An Insider Look: Ragu Pasta Sauce

by Brenda on March 2, 2011

Food companies and their marketers are really pissing me off.  Everywhere I look, be it television, magazines, or the internet, a corporation is trying to convince me that they are providing me the best nutritional choice out there.  It seems that all of a sudden these corporations want to become transparent. And while that’s not necessarily a bad thing, it is when they stretch the truth and insult our intelligence.  The worst is when they target our children and make us feel like incompetent parents.  Let’s take a look at this Ragú pasta sauce commercial.

First message: Feed our kids well by giving them veggies.  Excellent! Ragu, claims to have 2 servings of veggies per 1/2 cup of sauce.  Hence, the two tomatoes making their way into the children’s dinner plates (for those thinking tomatoes are a fruit, that’s true, but apparently when they are cooked they can be referred to as a vegetable). Botanically and scientifically speaking they a a fruit.

Second Message: The final image is a clear jar full of tomatoes which makes up their, “Healthy delicious sauce.”  Clearly this is the best product to feed our kids well.

In thirty-seconds, Ragu manages to make health, nutrition, and product transparency claims.  Let’s take a closer look and decided for ourselves.  Nothing will tell you more about a product and it’s contents than the nutrition label and ingredients.  Here is Ragú’s ingredients in their traditional sauce, as listed on their website.  Remember, that according to the FDA (Food and Drug Administration), ingredients are listed in descending order of weight (from most to least).

INGREDIENTS: TOMATO PUREE (WATER, TOMATO PASTE), SOYBEAN OIL, SALT, SUGAR, DEHYDRATED ONIONS, EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL, SPICES, ROMANO CHEESE (PART-SKIM MILK, CHEESE CULTURES, SALT, ENZYMES), NATURAL FLAVOR.

The first ingredient is tomato puree which is made from tomatoes.  So far so good let’s keep reading.  Note: if you want to know the difference between tomato purée and tomato paste, simply click here.

Next up is soybean oil.  Notice that there is more soybean oil than olive oil, because soybean oil is cheaper than olive oil.  How many of you cook with two oils at the same time?

Third is salt.  Ragú has 480 mg of sodium in every serving.  The American Heart Association recommends that all Americans reduce the amount of sodium in their diets to less than 1500 mg a day. You can read more sodium and risk associated with too much sodium here, here and here and decide for yourself.  I think 480 mg per serving is too much salt for one meal.

After the salt we have sugar.  Sugar?  Who adds sugar to their pasta sauce?  They add sugar before onions, olive oil and spices.  If I want to give my kids more veggies, why would I give them sugar too?  Fruits and vegetables have naturally occurring sugar so I don’t understand the need for added sugar.

Last but not least is cheese and natural flavor.  Cheese, is one the reasons the average American diet contains too much saturated fat, according to Michael Moss.  Remember my blurb about cheese back in November?  That whole post was fueled by Michael’s work in his New York Times piece titled, While Warning About Fat, U.S. Pushes Cheese Sales, where it basically states that our American consumption of cheese is beyond healthy.

As for the natural flavor, I left that explanation to Phil Lempert, food editor of the Today Show.  What exactly is natural flavor?  According to Phil, “both artificial and natural flavors are made by “flavorists” in a laboratory by blending either “natural” chemicals or “synthetic” chemicals to create flavorings.”  You can read more about “natural flavor” here.  The bottom is that “natural” might not be so natural, and even some organic foods might contain some of these natural flavors.

So there you have it folks.  Is Ragú Traditional Pasta Sauce really that healthy?  Let me know what you think and feel free to share what some of your favorite canned pasta sauces are and why.  In the mean time, remember to look beyond the pretty packaging and loaded health claims by reading your labels.

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Rose Baz March 3, 2011 at 10:15 am

Thanks, Brenda.
You’ve made me think more about food advertising claims and reminded me to check ingredients.

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Nicky March 6, 2011 at 6:41 pm

Interesting article with lots of great links for information – I like that. I also like that you are not giving the reader the answer, but asking us to think for ourselves. I guess as long as the Ragu truly has two tomatoes in every serving, I am impressed. However, I guess that also goes to show my compromised standards of eating. It is crazy to think of all the chemicals we (or I) consume on a daily basis. Wow. That just can’t be good.
Thank you Brenda for all your information and inspiration.

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Brenda March 7, 2011 at 10:24 pm

Thank you ladies for your lovely comments. I can’t say it enough friends, “Read Your Labels!!”

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Christine March 31, 2011 at 6:25 pm

I agree with you! What I’m most concerned about is the fact that the soybean oil in Ragu pasta sauce is most likely genetically modified. I’m going to call the 1-800 number tomorrow and ask their customer service rep if they can tell me one way or the other.

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Brenda March 31, 2011 at 8:32 pm

Great. Let us know what they come back with Christine. Way to go the extra mile.

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Shilo May 19, 2011 at 6:37 am

I found this while questioning the sugar value in canned spaghetti sauces, and I’m assuming that Ragu must be similar to other brands. I am not a fan of pre-made canned spaghetti sauce, and I find it to be much cheaper and tastier to make my own. I do use canned stewed diced tomatoes and canned tomato paste. And cooked tomatoes are super high in protein- bonus! But, in a batch that serves about five adults, I add about 2 to 3 Tbs of sugar. I also use about 1/2 cup of red wine, and with the tomatoes I find that without adding any sugar the sauce is too tart/acidic to be palatable. I am curious about Ragu’s no-sugar-added sauce. Do you know if they add a manufactured sweetener? I would suspect that natural sugar is better for us than a sweetener manufactured from, or proccessed with, chemicals. Any ideas?

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Brenda June 3, 2011 at 3:37 pm

Hi Shilo,

Great question! I’ll ave to look into it and probably give them (Ragu) a ring and see if they can answer that question. But you are right there are tons of manufactured sugars out there that people may not recognize.

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Gary Bacon April 1, 2012 at 7:37 pm

INGREDIENTS: TOMATO PUREE (WATER, TOMATO PASTE)

The ingredients in parenthesis specify what makes up their “puree”, which appears to me as watered down tomato paste. Gross. They started with paste, not tomatoes.

I’ve made ketchup. And tomato puree and paste. Tomato paste is the by-product of making the puree with actual tomatoes after it is strained. The strained portion is the puree. That can thicken into actual sauce. Almost comical that they are making a “puree” out of watering down the paste.

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