving size for ¼ cup, which is generally half of the serving you’d be using. So to the consumers who are under the impression that they’re only getting 70 calories and 6 grams of fat, think again. You’re closer to 140 calories, 12 grams of fat, and 620 milligrams of sodium!
Mid’s Italian Sausage Pasta Sauce
We give major kudos to Mid’s for using the finest, locally raised USDA pork and quality romano cheese in their sauces, but we were surprised by the sky-high sodium levels. And considering tomato paste is the second ingredient and there are no diced tomatoes, that leads us to believe that most of the sugar in this jar is from the white stuff.
Barilla Traditional Basil Pesto
At first glance, this pesto might sound like a great choice with the addition of spinach. But after carefully reading the ingredients list, this “traditional” pesto loads up on sunflower oil versus the classic extra-virgin olive oil. Not to mention, it’s extremely high in calories for just a quarter cup serving and is filled with belly-bloating sodium.
Read on For The 9 Best Pasta Sauces
If you’re feeling discouraged, don’t worry! We wouldn’t leave you hanging—we gathered up the very best pasta sauces that will fit nicely into your weight-loss plans.
Cucina Antica Tomato Basil
We’re really wondering, can it get any better than this? Cucina Antica knocks all of its competitors right off the shelves. Extremely low in calories, made with simple ingredients, and relatively high in satiating fiber, this jar is just as good as homemade. Plus, you no longer have to cook for hours on edge. When you’re looking for a go-to jar to always keep in your pantry, this is definitely the way to do it.
Amy’s Light in Sodium Marinara
When looking for a sauce without the salt, choose Amy’s Marinara above all else. Unlike many of its competitors, not only is this sauce void of any extra sodium, it’s also free of any added sugars. A double-bonus, which definitely makes this sauce Eat This! approved.
Newman’s Own Organics Marinara
Newman’s Own really outdid themselves with their organic sauce. Sure, 6 grams of sugar may sound semi-alarming at first, but a quick glance at the ingredients list quickly put our fears to rest. That’s because this sauce is made with no added sugars. That means its nutritional data is sourced from tomatoes and pureed carrots. This sauce is also naturally low in salt, and the company didn’t even try to use that as a marketing advantage. Kudos.
Victoria Tomato Basil
Victoria Marinara follows their catchphrase to a tee, “ingredients come first.” Printed right on the face of their bottle, the ingredients are listed: “Whole tomatoes, onions, olive oil, salt, garlic, basil, spices.” Kept au natural, this delicious sauce is made without the addition of any tomato paste, added sugar, water, or preservatives—exactly the way it’s made in Italia!
Hats off to Prego for making a sauce with ingredients we can pronounce, and a list that’s kept short. The only set back: the brand chose canola oil over the traditional extra virgin olive oil. But as we agree, all foods are fine in moderation. So, if you’re a die-hard Prego fan, we’d say this sauce is your safest bet. Looking for more pasta toppers? Don’t miss our exclusive report: 40 Best & Worst Pasta Sauces—Ranked!.
Thrive Market Organic Vodka Pasta Sauce
While this vodka sauce is a little higher in calories (so use a light hand when dressing your noodles), we appreciate that Thrive uses wholesome ingredients and doesn’t include any processed oils. Plus, there are zero added sugars, so it gets the Eat This! stamp of approval. In fact, all of the sugar content in this jar comes from organic tomatoes.
Classico Italian Sausage with Peppers & Onions Pasta Sauce
If you’re looking for a heartier pasta sauce, Classico folds in chunks of Italian sausage, green peppers, and onions. And while six grams of sugar might raise a semi-red flag, reading the ingredient list helps ease our anxieties: Tomato puree and diced tomatoes are at the top of the list, and sugar is listed as less than two percent.
Trader Joe’s Vegan Kale, Cashew, & Basil Pesto
We promise you won’t miss the Parmesan cheese in this incredibly flavorful and creamy pesto. Made with kale, olive oil, fresh basil, cashew butter, and garlic, this thick and bold-tasting sauce will bring your penne to life. If you’re wondering why there’s only a quarter cup per serving, it’s because cashews are calorie-dense foods, and to be honest, a little goes a long way with this sauce. Not vegan? This sauce also goes great with grilled chicken, roasted salmon, and even steak.
Rao’s Homemade Marinara Sauce
We love that Rao’s slow cooks their marinara sauce, which enhances the sweetness of the tomatoes and cuts down the acidity so there’s absolutely no added sugars. It’s also free of processed oils and additives so it gets an A+ on our nutrition book.