One of the most pervasive dieting myths is that a calorie is a calorie, and that weight loss is as easy as calories in and calories out. But in reality, 200 empty calories worth of M&Ms isn’t the same thing as 200 calories of nutrient-dense veggie sticks and fruits. The other catch is that you can be adding unwanted calories and grams of sugar, sodium, and fat to your meals without realizing it. So even if you choose a fiber-rich, high-protein salad over a sleeve of cookies 99 percent of the time, there’s a big chance that you’re drenching your greens with fatty dressings or your chicken breasts with sugary marinades.
Case in point: We found the 15 worst sauces that pack in more calories, fat, sugar, or sodium than a serving of Oreos.
“The two things that stand out to me the most when it comes to condiments and sauces is sodium and sugar,” culinary nutrition expert Jessica Levinson, MS, RDN, CDN said. “Those are two things, as a dietitian, that I look for and tell clients to look for.” And these sneaky culprits are exactly what we kept our eyes peeled for when scoping out the best and worst sauces, condiments, and dressings in the supermarket. Find out if you’re sabotaging your healthy foods with the worst sauces, and then discover the 20 Surprising Foods with More Carbs Than a Bowl of Pasta!
How We Ranked Them
Let’s use the classic Oreo cookie as our benchmark.
First off, one serving is three cookies. Those three Oreos (we know you’re not only having one!) pack seven grams of fat, two of which are saturated. These cookies are sweet: they’re laden with sugar (14 grams to be exact!), high fructose corn syrup and artificial flavors. Don’t count on getting much fiber, protein, vitamins, or minerals either.
Whether it’s calorie count, fat, sugar, sodium, or alarming ingredients, here’s a look at 15 sauces that are worse than indulging in Oreos, or any cookie, for that matter. While sugar isn’t the only ingredient we’re looking at, it’s the biggest villain in our best-selling book, The No-Sugar 14-Day Diet! This two-week diet plan is complete with lower-sugar renditions of all your favorite recipes, so you can kick the white stuff to the curb and lose belly fat while you’re at it.
Kikkoman Sweet Soy Glaze
It’s delicious when mixed with some Korean rice cakes and shrimp, but it only takes a tiny bit of this sauce to do some damage to your body. Aside from the nine grams of sugar per serving, Kikkoman’s Sweet Soy Glaze is also loaded with sodium—710 milligrams! In addition, it contains high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, and appetite-spiking MSG. Psst! If a ballooned belly seems to plague you, it’s time to find out the 35 Things That Make You Bloat.
Bonnie Taub-Dix, RDN, creator of BetterThanDieting.com and author of Read it Before You Eat It: Taking You from Label to Table, replaces soy glazes with a balsamic glaze, which has significantly less sodium than its soy counterpart. “It’s thick, it’s rich and it’s delicious. It’s tasty, but also not high in fat,” she tells us about the balsamic glaze. “If you wanted to make it thicker and richer, you could add mashed avocado.” Primal Kitchen’s Balsamic Vinaigrette & Marinade has zero sugar and features avocado oil, balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, and flavorful spices.
A1 is a classic. It’s mouthwatering and addicting—and that’s no accident. While the low-calorie and sugar contents may not alarm you, it’s the sodium that makes this sauce so bad. One tablespoon has 280 milligrams! That means you’ll consume more than 500 milligrams if you slather steak with two tablespoons of the stuff (and even that is a lot less than what the average person ends up consuming!). So despite it being low-cal, this sauce also has corn syrup in it, a harbinger for belly fat.
Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN, nutrition expert, and author of Eating in Color, recommends using Mr. Spice’s Garlic Steak Sauce instead. This organic, vegan replacement packs in just 20 calories per tablespoon and its sodium content is nonexistent!
Moore’s Buffalo Wing Sauce
You know things are bad when a sauce doesn’t even use butter but rather liquid margarine. Plus, it has mono and diglycerides, which can potentially sneak in heart-disease-causing trans fats. Moore’s Buffalo Wing Sauce also packs in a ridiculously high amount of salt (330 milligrams for one tablespoon!). If you love buffalo chicken wings, then make sure you check out our exclusive list of America’s 18 Worst Restaurant Chicken Wings—Ranked!
