As if you needed another reason to enjoy your favorite Italian dishes, nutrition studies are boasting about the health benefits of pasta sauce. Tomatoes and tomato products are the very best sources of lycopene, which is the naturally-occurring antioxidant compound that makes foods red in color.
However, not all pasta sauces are created equal, especially when you’re picking jars off the grocery store shelves. How could something labeled “Traditional Italian Vegetable Sauce” be unhealthy, right? But if you flip the jar around and read the label, this popular type of tomato-based pasta sauce has 10 grams of sugar and 480 milligrams of sodium per serving.
Sugar is listed as the third ingredient in most regular jar pasta sauces, following tomato puree and diced tomatoes. Cheaper sauces tend to have far more sugar (between 7 and 9 grams) per half cup serving. Adults who eat a 2,000 calorie diet shouldn’t consume more than 40 grams of sugar per day. Even though your favorite sauce may taste more spicy than sweet, the hidden sugar content alters your metabolism. Eating too much sugar increases your risk of diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and hypertension. Save your daily sugar allotment for dessert and choose a jar pasta sauce that has less than five grams of sugar.
Although your pasta may be low in sodium, the sauce you put on top of it likely tops the sodium charts. Just one cup of your favorite jar pasta sauce can contain as much as 1,000 milligrams of sodium, making it an incredibly high sodium food. As a general rule, you should not exceed more than 2,000 milligrams of sodium per day because excess sodium inhibits the body’s absorption of nutrients. Eating too much sodium increases your risk of hypertension, osteoporosis, kidney problems, dehydration, and hormone imbalance.
If you’d rather skip the pre-packaged and over-processed varieties, there are plenty of homemade pasta sauces that are packed with natural lycopene that you can easily make at home. Here’s one of our favorite recipes:
Fresh Pasta Sauce with Carrots and Onions (Vegetarian)
*Prep time: 30 to 40 minutes
- ¼ cup 100% pure extra virgin olive oil
- 1½ cups chopped organic onions
- 1 cup shredded organic carrots
- 1 heaping tablespoon minced garlic
- 6 cups seeded and cored organic tomatoes, coarsely chopped (with juice)
- 1 tablespoon shredded fresh basil
- Sea or lite salt and black pepper to taste
- Heat olive oil in a large pot and sauté onions and carrots for 4 to 5 minutes.
- Stir in garlic and add tomatoes, then bring to a simmer.
- Stir in basil, salt, and pepper. Simmer the sauce for about 15 minutes. It should thicken a bit while cooking.