Sauce It Up

Published on: 02/12/2021
Spoonful of healthy red sauce

While “saucy” people can add some playful feistiness to any gathering or meal, we are going to discuss saucy foods here — what types, how much, recipes, sauces when eating out, and hidden culprits.

Gettin’ saucy with our food can work in many ways. When dining out or ordering in, the amount of sauce that comes with your dish can be overwhelming. Even if you make a healthy selection of tilapia, what comes on top of the fish can lead to excessive calories, fat and/or sodium. Maybe you want to shy away from being the customer that asks for sauce on the side. However, remember…you are looking out for you🌟. As you desire to eat as healthfully and joyfully as possible, whether dining out or ordering in, you do need to speak up😮! While you do not have to get every sauce on the side every time, be attentive to what you are putting in your body. Ordering sauce on the side, asking for less sauce or pushing it off to the side, can help you keep your dish the 300-400 calorie range, versus 600 calories or above, 10–15 grams of fat versus 20–30 grams, plus save you on the sodium content. From dips, to red sauce, to Asian sauces, gettin’ saucy is certainly tasty, but can be tricky as well.

There are all kinds of sauces out there that can keep us in the game, or those that make us feel like a benchwarmer. You should feel energized🏃🏿‍♀️after your meals, not immediately like a couch potato. Learning how to keep those saucy stats in line with the rest of your healthy choices, can enhance your food enjoyment.

Let’s dip in. Dipping sauces are delicious😋, but they can be high in added sugars, sodium, and fats. They can quickly spin a healthy meal or snack into a downward health spiral. However, let’s not discredit the unique flavors and taste these sauces can bring. Here are a few tips to keep the dips in line with your desire for a balanced meal or snack:

  • 🥣 Forgo the mayo-based dips, especially from a restaurant, as well as pre-packaged dip from the store. Just say no! Instead, ask for a salsa or other veggie-based dip when out. At home, replace any mayo in a recipe with nonfat greek yogurt or light or nonfat sour cream. A tablespoon of mayo is 50 calories and 5 grams of fat, with a half a gram saturated. A quarter cup is a more realistic dip serving, four times the amount, setting you up with 200 calories, 20 grams of fat and 2 grams of saturated fat. Yes, it adds up quickly. A quarter cup of salsa is about 30 calories on average, 0 fats. A quarter cup of nonfat greek yogurt about 33 calories on average, 0 fats. You can still enjoy some creaminess without loading up your arteries.
  • 🍅 When ordering from a restaurant, a red sauce is usually made with fresh ingredients, including lots of tomatoes. They are your leaner option 98% of the time. A creamy sauce of course contains cream and, therefore, excess fat and calories. Yes, tomatoes contain some natural sugar, but natural is good. However, it is certain store-bought brands of red sauce where the sugar can really up. A half-cup of some favorite brands contain 3 teaspoons of sugar, or 12 grams. That is a lot if you are saving room for a piece of dark chocolate after your meal. Look for the brands with just 4 grams or less of added sugars. When looking at a food label, “added sugars” is the key phrase! Thank you, FDA, for finally straightening this out in 2021!
  • 🥡 A teriyaki sauce or garlic sauce is certainly a tasty choice, but when the ingredients are not in your control, sodium is usually the concern here. The dietary guidelines recommend less than 2300 mg per day for sodium, which is about a teaspoon of salt. If you have high blood pressure, the recommendation is less than 2000 mg per day. Sodium is an essential nutrient and is needed by the body in relatively small amounts (except when you are working up a sweat, then more is needed) to maintain a balance of body fluids and keep muscles and nerves running smoothly. However, most of us eat too much of it. When ordering from a restaurant, sauce on the side or less sauce is best.

Are red sauces usually the healthier choice? They usually are when dining out, but these tasty sauces are trickier when purchasing at the store. The amount of sugar lurking in your favorite marinara sauce is not a place we usually think of as a sweet treat.How about when ordering or dining out on delicious Asian food? How do these tasty sauces line up?I thought this was sauce it up?! Yes — when you know what you are dipping your fork into, absolutely sauce it up! Knowing what you are ordering, or putting into your sauce at home, the additional flavors and spice can take any boring or repetitive dish and turn into something exciting and delicious. A sauce can be tricky when dining out, but when creating at home, you have full control over what your concoction might contain. And they do not have to take hours to prepare. Scrumptious and simple is absolutely a thing. Yet if you desire for the all day sauce, that can surely be a thing as well. I mean, where are we going when it is freezing rain, snow and ice out there?

