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a post by

Kara Glasco, MS, RCEP, HFS

Go to any fancy restaurant and I guarantee everything on the menu will come with a decadent and delicious sauce. Sauces can instantly elevate the most mundane of dishes and can be secret calorie traps.

Some of the oldest diet tips are to avoid cream based sauces (alfredo sauce), mayonnaise based sauces (ranch and blue cheese dressing) and fat loaded sauces (scampi). Where is the fun in that? I feel that often times the sauce is the best part of the meal! When trying to lose weight, cutting out nutritionally void calories such as the ones in sauces can be a big key to your success.

Another tip is to substitute an unhealthy sauce for another healthier one. Sometimes I get the yummy, yet fattening, sauce on the side, lightly dip my fork into it and use the sauce sparingly.

When deciphering restaurant menus, look for any of these sauces that will be lower in calories but high in flavor: salsa, guacamole, vinaigrette, marinara, salsa verde, tzatziki, and chimichurri.

Punch up the flavor

Lemon juice, mustard, vinegar, and hot sauce are great additives to jazz up the flavor of any dish without adding many calories. I really enjoy adding lemon juice to my steamed veggies and sauteed greens so I don't need to use butter.

Anything vinegar based will always be very low in calories such as hot sauce and mustard. Try making a spicy marinade or mustard based rub instead of a ketchup or oil heavy marinade. I love making buffalo chicken skewers and I marinate the chicken in only hot sauce for a buffalo flavor with hardly any added calories. All the same flavors as your favorite wings with no added carbs, fat OR GUILT!

Another tip is to increase the amount of vinegar to oil ratio in homemade salad dressings. I tend to make my dressings and marinades heavy on the vinegar because it acts as a meat tenderizer and makes a little go a long way. I suggest using two types of vinegar or acid in salad dressings for a more rounded and less harsh flavor profile. My favorites are balsamic, of course, lemon juice and any type of wine vinegar.

Slimmer Sauces

Another great way to save some calories in your sauce recipes is to swap out part of the fattening ingredients for chicken or vegetable broth. Broth has only 5 calories per tablespoon and is packed with yummy flavor. I suggest only swapping half of the liquids or fats for broth so you don't completely change the recipes flavor profile.

As I mentioned in my healthy substitutions article, I use low-fat condensed milk in place of heavy cream for a rich consistency without hundreds of extra calories. 

I found this pesto recipe years ago, loved it the instant I tried it and will never make a traditional recipe again. This recipe is so light compared to the oil laden recipes most cookbooks use. The flavors really shine through as well because the ingredients aren't somthered with all that oil. Traditional pesto has over 230 calories for 1/4 cup while this updated version is only 104 calories, what a saving!!!

Lighter Pesto Sauce

2 Tbsp pine nuts
2 cups basil leaves, fresh
1/2 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth (or homemade broth)
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 or 2 medium garlic clove(s), peeled (depending on how much you like garlic)
1/2 tsp table salt

Over medium heat, toast pine nuts in a small pan for about 3 minutes. Toss frequently so they won't burn. Pour pine nuts into a food processor. Add basil, broth, cheese, oil, garlic and salt. Process until it's the smoothness of and thickness of your liking. If you like, let it stand overnight for melding/thickening purposes.

Serving size is 1/4 cup.
Calories: 104 calories
Fat: 9g


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