Tomato sauce is a classic favorite for good reason. Whether made into a pasta sauce or pizza topping, the red sauce brings together the perfect balanced flavors of tangy and sweet, making any dish mouthwatering with every bite.
But while it is delicious, is tomato sauce healthy?
Tomato sauce is very healthy given that it is packed with Vitamin C, potassium, and Vitamin K while being very low in calories, making it both nutritious and great for a sustainable everyday diet.
A serving of tomato sauce has about 80 calories with 2 grams of protein, 2 grams of fat, and 14 grams of carbs, making it a nutritious and flavorful way to dress up any meal without adding many calories.
The key to eating tomato sauce healthily is to eat it with the right ingredients. Tomato sauce is often consumed on pasta and pizza, which often have calorie-dense ingredients that can be detrimental to weight loss.
Thankfully, there are ways to make it fit into your daily diet.
💭 What is Tomato Sauce?
While there are many different variations of tomato sauce out there, including tomato ketchup and pasta or pizza sauce, this article will be focusing on the pasta or pizza sauce variation that is made with tomato products.
Tomato sauce often consists of canned tomatoes that are simmered and blended with a variety of herbs and spices, including but not limited to thyme, basil, garlic, and onions. You can also add some chilies to make an arrabiata sauce, similar to this chicken arrabiata recipe.
The sauce is most commonly used to make pasta or pizza. It can also be topped on chicken to make a chicken parmesan dish.
Tomato sauce is often made with canned tomatoes or tomato paste. Fresh tomatoes can also be used for additional texture, but I wouldn't recommend using them as the sauce base as it doesn't have enough of the saucy consistency needed.
If you like tomato sauce, check out the following recipes:
🍎 Calories and Nutrition
A ½ cup of tomato sauce has 80 calories with 2 grams of protein, 2 grams of fat, and 14 grams of carb.
Most of the calories from the dish come from canned tomatoes, which are the dominant ingredient of the dish and have a lot of nutritional value.
The remaining ingredients are from the additional mix-ins of herbs and spices, which for the most part is relatively low in calories.
For more details about the calorie breakdown of a tomato sauce recipe, refer to the table below:
🥫 Making vs. Buying
Store-bought sauces are great for an easy pasta night, but I have yet to find a quality pasta sauce that I've liked better than a homemade sauce.
Store-bought sauces can tend to be overly sweet and contain a high amount of high fructose corn syrup, a very processed type of sugar.
While sugar is necessary for giving the tomato sauce a delicious umami flavor, these sauces generally have an excessive amount.
Alternatively, you can make a big batch of fresh tomato sauce at home and customize it to make a healthy sauce with less sugar. Make a quality tomato sauce ahead of time and you can quickly whip up a plate of healthy pasta by for an easy dinner or lunch.
🔍 How to Find a Good Canned Tomato
There's a lot of different brands of canned tomatoes out there with varying degrees of quality. Here are some key criteria I would look for when choosing tomato sauce:
- Check to see if the tomato sauce is in tomato puree or water. Opt for the tomato puree ones for best results.
- Choose brands that don't contain calcium chloride – it gives the tomato a very acidic taste that is very unappetizing
- Opt for San Marzano tomatoes, which is a type tomato from Italy. These are easily found in most grocery stores in the United States and you can definitely taste the difference.
- Crushed or Whole tomatoes doesn't really matter as the sauce will end up being blended anyway.
My personal favorite brand is the Bianco DiNaploi canned tomatoes, as they have a subtly sweet and tomato-forward taste.
If you're interested, I'd highly recommend watching Ethan Chlebowski's canned tomato test video, which does a blind test of 6 different canned tomato brands.
📋 Ingredient Notes
Tomato sauce is a relatively simple dish made with whole and nutritious foods. Here are some of the key ingredients needed:
Canned Tomatoes – The main ingredient for this dish. You definitely get what you pay for here. For best results, opt for San Marzano tomatoes. It doesn’t really matter if they’re crushed, whole, etc since they will be blended anyway.
Garlic and Onion – Key aromatics to give the sauce an additional depth of flavor
Calabrian Chili – Gives the sauce a nice kick. Alternatively, you can also use Thai chilis for a heavier spice or red chili flakes for a light space.
Sugar – Brown sugar or white sugar would both work. A small amount of added sugar will help balance out the acidity and saltiness of the other ingredients. Honey is also a delicious option.
Fresh Herbs – Bring some freshness to the dish. Fresh basil. thyme and oregano are some popular options.
Salt and Black Pepper – Essential spices for any pasta or pizza sauce.
Olive oil and butter – These are commonly found in most tomato sauce recipes. While great for the flavor, it's best to limit the usage of these ingredients as they are not ideal for a low-fat diet.
🍏 Health Benefits
Tomato sauce is predominantly made of tomatoes and has most of the health benefits of tomatoes. Tomatoes are packed with many essential nutrients and are great for our overall health. Some key benefits include:
High Vitamin C Content – Protects the body against free radicals.
Potassium – Helps prevent high blood pressure, and is especially essential for those who have a high sodium intake.
Vitamin K – An essential nutrient for stronger bones and blood clot prevention.
Great Option for Weight Loss – Tomato-based sauces are generally a lower-calorie option compared to heavier white sauces and are a great way to make a healthy pasta dish.
Good source of lycopene – Tomatoes are a great source of the antioxidant Lycopene. A study from the American Association for Cancer Research has shown that lycopene is known to prevent breast cancer.
Learn more about Tomatoes health benefits.
🍳 How To Make Healthier Meals with Tomato Sauce
To make a healthy meal with tomato sauce, it’s important to use the right cooking methods and be mindful of what it is served with.
Tomato sauce is not that high in calories but is commonly paired with high-fat and high-carb ingredients to make dishes such as pasta and pizza, so it’s best to be mindful about portioning and choosing the right ingredients.
Here are some strategies to keep the additional calories lower:
- Portion 1 serving of pasta, which only clocks about 190 calories.
- Limit usage of oil and butter, as these are very calorie-dense ingredients. Cooking spray is a great alternative.
- Carefully portion or skip the high-fat toppings, such as pork, pepperoni, or sausage. Instead, opt for lean proteins such as chicken or shrimp.
Following the tips above, tomato sauce can easily be something that can be incorporated into an everyday diet that is packed with protein, manageable in calories, and delicious.
🍽 Recipe Ideas
There are a variety of different ways to make recipes with tomato sauce. Here are some of my favorites:
Chicken Arrabiata – A classic that is easy to put together. Mix the sauce with your favorite pasta (portioned of course) and top with some shredded chicken and cheese.
Creamy Tomato Shrimp Pasta – Same as above but with some grilled shrimp and a splash of cream.
Deconstructed Lasagna – Baked with pasta and topped with some delicious melty cheese for a healthy version of an Italian classic.
Shakshuka – Simmer the tomato sauce in a variety of spices and add a couple of eggs for a delicious breakfast dish. Serve with a side of toast.
Roast the tomatoes – If you have the time, I would highly recommend roasting them before blending the tomatoes to make the sauce. This makes for a delicious flavor as it caramelized the tomatoes and makes them sweeter.
Invest in San Marzano Canned Tomatoes – They are noticeably less acidic and make sauces with a beautiful creamy texture without the cream.