Is ready made pasta sauce healthy?
(& 6 unhealthy ingredients to watch out for!)
Imagine yourself standing in the supermarket after a long day at work – too tired to make dinner from scratch, but trying to avoid ordering a takeaway. Maybe the kids are in tow, with a chorus of “what’s for tea? We’re starving!” Most of us have been in a situation like this one.
So we pick up a bottle of ready made pasta sauce – healthy options be damned! When you just need something quick to fill up on, choices like Asda pasta sauces, Dolmio, or a Sainsbury’s pasta sauce jar are an easy answer. But what about their nutritional value?
Let’s be clear about this: not every pre-made pasta sauce is bad. And we’re not going to directly name and shame individual brands – we could do without the lawsuits! But, in this post, we’ll share some unhealthy ingredients often found in premade sauces and talk about why they’re best avoided:
GM (Genetically Modified) Ingredients
The issue of whether or not GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms) are bad is one that has been raging for years. And, when you’re asking the question “is this pasta sauce healthy?”, it’s an issue that will spring up if the product in question contains GMOs.
The main concern around GM foods, sometimes labeled as “genetically engineered” or “transgenic”, is that their consumption could lead to antibiotic resistant diseases. Although this isn’t something that’s currently happening, it’s why many consumers choose to avoid GMOs.
We’d wager that you’ll never find a ready made pasta sauce without added salt. Tomatoes themselves contain only a minimal amount of sodium – 5mg per 100g according to USDA – so whatever salt content you see on the label has been added by the manufacturers.
And, in our opinion, the salt levels found in many pasta sauce ingredients are far too high! Excess salt consumption has links with high blood pressure, heart disease, and strokes.
Preservatives like sodium benzoate or potassium sorbate are required when pasta sauces are going to be sitting on shelves, potentially for months at a time, without refrigeration. Although these compounds are effective at preventing the growth of bacteria, they can give ready made sauces a bitter taste and may have links to hyperactivity in children.
Many chefs add a little sugar to their spaghetti sauce – there’s something we’ll talk more about another day! – but this would typically only be a pinch or so. Whether it’s authentic or not, some folks swear by adding some of the sweet stuff to add depth to a bland pasta sauce.
Ready made pasta sauces typically contain much more sugar than a pinch, in part to cover up that bitter taste that preservatives can cause. In fact, an article in 2015 found that some pasta sauces have as much sugar as a bar of chocolate…Yikes!
Pre-made pasta sauces contain vegetable oils for a few different reasons, including conducting heat during their cooking and contributing to the sauce’s texture, and they’re not all bad – some vegetable oils are healthy sources of fat.
Hydrogenated vegetable oils are a notable exception, however, as they’re high in trans fats. There’s additional concern that Omega-6 polyunsaturated fats could be contributing to problems like inflammation and even cardiovascular disease.
Modified Food Starch (MFS)
We’ve already talked about GM foods above, but we should point out that the “modified” here doesn’t refer to starch being genetically modified; it just means that the starch in question has been physically or chemically treated to make it more useful in the process of food production, including pasta sauce, passata, and so on.
Unfortunately, that sometimes means that it may have been treated with substances like sulfuric acid or chlorine. And we’d rather keep those as far away from our food ingredients as possible. The use of MFS, which can result in bloating or digestive distress among those who don’t tolerate it well, seems like a high price to pay to thicken a ready made pasta sauce.
Why DO ready made pasta sauces contain unhealthy ingredients?
The list above is far from exhaustive, and undesirable ingredients in ready made pasta sauces can vary significantly from country to country. Many pre-made sauces in the US, for example, contain high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). Because HFCS is chemically similar to sugar, excess consumption of it poses similar health risks.
When it comes to finding a healthy pasta sauce, fewer ingredients is usually better. Unfortunately, when it comes to ready made pasta sauce jars and packets, finding something that embodies the “less is more” philosophy is rarely that simple.
These products are produced en masse, rather than in small batches, and need to be capable of sitting in storage for months without refrigeration. As a result, freshness and deliciousness often end up taking a backseat to longevity.
But, however hard you look, you won’t find any of these unhealthy pasta sauce ingredients in SORSO. Take, for example, our Lemon & Thyme sauce, which contains tomatoes, sweet red peppers, lemon, and thyme. And that’s it!
So, if you’ve been looking for a healthy (and easy) pasta sauce, your search is over.