There's a real nostalgic joy to the idea of devoting a Sunday afternoon to cooking a red sauce. But for most of us, our time to cook meals — particularly on weeknights — demands a far faster method.
And luckily enough, jarred pasta sauce options abound.
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"Jarred tomato sauce is an excellent way to save time in the kitchen," says Amy Shapiro, RD, CDN and founder of Real Nutrition.
It's a shortcut both dietitians and chefs take advantage of. "The home cook should definitely not shy away from using this as a culinary shortcut," says Chef Jason Hall from Cathédrale.
What to Look for in Jarred Pasta Sauce
Of course, not every jarred sauce has the same value, both in terms of taste and nutrition. Here's what to look for as you're browsing the aisles:
- Local options: When he's buying jarred sauce, Hall checks where they're produced and packed. "A good rule of thumb is to buy products that are produced near where you live," Hall says.
- The sugar and sodium levels: Both Shapiro and Hall recommend avoiding added sugar. Having more of the sweet stuff is not exactly good for your health, and it can also sauce a one-note, overly sweet flavor. Watch for sodium as well — pasta sauce is one of several foods high in salt.
- Excessive ingredients: Stay away from jars that have a CVS-receipt-like length of ingredients, Shapiro says. "Good jarred tomato sauces typically don't require more than a handful of ingredients," she says. The first ingredients should be whole peeled tomatoes, Shapiro says.
- Allergens: "If you have any food sensitivities or intolerances be mindful of added dairy, garlic and onions," says Lisa Moskovitz, RDN, founder and CEO of the NY Nutrition Group and author of The Core 3 Healthy Eating Plan. If, on the other hand, these ingredients don't trigger any issues, keep in mind that garlic and onion add lots of flavor, Shapiro notes. Other flavorful elements include basil, oregano and bay leaves.
Take a look at the 11 best spaghetti sauces that make for a nutritious — and delicious — option.
1. Rao's Homemade Arrabbiata Sauce
Nutrition facts per 1/2-cup serving: 100 calories, 7 grams of fat, 6 grams of carbohydrates, 4 grams of sugar and 2 gram of protein.
Rao's Arrabbiata has a warmth of flavor. "It's thick enough that it grabs onto the pasta perfectly and has a little bit of spice," Hall says.
It's the best in terms of flavor and nutritional profile, Shapiro says, highlighting the short list of ingredients and lack of added sugar.
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $8.29 ($0.35/ounce)
2. Otamot Organic Essential Sauce
Nutrition facts per 1/2-cup serving: 90 calories, 3 grams of fat, 16 grams of carbohydrates, 10 grams of sugar and 2 grams of protein
Along with tomatoes, this sauce is rich in many other organic vegetables, including sweet potatoes, beets, spinach and carrots. Shapiro recommends this sauce, which she notes is high in fiber — a serving size provides 6 grams of fiber.
Just watch for the sugar: While there isn't any added sugar, there are 10 grams of sugar per serving.
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $31.99 for a 4-pack ($0.50/ounce)
3. Yo Mama's Burgundy Wine Sauce
Nutrition facts per 1/2-cup serving: 60 calories, 4.5 grams of fat, 5 grams of carbohydrates, 2 grams of sugar and 1 gram of protein
Low in calories and with no added sugar, Yo Mama's Burgundy Wine sauce is bursting with flavor. The French-inspired sauce includes only fresh ingredients like tomatoes, garlic, onions and basil. This sauce isn't made with preservatives or gluten, and it's paleo and keto-friendly.
Buy it: Bubblegoods.com; Price: $17.95 for a 2-pack
4. Cucina Antica Tomato Basil Sauce
Nutrition facts per 1/2-cup serving: 35 calories, 1.5 grams of fat, 5 grams of carbohydrates, 3 grams of sugar and 1 gram of protein
"Cucina Antica Tomato Basil keeps it simple with ingredients, but not-so-simple with taste," says Rachel Fine, RD and owner of To The Pointe Nutrition, a nutrition counseling practice in New York City. She loves this sauce's fresh flavor, along with the olive oil.
