5 of the best pasta sauces

Tales of sinister goings on inside pasta sauce jars are rife. If you are to believe the Daily Mail, they are full of sugar and they may, basically, kill you. I say “Really???” In true dietitian style I’m going to challenge that. To be fair, most tomato based pasta sauces are a good choice, but if you are concerned about levels of sugar and salt, some are better than others.

So what should you look for when buying a pasta sauce?

  • tomato based, rather than creamy or with mascarpone
  • low sugar: less than 5g per 100g
  • low salt: less than 0.3g per 100g

The Sugar Issue: yes, most tomato pasta sauces have some sugar added to balance the acidity of the tomatoes. The tricky thing here is that even a whole tomato, straight from the plant, has naturally occurring sugars. So on the jar label if it says 5g of sugar, this does not mean that there is 5g (about a teaspoon) of white sugar added. About 3g of this will be natural sugar from the tomato. The remaining 2g may be from added sugar.

The Salt Issue: it is very hard to find a tomato pasta sauce than is low in salt (the ones marketed for kids usually are). Most of the jars that I have suggested below are ‘medium’ for salt.

You can of course make your own pasta sauce from scratch with tinned tomatoes, tomato puree, and some herbs, but sometimes that feels like a bit too much effort. One good tip to add more nutrition oomph and to reduce the concentration of salt is to open an extra tin of chopped tomatoes and add it to the jarred sauce.

 

Here are 5 great choices:

All figures are per 100g (roughly a portion)

001665.jpgLoyd Grossman Pasta Sauce – Tomato & Basil. 61 calories, 4.8g sugar, 0.8g salt Sugar is pretty low, the salt is a bit high but not terrible. There are no strange sounding ingredients – it’s all proper food. Ingredients: Tomato (61%), Tomato Purée, Garlic, Basil (2.6%), Sugar, Sunflower Oil, Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Sea Salt, Concentrated Lemon Juice, Ground Black Pepper.

 

001640.jpgDolmio Low Fat. 33 calories, 4.2g sugar, 0.8g salt.                                                        Don’t let the name of this Dolmio sauce put you off. To be honest, I’m perplexed that it’s called ‘low fat’ as the Dolmio Original is also low in fat. The difference is that the ‘Dolmio Low Fat’ is a bit lower in sugar.

Ingredients: Tomatoes (81%), Tomato Paste (10%), Onion, Cornflour, Lemon Juice, Salt, Basil (0.3%), Sugar, Garlic, Parsley, Herb, Spices.

 

IDShot_110x110Tesco Goodness For Kids Pasta Sauce 51 calories, 3.6g sugar, 0.2g salt. Ohhh I’m loving this one. It has lots of different extra vegetables. It’s marketed for kids, but grown ups don’t let this put you off. Great ingredients, low in sugar and salt. 

Ingredients: Tomato Purée, Carrot (20%), Red Pepper (10%), Lemon Juice From Concentrate, Yellow Pepper (5%), Onion (4%), Cornflour, Apple Juice from Concentrate,    Garlic Purée, Sea Salt, Rapeseed Oil, Pepper

 

024019.jpgSainsbury’s Light Tomato & Herb Pasta Sauce 28 calories, 4g sugar, 0.6g salt                       This ‘light’ version of Sainsbury’s own brand sauce is much lower in sugar than the standard ones. 

Ingredients: Tomatoes (80%), Tomato Purée (13%), Water, Onions (1%), Onion Purée (1%), Maize Starch, Salt, Concentrated Lemon Juice, Sugar, Basil, Oregano, Garlic Purée, Olive Oil, Acidity Regulator: Citric Acid, Ground Black Pepper.

 

 

267339ASDA Good & Counted Bolognese Pasta Sauce 27 calories, 4.1g sugar, 0.6g salt   This ‘light’ version of Asda’s own brand sauce is much also much lower in sugar than the standard ones. 

Ingredients: Tomatoes (80%), Concentrated Tomato Purée (14%), Lemon Juice from Concentrate, Water, Concentrated Apple Juice, Salt, Dried Onions, Basil Leaf, Garlic Purée, Oregano Leaf, Rapeseed Oil, Ground Black Pepper

 

 

This isn’t an exclusive list and there are many many other good ones out there. My aim is to take the confusion and indecision away when trying to choose.

Trans Fats – what do I need to know?

