10 Unhealthiest Pasta Sauces on Grocery Shelves, According to Dietitians
Whether you like chunky, smooth, tomato, or Alfredo, no pasta dish is complete without a hefty serving of pasta sauce mixed in or drizzled on top. While it's easy to overlook the nutrition that pasta sauce can add to a dish, choosing the wrong one can take your dinner from nourishing to unhealthy with a single pour.
Many store-bought pasta sauces come with a shocking amount of sodium, saturated fat, and added sugars, all of which can increase the risk of chronic disease. The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends limiting:
- Saturated fat to less than 10% of your daily calories
- Sodium to less than 2,300 milligrams per day
- Added sugars to less than 10% of your daily calories
While pasta can be an incredibly satisfying, filling, and healthy meal, especially when loaded with lean protein and plenty of vegetables, dietitians want you to steer clear of these unhealthy pasta sauces found at the grocery store. Read on, then check out our list of 5 Pastas Made with the Highest Quality Ingredients.
Prego Creamy Tomato Basil Italian Sauce
This creamy tomato basil sauce may taste rich and decadent, but it comes with higher fat, sugar, and sodium than many other pasta sauces at the store. With cream as the second ingredient, each half-cup serving has three grams of saturated fat, or 13% of the recommended daily limit.
The third ingredient on the list is sugar, giving each serving three grams of added sugar. It's also higher in sodium than many other pasta sauces, with 460 milligrams, or 20% of the daily value (DV). With all three of these nutrients (saturated fat, sodium, and sugar) being high in this sauce, finding another option may be a healthier choice.
Bertolli Vodka Sauce
"Bertolli Vodka Sauce is one of the worst sauces because of the high fat and sodium content," says Jessie Carpenter, MA, MS, RD, LD, owner of Nutrition Prescription LLC. At 610 milligrams of sodium, just half a cup of sauce has 25% of the recommended DV. Not to mention the 9 grams of sugar and 5 grams of saturated fat in each serving as well.
Del Monte Traditional Pasta Sauce
"One of the main reasons why Del Monte Traditional Pasta Sauce is considered unhealthy is its high sodium content," says Wan Na Chun, MPH, RD, CPT of One Pot Wellness. One-half cup of this sauce has 590 milligrams of sodium or 26% of the recommended daily intake. "Consuming too much sodium can lead to bloating, water retention, and an increased risk of high blood pressure and heart disease," says Chun.
To add to the high sodium, the third ingredient in this pasta sauce is high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). "HFCS has been linked to health concerns like fatty liver, high triglycerides, insulin resistance, high blood sugar, and an increased risk of type 2 diabetes," says Chun.
Emeril's Homestyle Marinara
This traditional, homestyle marinara sauce has all you need in a good old-fashioned marinara sauce—tomatoes, spices, and oil. But, it also has three grams of added sugars per half-cup serving and 470 milligrams of sodium, or 20% of the DV.
Instead of just including high-quality olive oil, most of the oil in this sauce comes from soybean oil, which is higher in omega-6 fatty acids. While research has found that replacing saturated fat with omega-6 fatty acids is beneficial to reducing the risk of heart disease, and may not be as inflammatory as once thought, including just olive oil as the fat source would be a better choice with this pasta sauce.
Ragu Roasted Garlic Parmesan
With the first three ingredients including soybean oil, cream, and cheese, it's no wonder this Ragú Roasted Garlic Parmesan Sauce has eight grams of fat, including 2.5 grams of saturated fat, in each quarter-cup serving. While this may not seem like an incredibly high amount, keep in mind that most serving sizes for pasta sauce are half a cup, not a quarter. If you're enjoying half a cup of this sauce with your pasta, the calories, fat, and sodium start to add up quickly.
Prego Basil Pesto
Just a quarter cup of Prego's Basil Pesto has a massive 200 calories and 19 grams of fat. Sure, basil may be the number one ingredient, but it also comes with plenty of soybean oil and cheese, adding four grams, or 17% of the recommended limit of saturated fat. And that mere quarter cup of sauce also adds 590 milligrams of sodium, which is 25% of the sodium you should be getting in an entire day.
Francesco Rinaldi Sweet and Tasty Sauce
This sweet and tasty pasta sauce doesn't get its sweetness from the juicy tomatoes inside. It has four grams of added sugar in each half cup to ramp up the sweetness. Eating added sugars from sauces, condiments, drinks, and other sneaky sources can lead to eating well over the recommended limit of 50 grams per day, or less than 10% of your daily calories.
Prego Homestyle Alfredo Sauce
"Among pasta sauces on the grocery store shelves, Prego Homestyle Alfredo Sauce deserves a spot on the list of the worst offenders," says Steph Magill, MS, RD, CD, FAND, owner of Soccer Mom Nutrition. Every quarter-cup serving has 80 calories, 16% of the DV of saturated fat, and 17% of the DV for sodium. "Considering that most people generously use at least half a cup of sauce on their pasta, this product can quickly turn into a nutrition bomb," says Magill.
Hunt's Italian Sausage Pasta Sauce
While Hunt's Italian Sausage Pasta Sauce is low in calories, it's one of the highest in sodium. At 28% of the recommended DV of sodium in each half cup, eating this pasta sauce will make it very difficult to stay under 2,300 milligrams per day. Eating too much sodium can put you at risk for high blood pressure, kidney disease, an enlarged heart muscle, and headaches.
Ragú Alfredo Sauce Flavored with Bacon
Adding bacon to Alfredo may add a new flavor, but it also adds a lot of sodium and preservatives in a small amount of sauce. Just a quarter cup (or 4 tablespoons) of Ragú's Alfredo Sauce Flavored with Bacon has 340 milligrams of sodium and includes preservatives like sodium nitrite, a precursor to the cancer-causing N-nitroso compounds.
- Source: https://www.dietaryguidelines.gov/sites/default/files/2021-03/Dietary_Guidelines_for_Americans-2020-2025.pdf
- Source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6549781/
- Source: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34171740/
- Source: https://www.fda.gov/food/new-nutrition-facts-label/added-sugars-new-nutrition-facts-label
- Source: https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/sodium/effects-of-excess-sodium-infographic
- Source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8564306/