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The Best Pasta Sauces for Low Sodium Diets

Tomato sauce over fettucine noodles
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Do you feel like having CKD means resigning yourself to a life of never again enjoying pasta sauce? That picking up a convenient store-bought option is no longer in the cards? Without a doubt, many store-bought sauces can be challenging to fit into a kidney-friendly diet. But you may be surprised to hear you have more options than you think.

Table of Contents

Overview

In this article, we will start with a brief review of kidney nutrition.

Next, we will look at the typical nutrition breakdown of jarred pasta sauce. This will help you understand why pasta sauces can be challenging to fit into a kidney diet.

In addition, we’ll correct one big myth about pasta sauce and kidney health. You definitely don’t want to skip over this section!

Finally, I’ll share five great pasta sauces for kidney disease. And you don’t have to drive all over town to some special, off-the-map store to find them.

Being able to prioritize your kidney health AND take advantage of the convenience of store-bought pasta sauce? Talk about a win!

Kidney Nutrition Basics

While this article will not be an in-depth exploration of all kidney nutrition topics, it will provide you with a helpful overview.

Especially if you have a new diagnosis of chronic kidney disease, I know the nutrition part can feel super confusing. There’s lot of conflicting information all over the internet, so much that it almost makes you want to throw in the towel. I’ve found there are two main reasons why you see lots of conflicting info about kidney nutrition.

Two Reasons For Conflicting Info About Kidney Nutrition Online

Firstly, it’s important to understand that there is NOT one single “kidney disease diet.” Eating right for kidney disease depends on factors such as your lab results or the cause of your kidney disease. This means that the best “kidney diet” for you might look different than it does for someone else.

Additionally, the kidney nutrition guidelines have actually changed quite a bit in recent years. Previously, the guidelines were very strict and came with a whole long list of foods to avoid.

However, as of 2020, we have new kidney nutrition guidelines. These are called the KDOQI Guidelines. Obviously, these guidelines take the most current nutrition science into account. They also allow for much greater flexibility than stricter guidelines of the past.

Current Kidney Diet Guidelines & What They Say About Sodium

Again, the current kidney nutrition recommendations come from the 2020 KDOQI Guidelines. Despite the fact that the exact right nutrient prescription will look a little different for each person, there is definitely some overlap.

At the most basic, a kidney-friendly diet is a diet that reduces the workload on the kidneys. The kidneys handle a very heavy workload in the body!

This workload has close ties to the foods you eat. For example, a high sodium diet can raise blood pressure, which increases the burden on your kidneys.

Furthermore, certain foods also produce acids in the body, which the kidneys must neutralize. Some common acid-producing foods include meats and sugary processed foods. Therefore, meaty pasta sauces or higher sugar sauces will create a higher dietary acid load.

Please note, dietary acid load (which is a byproduct of digestion/metabolism of foods) is DIFFERENT than the acid you taste when you eat lemons, tomatoes, coffee, etc. Please out my past article on dietary acid load for more guidance and clarification on this topic.

So – back to the current guidelines. At its most basic, a kidney-friendly diet should be lower in sodium and lower in dietary acid load. These are both things to you will need to consider when looking at the label on jarred pasta sauces.

Why Pasta Sauce Can Be Challenging for CKD Patients

What is the number one reason pasta sauces can feel like a “no-no” for kidney disease? Without a doubt, it’s the high sodium content. Eating lower sodium foods is a basic kidney nutrition principle.

When scanning the nutrition facts label on your usual jarred pasta sauce, you’re probably surprised at how much sodium is in just one serving. The average jarred tomato pasta sauce has 500-600 milligrams of sodium per serving. One servings equals a half cup portion of sauce.

By the way, that means the sodium content doubles (or more) if you’re eating multiple servings of pasta sauce.

Furthermore, many jarred pasta sauces can be high in sugar. It’s best to keep added sugars in the diet to a minimum for overall good health.

And, as noted above, pasta sauces that contain meat result in a higher dietary acid load that the kidneys must neutralize.

Sidebar: What About Potassium?

