We’re back with our series, Savvy Swaps, where we analyze popular store-bought products and offer up healthier alternatives, without the negative additives. Today, we’re tossing unhealthy, toxic jarred sauces for safer, real-food-based, healthier sauces: pasta sauce, BBQ sauce, curry sauce and enchilada sauce.
GIVEAWAY ALERT: SCROLL DOWN TO ENTER TO WIN $100 WORTH OF THAIFUSIONS CURRY SAUCES!
As always, this series is meant to shed light on what’s in our food and encourage label-reading–it’s not about food shaming or throwing out everything in your pantry. Repeat after me: be aware, be informed, be balanced. And do what’s right for you.
If, after reading this story, you want to try a safer, healthier brand of marinara sauce, you don’t have to throw out every bottle currently in your fridge. Rather, next time you run out, simply replace that bottle with a better-for-you brand.
Celebrate progress, not perfection. That’s what we’re all about here on Root + Revel.
Because let's be real: sometimes, opening a jar of marinara and pouring it over some pasta (hopefully gluten-free or spiralized veggies, wink wink!) is the only way you're going to get dinner on the table.
I get it, and I'm the same. The convenience of jarred sauces just can't be beat.
Though, a little health tip: Throw in as many veggies as you can to whatever sauce you're using–mushrooms, spinach, broccoli, peppers… it'll up the nutrition ante with essentially no extra work!
But why should you progress from traditional store-bought sauces?
Read the labels on most pre-bottled sauces, and you'll find that they are often filled with loads of salt, refined sugars, unhealthy oils, artificial flavors and colors, and toxic preservatives.
Fortunately, there are a few brands out there offering clean, real-food-based, healthy sauces that are just as convenient, but SO MUCH BETTER for you.
Take a look at some of the leading brands’ ingredients labels to get an idea of how some of these toxic sauces compare to their healthier counterparts:
Let's take a deeper look:
- Pasta Sauce/Spaghetti Sauce/Marinara: Many of the most popular pasta sauces (think Ragu, Prego and Hunt's) are chockfull of sodium, high fructose corn syrup and excess sugar, inflammatory oils (like soybean and canola) and “natural flavors”. Some even contain dairy, making them bad options for vegan meals, or those with lactose-intolerance.
- BBQ Sauce: Like most store-bought BBQ sauces, which often contain caramel color and other artificial colors, Kraft's Honey BBQ Sauce is highly processed, and contains High Fructose Corn Syrup, Modified Food Starch, “Natural Flavor”, and 3.5 teaspoons of sugar (natural and added) per serving! Run. Run far, far away!
- Curry Sauce: Lest you think everything from Trader Joe's is good for you, their Thai Yellow Curry Sauce is highly processed and contains inflammatory canola oil, added sugars, “natural flavors”, citric acid, cultured dextrose, inulin, xantham gum, and 35% more sodium than the recommended daily limit. Not exactly healthy, huh?
- Enchilada Sauce: Yikes… after studying the labels on nearly all store-bought enchilada sauces, I almost never wanted to eat enchiladas again. Hatch contains modified corn starch, soybean oil, sugar, hydrolyzed corn protein, citric acid and autolyzed yeast. Pass. Old El Paso‘s ingredients list reads much the same, with MSG-like, highly-processed ingredients. Las Palmas looks slightly better, except it's made from cottonseed oil, Fumaric Acid and Calcium Hydroxide. You get the picture. None of this is real food.
THE TRUTH ABOUT TOXIC SAUCES
You may be wondering why some of these ingredients are even bad for you in the first place. To give you an idea, here are a few of the worst offenders from above:
- Natural Flavors: You may think that because these unspecific flavors are called “natural” that they’re better for you than “artificial” flavors, but unfortunately, natural and artificial flavors really aren’t that different. And those “natural flavors” can actually contain synthetic chemicals (source)! Yep, “natural” flavors are still created in a lab, the exact ingredients of which are undisclosed (red flag!) and often include things like MSG, animal products and allergens, like soy and gluten. Because there is no way of knowing exactly what's in these “natural flavors”, I try to avoid them at all costs.