Spicy is always fun, but adding a creaminess to it can take the fun to another level. I love this sauce as it is filled with awesome flavors, along with a comforting creaminess, making any protein of choice absolutely delicious. The prep time is worth it!

1 pound tomatillos, husked and rinsed
2 jalapeño peppers, rinsed, sliced in half and seeded
2 shallots, peeled and sliced in half
1/4 cup nonfat Greek yogurt
4 garlic cloves
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
juice from 1 lime
1/2 t cumin
2 Tablespoons fresh cilantro
dash of salt

Preheat oven on high broil. Line rimmed baking sheet with nonstick foil. Place tomatillos, peppers and shallots on baking sheet. Broil on rack second from top, for about 5–10 minutes, checking frequently until skins are charred. Flip to broil second side, continuing to check frequently until skin is charred. Remove from heat and cool for about 10 minutes. Peel off all skins and discard.
Add tomatillos, peppers, shallots and garlic to blender, along with cilantro, vinegar, lime juice, cumin and salt. Puree until smooth. Add yogurt and blend one more time. Serve with baked or grilled chicken, seafood or tofu.

I just cannot speak of creamy Mexican flavors without the infamous avocado cream sauce. To turn up the yum on any taco, salad, quesadilla or burrito, a little goes a long way. Even better, you can make it a dip with some fresh carrots, jicama or celery.

2 large, ripe avocado, halved and pitted
1 cup nonfat greek yogurt (or nonfat sour cream, if preferred)
1/4 cup packed cilantro leaves
2 cloves garlic, peeled
juice from two limes (about 3–4 Tablespoons)
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste

In a food processor or blender, scoop out avocado and blend together with yogurt, cilantro, garlic, lime juice and salt. Pour into a bowl and season with black pepper to taste. Serve as dip or topping. If refrigerating, wrap tightly with plastic wrap. It will last up to 48 hours. Makes 6–8 servings.

Vinegars can be an exceptional ingredient when creating a lean yet tasty sauce or dish. There are quite a variety out there! Some of my favorites include balsamic, champagne and red wine vinegars. Experiment to see what flavors and brands you like best on salads, pasta dishes, as well as with this sauce. There is a fun thickening method I included here, of which you can opt in or out :). This sauce works great roasting with veggies, tofu, chicken and fish.

1 Tablespoon olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 cup red wine vinegar
2 cups canned diced tomatoes, no sodium added
1/2 cup chicken or veggie stock or broth, low sodium
1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
Freshly ground pepper to taste
Optional: Beurre manie= 1 Tablespoon flour + 1 Tablespoon butter, softened
Freshly ground pepper to taste

In small sauce pan, add olive oil through stock. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Once boiling, lower heat to a simmer. You can just let it simmer here for 10–15 minutes, until desired thickness. Or, for some additional luster to your sauce: while sauce is simmering, in a small bowl mix flour and butter with a fork to form a smooth paste. Then roll a teaspoon-size amounts of the paste into balls. Add one ball to sauce, increase heat and allow the mixture to return to a boil, and cook for at least 1 minute to thicken. If your sauce is not as thick as you’d like, add a bit more beurre manie. Serve over or roast with any veggie, protein, polenta, rice or pasta. It makes approximately 2–2 1/2 cups sauce; about 1/4 cup per serving.

Food is my lens, but people are my focus.

Shakirah Simley, Director, Office of Racial Equity, for the city and county of San Francisco, California

For comments, thoughts, requests or anything else you feel the need to share, please do:

RESOURCES: diet#:~:text=However%2C%20most%20Americans%20eat%20too,about%201%20teaspoon%20of%20salt!


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Jacqui portrait

With a longstanding dedication to healthy cooking and eating, I promote nutrition with a rebellious twist: the belief that perfection is not required for success on your wellness journey. 

Learn More

Jacqui portrait

Unique Insights and Tools for Meal Planning Harmony

Download the free guide


Pin It on Pinterest

Share This