Carbohydrate loading, the GoodGuide way

The San Francisco Marathon is this weekend, which means a good number of people in this fine city will be carbohydrate loading on Saturday night to build up their glucose stores. In honor of this pre-race ritual, we’ve put together a guide to help you find the best sauce for your pasta. To make comparison a little more interesting we built in filters so you can compare pestos and alfredo-style sauces to marinaras.

Click image to open interactive version

It may come as no surprise that alfredo sauces aren’t that good for you, but what about sauces with the word “garden” in their name? You may be surprised at what our chart reveals. Here are some other factoids we collected about the 200 plus pasta sauces rated on GoodGuide:

  • only 7 products contain trans fat
  • only 2 products contain high fructose corn syrup (note that most sauce recipes call for a bit of sugar)
  • no sauces exceed our thresholds for cholesterol or sugar
  • about 10% of products exceed our threshold for saturated fat (4g/serving)
  • a whopping 91% of products exceed our threshold for sodium (300mg/serving)
  • GoodGuide health ratings for the sauces range from 1.5-10, with an average of 4.8

For this particular category, sodium is clearly a major driver of the GoodGuide health rating, with high scoring products showing low sodium levels. However, the wide range in health scores for products with 350-500mg of sodium means that there are other factors (sugar, saturated fat, vitamin C) that contribute to the healthfulness of a pasta sauce. Ideally, you should select a sauce that is nutrient-dense (reflected in higher GoodGuide scores) and lower in sodium.

Those of you carbo-loading aren’t focused on portion size, but for the spectators: All of the statistics and nutrition information above are based on the assumption that you’re using the serving size on the product label, which is 1/2 cup for most sauces or a tablespoon or two for pestos. It’s easy to overdo it on sauce, and while the average pasta sauce carries a mid-range nutrient density (equal amount of good nutrients relative to bad nutrients), more sauce is more calories. If you choose a sauce from the lower end of the GoodGuide rating scale, it’s important to watch how much you use.

Do you have a favorite pasta sauce that you use to accompany your carbo-loading? Leave us a comment with what it is and why you love it. And whether you’re running or spectating, enjoy the pasta and the race!

About Sheila Viswanathan

Sheila Viswanathan focuses on educating individuals on how to make healthier dietary choices. She received her doctoral degree in Nutrition and Public Health from Teachers College, Columbia University and is certified as a registered dietitian.
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