Understandably, you might be wondering, what about potassium in jarred pasta sauce? Isn’t that another reason to avoid pasta sauce?

Yes, jarred tomato pasta sauces are higher in potassium. But, potassium is one of those nutrients where the guidelines are evolving.

In the past, all high potassium foods were considered “off limits” for kidney disease. This includes foods such as tomato sauce, avocado, potato, beans, and orange juice, to name a few.

However, the current kidney nutrition guidelines emphasize the many NON-FOOD causes of high blood potassium. If you do have high blood potassium levels, food is unlikely to be the sole cause. Therefore, we should take non-food causes into consideration before simply cutting out a whole bunch of otherwise nutritious foods.

It’s also important to know that similar to phosphorus, your body does not absorb ALL the potassium in foods. Studies indicate that your body absorbs only 50-60% of naturally occurring potassium in foods.

In other words, the potassium in pasta sauce is not usually a problem. It is a myth that pasta sauce is automatically off limits due to the potassium content.

Of course, if you have concerns about your potassium, talk to your renal dietitian.

The Best Low Sodium Pasta Sauces To Choose

Finally, now that you have a better feel for the important nutrients in pasta sauce, let’s look at some product suggestions.

  • These pasta sauces are…
    • Lower in sodium
    • Lower in added sugar
    • Surprisingly tasty!

Without further ado, let’s look at the best pasta sauces for a low sodium, kidney-friendly diet – renal dietitian approved!

1. Primal Kitchen No Dairy Vodka Sauce

Pasta sauce jar with purple and white label reading "Primal Kitchen No Dairy Vodka Sauce"

Primal Kitchen No Dairy Vodka Sauce has 350 milligrams sodium per serving. While that might sound like a high number, it’s still a fraction of most other pasta sauces. And when reading food labels on items like pasta sauce, it’s also important to think about how you’ll actually incorporate this particular food into a meal.

For example, it’s reasonable that one might eat one 1/2 cup serving of pasta sauce with 2 ounces pasta, and a side salad drizzled with homemade oil & vinegar dressing. Besides the pasta sauce, this is a very low sodium meal. Therefore, the overall meal contains an amount of sodium that can fit into your daily goal range. For reference, the National Kidney Foundation recommends eating less than 2,300 milligrams sodium per day.

Additionally, this sauce is dairy-free. Most vodka sauces are NOT dairy-free, rather, they are made with dairy cream. Cream is a source of saturated fats.

For example, Bertolli brand Vodka Sauce contains 5 grams of saturated fat per serving. Current guidelines recommend to limit saturated fats to less than 10% of total daily calories.

Let’s do a little math. For a person on a 2,000 calorie diet, aiming for <10% of calories from saturated fats comes out to 22 grams per day. Therefore, one serving of pasta sauce with 5 grams saturated fat will provide 23% of your daily recommended allowance for saturated fats.

And if you have two servings of Bertolli Vodka Sauce, now that’s actually getting close to HALF your daily recommended saturated fat intake! Especially if consuming other saturated fat-containing foods with your meal (such as meats, cheeses, or butter), you may be better off looking for a pasta sauce that is fat-free – or, at least free of saturated fats.,

2. Yo Mama’s Original Marinara

Jarred pasta sauce with white label reading "Yo Mamas Marinara"

Yo Mama’s Original Marinara sauce has a shockingly low sodium content of just 130 milligrams per serving. That’s just about the lowest you can find when it comes to pasta sauces! Therefore, this sauce is a great option for people who are following a low sodium diet plan.

Especially if you are incorporating your pasta sauce in a meal that includes other salty foods such as cheese, using this low sodium sauce is a great way to reduce the overall sodium content of the meal.

As a bonus, this pasta sauce has no added sugar. Many store-bought pasta sauces contain at least a few grams of added sugars. With a simple ingredient list including fresh tomatoes, fresh onions, fresh garlic, white wine, olive oil, fresh basil, salt, oregano, and black pepper, this sauce can just about pass for homemade!