- Cottonseed Oil: We've talked before about how refined oils like canola, vegetable, and soybean oil are super unhealthy. These oils have undergone an industrial process to lengthen shelf life, but they also cause serious inflammation, significant lowering of HDL (good) cholesterol and a rise in LDL (bad) cholesterol, clogging our arteries. These oils also cause insulin resistance and/or contribute to type 2 diabetes, among other health problems. But cottonseed oil takes unhealthy to a whole new level. The Food Babe says it best: “This oil is made from a byproduct of the industrial waste from the cotton farming industry, which isn’t a food crop. Despite being one of the most prevalent GMO crops (designed to produce an insecticide), cotton crops still require an intense application of agricultural chemicals and that’s why cotton has been called the “World’s Dirtiest Crop”. Residues from these pesticides can remain in cottonseed oil according to data collected by the FAO/WHO Joint Meetings on Pesticides Residues in Food. If that isn’t bad enough, to extract the oil the cottonseeds are subjected to intensive chemical refining with toxic hexane, bleach, and deodorizers.”
- High Fructose Corn Syrup: Eating too much of any type of sugar isn't good for you–excess sugar can lead to tooth decay, diabetes, acne, obesity and other ills. But added sugars like high fructose corn syrup, are more concerning than natural sugars, like dates, because they can lead to obesity by adding calories without being accompanied by important nutrients like potassium, vitamin C or fiber (source). If that weren't enough, high fructose corn syrup can be contaminated with toxic mercury and has been shown to contribute to type II diabetes, especially in children (source).
- Caramel Color: Like other artificial colors, caramel color is often used to increase the appeal of foods that have little nutritional value. But unfortunately the side effects are far from worth it–caramel colors may be contaminated with chemicals that cause tumors in a National Toxicology Program study. And some studies have found that mixtures of synthetic colorings and the preservative sodium benzoate were associated with hyperactivity in children (source). No wonder artificial colors are on the EWG's Dirty Dozen of Food Additives.
SHOPPING LIST: HEALTHY JARRED SAUCES
And now for the good news!! Fortunately, there are a handful of brands out there who produce high-quality, organic, natural and delicious sauces that you can feel good about eating. Here are a few of my favorite healthy jarred sauces:
- Thrive Market's Organic Marinara Tomato Sauce: While Rao's is a super clean marinara sauce brand that's found at nearly all grocery stores, it's not organic, so I recommend an organic spaghetti sauce like Thrive Market's Organic Marinara Tomato Sauce, which is made with just 5 organic, real-food ingredients: Whole Peeled Tomatoes, Onions, Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Garlic, and Basil, plus salt and pepper. Nothing to hide, and I've got to tell you, this sauce is DELICIOUS!! You can taste the difference! And it's only $4.95 at Thrive Market.
- Tessemae's Organic BBQ Sauce: Unlike its toxic counterparts, this certified organic BBQ sauce contains no refined sugar, AND it's Whole 30 approved, Paleo, Dairy Free and Gluten Free. I love grilling meats and veggies with the sauce, or topping GF pizza with it! It's spicy, sweet and tangy and just ~$5 per bottle at Whole Foods.
- ThaiFusions Curry Sauce: Williams-Sonoma sells family-owned ThaiFusions jarred curry sauces, which are made in Seattle, and they are AMAZING and SO MUCH CLEANER! ThaiFusions Curry Sauces come in three flavors (Red Curry, Green Curry and Panang Curry), each of which are made with organic coconut milk and tons of fresh, authentic, real-food ingredients, from fish sauce and chiles to lemongrass, galangal and Kaffir lime peel. These sauces aren't perfect–there are some gums and citric acid for preservation–but they are the cleanest labels I've found and the flavor is THE REAL DEAL. Right now if you buy 2, you can get 20% off with coupon code MIXNMATCH or you can ENTER TO WIN OUR GIVEAWAY OF THAIFUSIONS CURRY SAUCES RIGHT HERE ($100 VALUE!!!)
- Enchilada Sauce: Whew! This one was tough… there honestly aren't many clean enchilada sauces out there (someone please help us remedy this problem!). But there are BETTER options and since we celebrate progress and not perfection here, let's start there. Frontera's Red Chile Enchilada Sauce is vegan and gluten-free has just a few questionable ingredients, like calcium chloride, citric acid and xantham gum. And Organicville's Verde Sauce is Certified Organic, gluten free, dairy free, vegan, and contains no added sugar (though it does contain xanthan gum). It's the cleanest sauce I've found to date.
HAVE YOU TRIED ANY OF THESE SAUCES? HAVE ANOTHER FAVORITE? SHARE IN THE COMMENTS BELOW!
Many thanks to our friends at Thaifusions for sponsoring this post!
Disclaimer: This post includes affiliate links, and I will earn a commission if you purchase through these links. Please note that I’ve linked to these products purely because I recommend them and they are from companies I trust.