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Calorie Count Blog

Lighten-Up Your Sauce

By +Janice D'Agostino on Mar 23, 2012 10:00 AM in Recipes

A good upbringing means not that you won't spill sauce on the tablecloth, but that you won't notice it when someone else does.  - Anton Chekhov

When I was a kid, ketchup was my sauce of choice. I knew that some of the foods we ate were cooked in sauces and others had them added at the table, but I was not particularly interested in experiencing unique flavors or learning about how food was prepared - just pass the ketchup, please. When I got a little older, I noticed that my Mom did something special to gussy up slices of big potatoes by cooking them in a white gravy-like sauce. As a teenager I considered it most daring and exotic to pour taco sauce on a nacho, such was my culinary life in a small Mid-West town. Obviously my interest in food evolved a bit.

Sauces are a great way to make a meal sing to your taste buds. Many, though, are extremely high in both fat and calories. Sometimes you can make little tweaks in recipes to help adjust the fat content – using skim milk or stock in the liquid. Other recipes are not so easily made to fit into a calorie conscious plan. For each sauce there are three choices: eliminate it entirely from meal plans, carefully measure and minimize the serving size, or eat favorite sauces made in the preferred way and in satisfying amounts - but serve them far less often.

If you prefer one of the second two options and want to keep saucing your foods, you might enjoy learning how these three basic sauces are made. Use a little imagination to create endless variations that include lower fat and lower calorie options. You just may find one that will suit the way you eat... or you might try one of the many great sauce experiences from other cultures around the world.

Three Basic Sauces

Bechamel is that thickened white milky sauce that my Mom used to turn potatoes into scalloped potatoes. Add some cheese to the same sauce and you transform cauliflower into a major league comfort food. Yes, the sauce adds a lot of calories when it is incorporated into the dish. A great way to get around that is to cook the sauce separately from the cauliflower and drizzle a bit on top.

Veloute is made using the same recipe as the Bechamel, except that low calorie low fat stock largely or entirely replaces the milk. This is a wonderful sauce to serve with meaty main dishes like pork chops. The sauce can be dark brown or light in color depending on the type of stock you use. Make it creamy by adding a little milk. 

Hollandaise from CC Palate significantly lowers the fat and calories of this traditionally high fat sauce. If you only place a tablespoonful atop your poached egg or asparagus you'll minimize the impact on your daily log but still eat with elegance. This is one sauce where quantity really matters.

Three Sauces from Around the World:

Argentinian Chimichurri sauce is that lovely parsley laden sauce served with grilled beef.  This sauce was so popular with my son that he has requested that I keep some on hand for use in building outstanding sandwiches.

It’s nearly impossible to have a Tex-Mex meal here in Texas without bowls of Salsa or Pico de Gallo - which is great because it's one of the lowest fat and calorie sauces out there! Hollie’s simple Pico de Gallo is tasty and only adds about 14 calories to your taco. Or try Salsa Verde with tomatillos!  

If you love all things pasta, this Pesto Sauce is an easy to make delicious sauce that normally has a lot of calories. This recipe shows you how you can lower the fat. 

Your thoughts…

What is your favorite sauce? Do you have a great work around for taking a high fat or calorie sauce and making it diet friendly? Are there sauces that are standards in your country that you think everyone should try? Please share your recipes below! If you would like your recipe to be considered for CC Palate, send it to me by pm. This article may be reprinted (including bio) with prior permission from the author.


To this day I love my ketchup, it makes everything better. IMO. I was raised on tzatiki so I use a lot of that still. Also love pesto, I make a few different kinds basil, cilantro, parsley, artichoke, sundried tomato, etc. All are yummy on just about everything. 

I use skim plus (or skim milk plus powdered skim) instead of whole milk for Bechamel.  Sometimes substitute home-made vegetable stock for 1/3 of the milk.  Replace half of the butter with canola or light olive oil.  (I've found that I can use fat/flour in a ratio of 2:3 or even 1/2. 

I got some powdered guar at a health food store and sometimes use that (start with 1/4 teaspoon) for all or part of the roux.  (xanthan works the same way).  sprinkle it over hot liquid while stirring. 

Can get a respectable chicken stock by poaching a chicken breast until done, then use water for soup or sauce.  Not as rich as stock made from bones, but will do in a pinch.



I make my own BBQ sauce and ketchup, and they're SO much better than store bought. I also make my own delicious vegan gravies, low cal white sauce, cheese sauce, nacho sauce, and basically any sauce I want (and veganize!). I'm a huge sauce person. I love the rich or mellow, sweet or salty, fresh or umami flavors. :)

I make a base white sauce using 1 pint  2% milk and about a level tablespoon of corn starch.  Measure a tablespoon of corn starch into a large measuring jug or into a double boiler, gradually stir in the milk mixing all the time.  Heat  until it thickens .  I microwave mine in  a glass jug (2 quart or larger).  Season with salt and pepper. I double the quantity for a bechamel sauce for lasagne. For cauliflower cheese or macaroni, I add a teaspoon of English mustard and a handful of cheese (rest that I have grated goes over the dish for cooking.)  We don't eat a lot of sauces bar gravies and these are all made with natural meat juices/stock and thickened with cornstarch.  I find it gives a much clearer and lighter sauce. 