3. Cucina Antica Tomato Basil Premium Pasta Sauce

Are you a fan of San Marzano tomatoes? If so, this Cucina Antica Tomato Basil Premium Pasta Sauce may be the right pick for you! This sauce has a very respectable 230 milligrams sodium per 1/2 cup serving. You can find it in stores or online at Whole Foods, The Fresh Market, Wal-Mart, and more.

Besides San Marzano tomatoes, what else will you find in this sauce? Taking a look at the ingredients, you will see a simple list including onions, olive oil, basil, salt, black pepper, and white pepper. Despite the short ingredient list and lower sodium content, rest assured that there is no shortage of flavor here!

4. The Silver Palate Low Sodium Tomato Pasta Sauce

Jar of pasta sauce with a label reading "The Silver Palate Low Sodium Tomato Basil"

The Silver Palate Low Sodium Tomato Basil sauce made with San Marzano tomatoes is a delicious and flavorful sauce. The tomato flavors really shine with this one, and it’s not as sweet as some pasta sauces (which is a bonus in my book).

As for the sodium content, this Silver Palate tomato sauce contains 140 milligrams of sodium per serving. Suitable for nearly any dietary restriction ranging from vegan to gluten-free, this low-sodium sauce lets you enjoy delicious Italian flavors without compromising your health.

5. Prego Lower Sodium Traditional Pasta Sauce

Jar of pasta sauce with a label reading "Prego Low Sodium Traditional"

While this Prego Pasta Sauce is a little higher in sodium than some of the other options we have looked at, it is right on par with the Primal Kitchen option, clocking in at 360 milligrams of sodium per serving.

Remember, this is still much lower than the average pasta sauce, which can have 500-600 milligrams of sodium per 1/2 cup serving. For many people with kidney disease, 500-600 milligram will take up your entire “sodium budget” for one meal.

Prego is also a very easy brand to find in the stores. Plus, it is one of the most affordable of the options shared here, at $0.15 per ounce (at my local Jewel Osco grocery store in Chicago – prices at your local store may vary).

Summary

Hopefully, after reviewing these five examples of great lower sodium pasta sauces, you are thinking about adding pasta sauce back onto your grocery shopping list!

In this article, we also reviewed some of the reasons why pasta sauces may feel “off limits” if you have kidney disease. I also dispelled one major myth about pasta sauce and kidney disease. I hope that this discussion has helped you to feel more confident including pasta sauces as part of your kidney-friendly diet.

Now that you know some great options for your next pasta night, it’s time to get to planning! Let me know in the comments which meals incorporating pasta sauce are your favorites. Personally, I am a huge fan of tofu ricotta-stuffed shells with a deliciously tomato-y sauce (such as this wonderful recipe from Nora Cooks). I look forward to hearing your thoughts – and if you try any of these sauces out, please let me know!

For more help and guidance personalized to you – such as product recommendations tailored to your exact nutritional need – consult with a Board Certified Renal Dietitian (like me!). I’m also on Instagram, TikTok, and Facebook dishing up helpful info and meal ideas to help you out in the meanwhile. Until next time, be well. — Kate, Your Kidney Dietitian

*Note: this article was updated on Dec 17, 2023. Unfortunately, the Trader Joe’s sauce that was originally included in this article has been discontinued. In the article I have replaced it with another excellent, low sodium option.

Kate Zalewski, RDN, CSR, LDN

Kate Zalewski, RDN, CSR, LDN

Kate Zalewski is a Registered Dietitian and Board Certified Specialist in Renal Nutrition based in Chicago, Illinois. She is passionate about helping people with kidney disease and other kidney health concerns navigate the complex and confusing world of nutrition. Kate takes a gentle yet realistic approach with patients, working together to implement changes that can improve your labs and slow disease progression, while still allowing you to enjoy the foods you eat.

3 thoughts on “The Best Pasta Sauces for Low Sodium Diets”

  1. Thank you for your always helpful information! I LOVE the Primal Kitchen sauce. I am going to look for the Yo Mamma’s next time I am at the store. I am also totally trying the stuffed shells recipe!

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