I’m always being asked about fats…….”which fats are good” or “which fats are bad”. While it is clear that we all need to include some fat in our diets to remain healthy, not all fats are equal.

What are trans fats?

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Trans fats are the baddies, the grizzly little gremlins of the food world. They are:

  • Artificially produced as an ingredient for biscuits, pies, cakes and fried food
  • Produced when vegetable fats are subjected to a very high temperature e.g. takeaway foods
  • Naturally occurring in small amounts in dairy e.g. cheese and cream

Health concerns about these fats has recently led to many UK manufacturers reducing the amounts of trans fats in foods. In 2006 United Biscuits, who produce McVities, KP and Jacobs ranges, removed trans fats from their products. Marks & Spencer, as well as many other supermarket chains, also banned the use of trans fats in own brand products.

Why are trans fats bad for me?

Trans fats raise levels of ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol and reduce the ‘good’ HDL cholesterol. Trans fats also increase levels of another form of blood fat called triglycerides. All of these effects of trans fats can raise your risk of coronary heart disease (CHD).

Trans fats appear to increase risk of CHD more than saturated fats, and so are potentially worse for our health.

How do I know if a food is high in trans fats?

ConfusedYou need to check ingredients lists for partially hydrogenated fats.

A ‘hydrogenated fat’ does not contain trans fat, only ‘partially hydrogenated fats’ contain trans fats. If a food product contains partially hydrogenated fats or oils, it will almost certainly contain trans fats too, and the higher up the list the fat or oil appears, the more trans fats the product is likely to contain.

Many manufacturers now avoid using hydrogenated fats or have reduced the amount of trans fats in their products to very low levels.

 Unfortunately for takeaway food in can be harder to tell as nutrition labelling may not exist. Big takeaway companies like McDonalds have removed artificial trans fats from their menus, however, small takeaway outlets may still use trans fats for cooking.

Take home message……

The good news is that in the UK intakes of trans fats are on average lower than the guidelines. In the last 20 years, levels of trans fat in food have reduced considerably.

However as part of a healthy diet, you should aim to keep the amount of trans fats to a minimum. In general trans fats may be found in takeaways, cakes, biscuits, hard margarines, pastry, pies and fried foods, all of which are the types of foods to limit when choosing a healthy, balanced diet.

Idiot Proof Poached Eggs

Eggs are one of the most nutritious foods that you can eat: high in protein, omega 3 fats, lutein, choline, all the B vitamins, as well as vitamins A, D, E, K, and iron.

Poached eggs should be one of the easiest, cheapest and healthiest meals. But it can be hard to not end up with a watery pile of mush. There is a lot of advice out there on how to achieve the perfectly poached egg: the freshest eggs possible, adding vinegar to the water (am I the only one to end up with vinegary eggs?!) or the ‘swirling the water’ method.

For the first time in my 39 years, I came across this genius method for the perfect poached egg. Or for 10 poached eggs if you need that many!! It’s idiot proof, which is a stroke of luck for me.

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Location: a big family brunch at my cousin Wendy’s house in Holywood – that’s Holywood in N. Ireland; rather than Hollywood, California :). There were 13 of us so that’s a lot of eggs to poach! I was a bit skeptical as this clingfilm escapade unfolded in the kitchen, but trust me…..

 

Here’s what you need:
egg(s)

cling film

any cooking oil4820A52D-F11E-49D0-B839-BDF5C02AA2B7

Ramekin, or small bowl

  1. Boil some water in a small sauce pan. Once boiling reduce to a simmer

 

  1. Tear some cling film, about double the width of the ramekin

 

  1. Oil the cling film by dribbling in a few drops of the oil. Spread around with your fingers or a pastry brush

 

  1. Break the egg in to the cling film

 

  1. Gather up the edges of the cling wrap and twist, making sure that you have the egg enclosed well. You can secure it with a little elastic band or something similar.F593DFC8-DBA5-40ED-ACE0-CAEF8944851B

 

  1. Place in the simmering water until the egg white has set. Put as many of these little parcels in the water as needed (use an appropriately sized saucepan to fit them in obvs)

 

  1. Lift the egg out of the water using a spoon and cut away the cling film

TA DA!!!!

