How much sugar, salt and fat are in your sauces?

From ketchup to brown sauce, soy sauce to pesto, we love adding flavour to our food. But there can be hidden health hazards, as Hannah Forster explains.

If you love food that’s full of flavour, you may find yourself adding condiments or sauces to give meals an extra kick. But ready-made sauces can contain a surprising amount of fat, sugar and salt. Over time, consuming too much of these can damage your health. Checking out the nutrition label will reveal the truth about your favourite sauce – but don’t fear, there are healthier options available. 

Ketchup tomato sauce on a spoon

Tomato ketchup

There’s 0.3g of salt and 4.1g (one teaspoon) of sugar in a tablespoon of ketchup. The recommended daily maximum of free sugars is 30g (about seven teaspoons), so go for reduced-sugar versions, which contain up to 50 per cent less. Or make a salsa with chopped tomatoes, red onion, coriander, lime juice and optional chilli. This is a tasty ketchup swap, especially with a barbecue or in a sandwich. 

Mayonnaise sauce on a spoonMayonnaise

Each tablespoon of mayonnaise contains around 104kcal and 11.3g of fat – a significant chunk of the recommended daily intake of 70g. Swapping to one of the reduced-fat options available would save you 61kcal and 7.1g of fat. Or make your own lighter version by mixing a small amount of mayonnaise with some low-fat yoghurt. For many dishes, like potato salad or coleslaw, low-fat yoghurt on its own or mixed with lemon juice and chopped herbs works just as well as mayonnaise. 

Soy sauce on a spoonSoy sauce

There’s a lot of salt in soy sauce – around 2.75g per tablespoon, which is almost half the recommended 6g daily maximum. Even reduced-salt versions can contain more than 2g of salt per tablespoon so should be used sparingly. Consuming too much salt over time is linked to high blood pressure, so measure out the amount you use with a spoon rather than splashing it straight from the bottle. 

Sweet chilli sauce

As its name implies, sweet chilli sauce is packed with sugar – around two teaspoons per tablespoon of sauce. Make your own by blending together a deseeded red chilli, two chopped red peppers, 1cm fresh grated ginger, four dates (stones removed), the juice of one lime and a generous pinch of black pepper.
For loads of flavour without the sugar, try hot chilli sauce instead. 

Mustard sauce on a spoonMustard 

This is one of the healthier sauces, as it’s relatively low in fat and sugar, although not always low in salt. Mustard powder made up with water is the lowest-salt option – a 2g portion is virtually salt-free. Ready-mixed versions contain more salt – one teaspoon of English mustard from a jar contains 0.43g of salt. One teaspoon of wholegrain mustard contains 0.26g of salt. While these are relatively high in salt, their strong flavour means you’re likely to use less of them than other sauces. Check nutrition labels, as some brands contain more salt than others. 

Pesto sauce on a spoonPesto 

One tablespoon of pesto contains around 103kcal and 9.5g of fat. Reduced-fat versions are a better choice where available. Or combine fresh chopped basil leaves with olive oil to get the flavour of pesto. It will still be high in fat, but lower in saturated fat and salt. 

Brown sauce on a spoonBrown sauce

There is around 3.5g (nearly a teaspoon) of sugar and 0.2g of salt in each tablespoon of brown sauce. A reduced-salt and reduced-sugar version is a healthier choice, containing around 2.3g of sugar and 0.1g of salt per tablespoon. 


Cooking sauces

Ready-made sauces come in infinite varieties for curries, pasta, stir-fries and more. Whatever the dish, tomato-based sauces are healthier than creamy ones, as they’re usually lower in saturated fat and calories. Instead of a creamy korma, go for a balti or jalfrezi.

With pasta, choose arrabbiata or bolognese instead of carbonara or cheese-based sauces. Swapping a 75g portion of carbonara sauce for a tomato-based sauce will save around 63kcal, 7g of fat and 4.8g of saturated fat. Always check the labels of ready-made sauces, as brands vary. Reduced-fat options are not always lower in salt or sugar. Don’t feel restricted by instructions on the jar – adding extra vegetables or pulses will help towards your 5-a-day. Add a tin of chopped tomatoes to a jar of tomato-based sauce to make it go further and dilute the salt content. 

The best option is to make your own sauces so you can control what goes into them. Try using chopped tomatoes, garlic and herbs to make your own pasta sauce. For creamy sauces, use low-fat yoghurt or half-fat crème fraiche – add it at the end of cooking for best results. Cook a big batch of a tomato-based sauce and freeze in portions to save time and money. 

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