Instead of coating wings in salty condiments, Taub-Dix adds duck sauce to the wing sauce to dilute its contents. “The key with that is to cut back on the sodium and sugar,” she said. “You can add a little duck sauce to sweeten it up but with not as much sodium in there.” What the heck is duck sauce? It’s a sweet and savory sauce that’s usually served with Chinese egg rolls and spareribs. Instead of the store-bought stuff, which tends to be loaded with sugar and preservatives, make your own at home. This Food52 recipe combines three tablespoons of apricot jam with a tablespoon and a half of red wine or white vinegar. If you prefer it more savory, this New York Times’ recipe mixes in dry mustard powder, garlic powder, and chili sauce.
Walden Farms Seafood Sauce
Food manufacturers are allowed to say something has “0” calories until it breaks the 5-calorie mark. They can also say something is sugar-free and fat-free as long as it has less than 0.5 grams of each per serving. Don’t be fooled by Walden Farms seemingly innocuous label. Not only are their sauces (like this seafood one) loaded with sodium, they also have artificial sweeteners, such as Splenda.
There’s nothing wrong with getting crafty with your sauces—or even creating your own! Ditch the sodium-filled, store-bought cocktail sauce and dunk your shrimp into something you already have in your kitchen—spaghetti sauce! While sometimes these sauces can be packed with sugar (see below), if you buy or make your own with natural ingredients, you can use the leftovers for cocktail sauce—just add horseradish!
Emeril’s Four Cheese Alfredo Sauce
Like many other sauces on this list, the portion size is rather tiny here: just a quarter cup. The calories may seem low at first but note the high sodium and relatively high saturated fat content. Unfortunately, it doesn’t stop there. This sauce is laced with inflammatory soybean oil, and nonorganic soy is usually genetically modified and treated with chemicals and pesticides. If you think cheese sauce is code for calcium, note that each serving has a mere two percent.
Most store-bought sauces are packed with unwanted ingredients, so it’s best to make your own. Natural ingredients can replace cream as the base for sauces with only a portion of the sodium, and they can have added benefits. Levinson recommends using cashews or avocados for the base of these sauces, which may seem nuts, but it actually works.
“If you soak the cashews and then you put them through a food processor, they will get creamy,” she said. After that, add a few more natural ingredients—like garlic, pepper, and nutritional yeast—for some cheesy flavor and essential B vitamins. And voila, you’ve got a savory Alfredo sauce on top of your favorite pasta.
Aunt Jemima Original Syrup
You may not think of it as a sauce, but we’re including it since we know you’re pouring it all over your pancakes. The serving size seems reasonable, but this anything-but-pure product is packed with more sugar than nearly seven Oreos. Made with high fructose corn syrup, artificial flavors, and caramel color, this pantry staple should be banned for life.
Sweeten your morning by topping your flapjacks with natural sugar, aka fresh fruit. Whether its strawberries to aid weight loss, bananas for potassium, or raspberries for major fiber, fruits will add the sweetness you want without the calories you don’t need.
Ragu’s Old World Style Marinara Sauce
What could be harmful about tomatoes? Well, nothing, if your sauce is an actual tomato, herb, and spice-based marinara. Unfortunately, that is not the case with jarred ones like Ragu’s Old World Style Marinara Sauce. Full of sugar and salt, they also use more soybean oil than extra virgin olive oil as well as a thickening agent called calcium chloride to make the texture feel more hearty.
Taub-Dix recommends adding more tomatoes to the pre-made sauce to diminish the unhealthy nutrients. Put the tomatoes in the food processor and toss them into the sauce “so that you’re adding some fresh produce to add a little bit more fiber, but you’re cutting back on some of the sodium by adding the natural tomato,” she said. If you don’t have time to add your own mixture to your sauce, take a look at the best pasta sauces you can buy at the store.
Francesco Rinaldi Sicilian Family Sausage Sauce
Aside from having a mind-boggling amount of sodium, Francesco Rinaldi Sicilian Family Recipe Sausage sauce is made with Italian sausage that is not only full of salt but also full of sugar.
Sausage is a grand slam in calories, fat, and sodium—and not in a good way. One link can contain more than 800 milligrams of sodium! Instead, opt for sauces with leaner meats such as turkey. Store-bought sauces also tend to add more ingredients that you want less of, warns Levinson. “A lot of sauces do have hidden added sugars, so it is important to read the label,” she said.
Taco Bell Bold & Creamy Chipotle Sauce
Taco Bell’s Bold & Creamy Chipotle Sauce hits you from nearly all sides; it’s high in calories, fat, and sodium while being devoid of fiber and low in protein.