This is a wonderful blog! I was raised just like Jan, ketchup on everything and ignored most other sauces. How many of you know that "pico de gallo" actually means "rooster beak"? Laughing There's an interesting little fact for the day. You can also add nopales to pico de gallo, a wonderful super-veggie that you can buy canned or, if you live in the southern US you may even be able to buy them fresh. And check out the Rick Bayless website for great salsa recipes.

Besides, of course, the great recipes that you can already find on the CC Palate! Wink

Hot salsa on spinach salads is awesome and healthy.

Original Post by: darkthistlefaery

I make my own BBQ sauce and ketchup, and they're SO much better than store bought. I also make my own delicious vegan gravies, low cal white sauce, cheese sauce, nacho sauce, and basically any sauce I want (and veganize!). I'm a huge sauce person. I love the rich or mellow, sweet or salty, fresh or umami flavors. :)

Oh, please tell me how to make my own bbq sauce and ketchup!!! Smile

Great article, I love hearing about how to take my favorite foods and fit them in to a low cal diet. If you want to go the substitution route, I've had a lot of success in cream sauces by exchanging butter with fat free greek yogurt and exchanging heavy cream with fat free evaporated milk. Still really nice and creamy with a great mouth feel, none of the guilt. Great for scalloped potatoes, alfredo, hollandaise. Be careful how you incorporate the yogurt though or your sauce can break.

I have found a great low cal, low fat way to thicken up sauces. Non-Fat condensed milk. It has a consistency that is similar to whipping cream. I make alfredo sauce with NF condensed milk, garlic, pepper, tobasco sauce, butter buds, and a couple of tablespoons of canned grated parmesean cheese. It's not quite as good as the real thing (butter and cheese), but it is a great tasting alternative.

Not necessarily a sauce, but I found I can thicken stew with mashed potato flakes.  Helps make it more filling and I can eliminate potato chunks and get more veggies in there.

Honey Garlic Barbecue Sauce

Ingredients and Cooking Steps

    1 tablespoon olive oil
    1 large onion, finely chopped
    3 tablespoons minced garlic
    3 tablespoons honey
    5 1/2 oz can tomato paste (no sodium added if possible)
    1 cup beef broth (low sodium)
    1/2 teaspoon mustard powder
    2 tablespoons cider vinegar
    salt and pepper, to taste
    1/4 tsp Worcestershire sauce; pinch cayenne pepper

In a medium sized pot, over medium-high heat, heat olive oil. Saute the onions and garlic for 5-7 minutes, until the onions are softened and opaque. Reduce heat to medium and stir in honey and tomato paste until the honey is runny. Stir in beef  broth, mustard powder, cider vinegar, salt, pepper, Worcestershire sauce, and cayenne pepper. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to low.

Simmer over low for 20-30 minutes, until the sauce thickens (to your liking). Use immediately or refrigerate for up to 1 week.

Basic Barbecue Sauce Recipe

Recipe Ingredients:

1 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 1/4 cups tomato sauce (no salt added)
1 bay leaf
1/4 tsp curry powder
Freshly-ground black pepper, to taste
1 tbsp white vinegar
1/4 tsp dry mustard
1/4 tsp hot pepper sauce
1 tbsp chopped parsley
Recipe Instructions:

1. In a medium saucepan, heat the oil and saute the onion until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients and simmer for 20 minutes.

2. Discard the bay leaf and transfer the sauce to a container.

This recipe yields 12 servings. Serving size: 2 tablespoons.

Exchanges Per Serving: 1 Vegetable.

Nutrition Facts: Calories 24; Calories from Fat 11; Total Fat 1g; Saturated Fat 0g; Cholesterol 0mg; Sodium 6mg; Carbohydrate 3g; Dietary Fiber 0g; Sugars 2g; Protein 1g.
Stores great in freezer

I use salsa in place of salad dressing.......

Yay! Thanks, sundownlinda!

To make a really simple, utterly addictive tomato sauce slowly bake an oven tray laden with tomatoes cut in quarters, several onions cut into chunks, some whole garlic cloves and either olive oil or vegetable stock if you prefer, for 2-3 hours at 160 degrees Celcius.  Blend.  Season with salt, pepper and a teaspoon of sugar or preferred sweetener.  You can strain it if you like but I do prefer the fibre.  It keeps well in the fridge and can be happily frozen. Tastes much much better than ketchup - or 'Tomato Sauce' for the Aussies out there. xxx

Intersting article, and thanks to other posters for their recipes. But re the pesto sauce referred to in the article - Serving Size =  37.2 g; this is not a very helpful measure - how about providing serving size in units we actually use in the US, e.g., 1/4 cup, 2 tablespoons, etc.?

I love sauces! Particularly varieties from India- Tikka, Curries, Masala, Chutney etc. I purchase them bottled or jarred of course, so I opt for carefully measuring and enjoying them. They awaken the taste of many dishes!

s1jj11n, I LOVE Indian dishes and like you I found it easiest to simply account for the cals and enjoy once in a while! 

What about trying spicy sauces like hot pepper sauce as they are not high in calories or fat 4kcal per 5g serving to zing up any meal. Unable to do without.

What about trying spicy sauces like hot pepper sauce as they are not high in calories or fat 4kcal per 5g serving to zing up any meal. Unable to do without.

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