Athlete’s Top 10 Shopping List

For professional, elite and serious amateur athletes, heavy training schedules can mean massive amounts of calories need to be eaten each day. 4500kcal for a rugby player is normal, for a tour cyclist this could be 7000kcal, while for a 45kg gymnast they may only need 1700kcal. Whatever the calorie needs, athletes need to pack in as much nutrition punch as possible. That means forgoing nutrient empty junk food, and swapping for food and drinks that will fuel the training and recovery. So what are the things that regularly appear on the pro’s daily shopping list?

For optimum nutrition, performance and health, there is nothing better than REAL food. The incredibly complex makeup of food simply cannot be artificially produced in a supplement powder or pill. Real food provides phytochemicals, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, fibre, protein and possibly, many other beneficial constituents that science hasn’t identified yet.

Sports drinks, supplement shakes and bars can be useful as a stop gap, when good food is not readily available, or when calorie requirements are so high that it is difficult to achieve with food alone. I often use an analogy of the bricks of a house being food, and supplements being the chimney. If you don’t have the nutrition basics of food (walls and roof) in place, it is daft to think that there is any point to having a chimney (supplements).

Here are some top foods that should feature on your shopping list. These are all mostly ‘nutritionally dense’ meaning that they are choca-block full of good nutrition allowing your body to train, perform and recover to it’s maximum potential:

  1. Vegetables – often overlooked in favour of carbohydrates and protein, and served as an after thought with just a spoonful on the plate. Vegetables are absolutely essential to maintain health, providing vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, phyto chemicals, fibre etc. all of which simply cannot be bottled or put in a pill. Vegetables also ‘feed’ the healthy bacteria in the digestive system. Easy staples include broccoli, onions, spring onions, peppers, and carrots – not very adventurous, but that is fine! Fresh, frozen, boiled, steamed, microwaved, stir fried, raw…….just get. them. in!LN_012697_BP_9.jpg
  2. Oats – for breakfast, you can’t go far wrong with oats. They are high carbohydrate, so idea to have before or after training. Oats come in various textures, from the very fine in Ready Brek, to the chunky Flahavins. You can add all sorts of things to basic oats to add some oomph: milk, raisins, sliced banana, cocoa powder, cinnamon, desiccated coconut etc. You can also put them in a smoothie for breakfast or for post training recovery. 10 ways with oats
  3. Milk – protein, carbohydrate, low fat, calcium for bones and muscle function. Added to tea, coffee, porridge and breakfast cereals. Research shows that milk post-exercise is just as effective and recovery and rehydration, if not more so, than commercially-available sports drinks005045.jpg
  4. Coffee – because it’s one of life’s pleasures, but also when taken before/during exercise, caffeine has been proven to enhance athletic performance. A recent study showed that two cups of coffee improved endurance performance by 4%.
  5. Peanut butter – good for protein, energy and good fats. If you are trying to drop body fat/weight then go easy as it’s very high in calories – too much is often one of the biggest mistakes for my weight loss clients! Mix a tablespoon in to porridge or spread on oatcakes/rice cakes.
  6. Eggs – one of the most nutritious foods that you can eat: high in protein, omega 3 fats, lutein, choline, all the B vitamins, as well as vitamins A, D, E, K, and iron.  Omelettes, poached, scrambled, fried or to make egg fried rice. You can even mix one in to hot porridge (just don’t put in the microwave with the oats or you’ll get scrambled oat-eggs……yak!)
  7. Rice – carbohydrates are very important for fuelling exercise,
    for recovery, and for the immunity. White rice can be particularly useful when there is only an hour or two between training sessions and fast release carbs are needed. Whole grain rice is higher in fibre, digested more slowly, and is more filling.
  8. Chicken – high protein, low fat, and very versatile. There are endless ways to use chicken: plain grilled, a whole chicken roasted, stir fried, mixed with light mayo and veg in wraps, stuffed with pesto and cheddar cheese. One of the easiest ‘recipes’ is a whole chicken in a slow cooker for 6 hours.
  9. Yogurt – the high protein ones can be particularly beneficial for athletes eg. Total greek yogurt, Danio, Liberte etc These have double the protein of normal yogurts (greek ‘style’ is not usually higher in protein), so good for muscle repair and maintenance. Yogurt also contains ‘probiotics’ which are beneficial for the digestion and immunity.
  10. Salmon – or any oily fish (mackerel, sardines, fresh tuna). Oily fish is the best food source of anti inflammatory omega 3 fats which is essential in every athlete’s diet to reduce muscle inflammation and delayed onset muscle soreness. Aim to take at least 2-3 times a week. If you don’t like any of these fish, then I advise taking daily fish oil supplements.288543.jpg

 

For loads of recipes using all of the above ingredients click…….here!