Luckily, there is a solution so that you don’t have to give up your favorite spicy, creamy topping. Taub-Dix also thinks that creating your own sauce can be the best alternative to this fast food atrocity. “You could add the seasoning and spices to full-fat Greek yogurt and really have something that’s so much healthier by just making your own dressing.”
Don’t just use any old yogurt to boost your sauce. Using a yogurt that has a healthy facade but a sugary disposition could do more harm to your diet than good. Instead, use the best Greek yogurt to get the most from your sauce.
Ken’s Steakhouse Ranch Dressing
Ken’s Steakhouse Ranch Dressing is a loser on nearly every front. The only redeeming quality, if you can call it that, is its relatively low amount of sugar. But it has 15 grams of fat!
Good news! You don’t have to give up ranch dressing completely—just use Hilary’s Ranch Chia dressing. It replaces fatty vegetable oils with coconut milk and chia seeds to boost omega-3s at just 35 calories and almost half the sodium of Ken’s! If you’re still not sold on a healthy ranch, check out other healthy salad dressings you can buy at the store!
Hidden Valley Sriracha Ranch
It’s no accident that when you head to Hidden Valley’s website, the nutrition facts are printed in a font so tiny that they’re nearly impossible to read. Their Sriracha Ranch is hiding a ton of calories, fat (more than 5 Oreos worth!), and 320 milligrams of sodium.
Levinson is also on the Greek yogurt train when it comes to creating your own sauces. In fact, the only other ingredient you need to make your own tasty Sriracha ranch with Greek yogurt is the Sriracha itself! “You are going to end up with a lot less sodium, a lot less fat—especially if you use low-fat, plain Greek yogurt—and you’re going to get the bonus of having more protein and more calcium,” she said.
Lee Kum Premium Soy Sauce
It’s not fatty or caloric or even sugary, but the sodium count is totally insane. If you have just two tablespoons of this stuff—a pretty conservative amount for your sushi—you’ll have consumed your entire day’s worth of sodium.
In a perfect world, you could have your cake and eat it too—and using low-sodium soy sauce is definitely better than a full-on sodium bomb, but it’s not a definitive solution. “You can really cut sodium by buying the low-sodium version, but that still does have quite a bit of sodium. So don’t kid yourself by thinking it is low in sodium—it’s not. It’s just lower than the full-on salty version,” said Taub-Dix. An easier solution? You can dilute low-sodium soy sauce with some water to get more product in your sauce dish without the added sodium.
Sweet Baby Ray’s Original Barbecue Sauce
With more sugar in two tablespoons of this stuff than in three Oreos, Sweet Baby Ray’s is way too sweet. Loaded with sugar, molasses, fruit juice, high-fructose corn syrup, and then even more corn syrup, they found a few too many ways to pack it in. Yuck!
Barbecue sauce can be healthy if you choose the right one to pair with your summer night meals. Annie’s Organic Original BBQ Sauce gives the same smoky flavor with half the calories and nearly 100 milligrams less sodium than Sweet Baby Ray’s.
Louisiana Hot Sauce
Just one teeny tiny teaspoon of this hot sauce has 65 milligrams more sodium than three Oreos. And no, it’s not packed with sugar and fat like cookies are, but if you’re the type to shake hot sauce all over your eggs, you’re sadly increasing your risk of high blood pressure and heart disease because of all that salt.
Cut the salt in half with Melinda’s Hot Sauce. This sauce is sure to spice up your meal without the high health risk! It is made with natural ingredients such as carrots, peppers, garlic, lime and more for added benefits—not to mention, it’s delicious.
Kraft Thousand Island Dressing
It might not surprise you that this dressing has more fat than a cookie; after all, it is a creamy option. But the worst thing about Kraft’s Thousand Island Dressing is that the ingredient most used in the product is soybean oil. As mentioned, most soybeans are genetically engineered, and soybean oil is pure fat (not the good kind!). Soybean oil is primarily omega-6 fat, and too much of it can cause inflammation. While we do need some omega-6 fat, the anti-inflammatory fats you hear about in things like wild salmon, olive oil, and avocado—and the kind that most Americans need more of—is omega-3 fat. To better understand your healthy fat choices, check out these 20 Healthy Fats to Make You Thin!
Largeman-Roth suggests using Just Thousand if you’re hankering to have thousand island dressing. This egg- and dairy-free alternative has less fat and sodium without compromising its great taste!