The Healthiest, Best-Tasting Tomato Sauces to Stock Up on at the Grocery Store
There’s so much you can do with tomato sauce. From lasagna to pizza, marinades to rice, tomato sauce is a great base for so many easy, healthy dinners. Of course, it’s always best to make our own homemade sauce — that way, we get to control all the ingredients. But let’s be real: we don’t always have time for that much chopping and stirring, so when time just doesn’t allow, jarred tomato sauce is a lifesaver.
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However, not all jarred sauces are created equal. Those that taste homemade and have all the spices and aromatics we love sometimes contain ingredients we find problematic. They may have added sugar or salt, or use more preservatives than we feel comfortable with. When selecting a jarred tomato sauce for your next meal, there are a few key factors to consider to ensure you’re getting the best quality without a bunch of additives and empty calories.
Even some homemade tomato sauce recipes do involve a pinch of sugar, so if there are added sugars in your jarred sauce, that’s not necessarily shocking — but there should be a very minimal amount. This is especially true since tomatoes have a natural sweetness all their own, which means that added sugar isn’t really necessary. “Sugar is added as a flavor booster, but using seasonings can achieve the same effect without the negative consequences of added sugar. Added sugar provides empty calories and is quite inflammatory,” says Lisa Richards, a nutritionist and creator of the Candida Diet.
This is another ingredient that is often added to jarred tomato sauce in sometimes unnecessary quantities. “The daily recommended intake of sodium is 2,300mg and most major tomato sauce brands contain at least 500mg in a half-cup serving alone,” says Richards. “Sodium is an essential nutrient, but should be consumed in moderation due to its ability to cause water retention, inflammation, and increased blood pressure to dangerous levels,” said Richards. Those that have been directed to reduce their blood pressure will want to look for low-sodium options.
Short ingredient list
Another factor to look for when selecting a jarred tomato sauce is the amount of ingredients on the label. Many popular brands contain additives, fillers, emulsifiers, artificial colors, and other unnecessary ingredients to enhance shelf stability, texture, and color. “Rather than choosing a jarred tomato sauce with synthetic ingredients, it’s best to find options with as few ingredients as possible,” says Richards. The healthier options may include five or so ingredients, and all of them are recognizable. Our favorite tomato sauces contain just tomatoes, olive oil, onion, garlic, pepper, and sea salt.
“Clean ingredients are those that have been grown and harvested without the use of pesticides or genetically modified organisms. Because tomato sauce is primarily made with produce, the possibility of contaminants is greater if these ingredients aren’t clean or organically grown,” said Richards.
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So now we have our rubric. Our top choices contain no added sugar, have a reasonable amount of salt, a short ingredient list, and are made with only clean ingredients — and oh, right, they’ll taste great, too. Here are our very favorites available right now:
This delicious, organic sauce tastes just like homemade, but it’s as easy as opening a jar and simmering on the stove, and one half-cup serving of Thrive Market Organic Marinara Sauce is just 70 calories. “You can have peace of mind knowing their sauce is free of pesticides, it’s vegan, contains no added sugar or artificial colors, and is made with only seven ingredients,” says Richards. This tomato sauce is all we can ask for (other than nonna getting involved).
“I love Primal Kitchen Foods Marinara Sauces,” says Jenna Stangland, MS RDN, co-founder of A4 Health & Team Dietitian for the Minnesota Timberwolves. “It’s paleo-certified, dairy-free, vegan, contains no added sugar, and is made with avocado oil… the list goes on as it fits into so many lifestyle and dietary preferences, this is one of my go-to recommendations for clients,” she says.
A half-cup serving of Primal Kitchen’s Tomato Basil Marinara Sauce contains only 90 calories and contains an impressive 2g of protein. “This sauce is made with avocado oil, which adds to its potassium content while also improving the fat quality with just 0.5 gram of the 6 total grams of fat being from saturated fat,” says Richards.
Rao’s sauces are usually the sauce shown when chefs are cooking with a jarred sauce on a TV show — and there’s a reason for that. “I really love the authentic taste of Rao’s Homemade marinara sauce,” says Stangland. “They use Italian plum tomatoes and don’t add any sugar in the sauce. It’s just garlic, onion, and olive oil.” This is the closest of any of the sauces to our favorite homemade sauce — and it’s never a bad bet.
This is another brand well-recognized around the culinary world for their tomatoes. “They have an incredible organic, no-sugar-added marinara sauce,” says Stangland. Every ingredient used in this sauce is organic. “Excellent taste comes through in this one, and it’s easy to find in a lot of supermarkets — so that is also a huge plus.”
It’s never a bad idea to load up your sauce with all the vegetables you can. This is true with homemade, and it’s also true with jarred. “This sauce is not only USDA organic and made with no added sugar or preservatives, it’s high in fiber, thanks to the ten vegetables it’s made with including tomatoes, carrots, sweet potatoes, spinach, and red bell pepper,” says Mia Syn, MS, RDN. If you’re someone who generally prefers a sweeter sauce and thinks they’ll miss the sugar content found in some more traditional sauces, this one is for you — it doesn’t contain any added sugar, but the addition of carrots and sweet potatoes adds a natural sweetness that’ll be sure to satisfy.
This option is made with just a few, simple ingredients, but is everything we really need in a sauce. “This is a high-quality organic, no-added-sugar sauce available at an affordable price point,” says Syn. It’s truly a great budget option that doesn’t sacrifice quality.
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