"Olive oil is the best for tomato sauce — it is more nutritionally dense than other oils such as canola," Shapiro notes.
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $6.29 ($0.20/ounce)
5. 365 Everyday Value Organic Marinara
Nutrition facts per 1/2-cup serving: 60 calories, 2.5 grams of fat, 8 grams of carbohydrates, 4 grams of sugar and 2 grams of protein
If pasta is a go-to meal option, you may appreciate the price point for this option that Fine recommends. "365 Everyday Value Organic Marinara is a Whole Foods favorite that also keeps things simple yet flavorful," Fine says.
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $2.29 ($0.09/ounce)
6. The Meatball Shop Sauce
Nutrition facts per 1/2-cup serving: 80 calories, 4 grams of fat, 8 grams of carbohydrates, 3 grams of sugar and 1 gram of protein
Shapiro likes this option, which has only a "handful of ingredients." Read the ingredient list, and you'll find that these are the same items you'd use if you were making your own sauce.
There's no added sugar, and only 3 grams of natural sugar per serving, Shapiro notes. But do watch the sodium (there's 510 milligrams or 22 percent of your daily value in a single serving), she says. "If you're using this sauce, don't add more salt to your dish," Shapiro says.
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $7.99 ($0.33/ounce)
7. Hoboken Farms Marinara Gourmet Pasta Sauce
Nutrition facts per 1/2-cup serving: 80 calories, 6 grams of fat, 6 grams of carbohydrates, 3 grams of sugar and 1 gram of protein
Hoboken Farms is another sauce-making brand that Shapiro recommends. It's "full of flavor," she says, while only having seven ingredients. Each serving has only 3 grams of sugar total, and no added sugar. This fresh sauce, which has a full, rounded flavor, is made in New Jersey.
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $18.99 for a 2-pack ($0.38/ounce)
8. Michael's of Brooklyn
Nutrition facts per 1/2-cup serving: 45 calories, 2 grams of fat, 6 grams of carbohydrates, 4 grams of sugar and 1 gram of protein
This flavorful pasta sauce is made in Brooklyn. Shapiro likes the minimal ingredient list, which clocks in at seven items. She also notes that it's not overly high in sodium (320 milligrams per serving) nor does it have a lot of sugar.
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $10.29 ($0.32/ounce)
9. Carbone Marinara Pasta Sauce
Nutrition facts per 1/2-cup serving: 100 calories, 7 grams of fat, 7 grams of carbohydrates, 5 grams of sugar and 1 gram of protein
Carbone is made by Michelin-starred chefs from Carbone Restaurant, which has locations in New York, Hong Kong and Las Vegas. It's made with no added sugar, Shapiro says. It's "middle of the pack for sodium," she notes, with 400 milligrams. Shapiro likes that it's made with classic flavors.
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: 20.73 for a 2-pack ($0.43/ounce)
10. Primal Kitchen Marinara Sauce, Tomato & Basil
Nutrition facts per 1/2-cup serving: 50 calories, 2 grams of fat, 8 grams of carbohydrates, 5 grams of sugar and 1 gram of protein
This organic tomato sauce comes recommended by Moskovitz. She praises it for its taste, organic ingredients and use of heart-healthy avocado oil. It's appealingly thick and has no added sugars.
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $8.99 ($0.37/ounce)
11. Muir Glen Organic Tomato Basil Pasta Sauce
Nutrition facts per 1/2-cup serving: 80 calories, 4.5 grams of fat, 8 grams of carbohydrates, 4 grams of sugar and 2 gram of protein
This organic sauce, recommended by Moskovitz, is fairly low in sodium. It has 310 milligrams per serving, or 13 percent of your DV. "Unlike other sauces, [it] has zero added sugar," she says.
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $4.29 ($0.17/ounce)