Flaxseed Bread

MIMG_0498.JPGy middle daughter, Evie (7), has serious issues with gluten (and oats!). She’s tested negative for coeliac disease, but if she has even a small amount food of bread, cake or pasta she will be doubled up in pain a few hours later. As for many people with gut issues, stress and worry are also a major factor in making the problem worse. She desperately misses London since we had to move to N. Ireland 8 months ago: our
house, her school, her friends, and most of all her Dad who still lives there.

It’s lucky that I’m a dietitian, as I’m well used to managing patients with coeliac disease and non-coeliac gluten sensitivity, but practically it can be tough to avoid gluten. Birthday parties are notoriously difficult to negotiate (what kid can’t resist a tiny bit of cake!). The availability of gluten free foods is a million times better than 10 years ago, but they can be expensive and often loaded with sugar. I like making as much of my family’s food as possible, and this bread is fab for her……….the flaxseed is brilliant for gut health and constipation, and the eggs and almonds provide terrific sources of protein. And very importantly, it’s so easy.

If you are watching your carbohydrate intake, needing gluten free, or simply want a highly nutritious healthy bread, then I highly recommend this very easy ecipe. For anyone who has tried Irish wheaten bread, this has a very similar texture.IMG_0861.JPG

Flaxseeds for dietary fiber, manganese, vitamin B1, and omega-3 healthy fats. Almonds are a source of vitamin E, copper, magnesium, and high quality protein, fiber, and phytosterols. Eggs are a very good source of high quality protein, vitamin B2, selenium, B6, B12 and minerals such as zinc, iron and copper, fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K.

There is about 1000 kcal, 54g protein, 5g carbs in the whole loaf. So if you cut 6 slices, that’s about 170kcal per slice.

Ingredients: 

Ground flaxseed – 1 cup

Ground almonds – 1/2 cup

Eggs – 4

Baking powder – 1 teaspoon

Method:

1) Beat together eggs & 3 tablespoons of water

2) Mix dry ingredients in a separate bowl: 1 cup ground flaxseedUnknown copy 9, 1 teaspoon baking powder, 1/2 cup ground almonds

3) Add wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, mix well. Put in a loaf tin, cook for 20 minutes at 200 degrees C.

A Short Cut Saviour Meal

Nutrition Nuts, Food Evangilisim, Nutritionally Holiness. These are all good descriptions for people who are absolutely convinced (and will try to convince you too) that their way of eating is the only way to health and happiness. Unprocessed whole foods may be the ideal, but in reality, life can get in the way.

A few weeks ago I was working on the cancer wards at Belfast City Hospital, filling a gap inIMG_0095-1 the staff shortage for a couple of months. At the same time I was single parenting three ‘lively’ children, shopping, cooking, cleaning, refereeing sibling rivalries, homeworks etc. etc. blah blah

Sometimes we need food that we can just throw together in minutes, pulling stuff from the cupboard and not requiring a recipe book. This pasta meal is one of my saviours.

 

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Cooked Pasta

Tin of tomato soup

Tin of tuna

Grated carrot, onion and cheese

 

In a frying pan with oil, soften the grated carrot and onion (and what ever extra veg you would like to chuck in). Add the tin of tuna, and the tin of soup. Stir in to the cooked pasta. Sprinkle with the grated cheese.

If I was a nutrition nut, I’d say that tinned tomato soup is loaded with salt and sugar. In reality, I use the reduced salt version, and the tin is divided between 4 of us. A wee bit of the ‘bad’ stuff can help the really good stuff go down more easily 🙂

 

 

 

Yogurt Hack: one simple way to half the sugar

We all know that flavoured yogurts can be laden with sugar. In an ideal world we’d choose natural or plain yogurt which will have none of the added sweetness. But flavoured yogurts taste goooood! So if you find being nutritionally holy with the unadulterated natural stuff tough, here’s a simple tip for taking things in the right direction……

You will need:

  1. pot of flavoured yogurt 
  2. pot of natural yogurt

Simply pour or scoop out half of the flavoured yogurt and replace with the natural yogurt. Give it a good stir.

You will still have plenty of flavour, but much less sweetness.

 

For more info, here’s another post on Choosing a Healthy Yogurt

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