Schools are out, beaches are open, and the sun is blazing! With all this summery goodness comes one of my favorite events: Outdoor barbecues! It just wouldn't be summer without an outdoor gathering of your closest friends and family. Ribs, steaks, and chicken kebabs … what do all of these things have in common? Sauce! It's usually slathered on thick or used as a marinade before cooking protein or veggies. But certain ones can wreak havoc on your carefully chiseled summer waistline.
Below is a guide to sauces that will get you through the season without the barbecue bulge!
Limit your sodium
Sodium is the biggest offender when dealing with sauce, because it adds flavor and is often used as a preservative to increase shelf life. Since barbecue sauce is used in such plentiful amounts, adhere to strict sodium guidelines when choosing one, or you'll certainly feel the bloat the next day. Aim for under 250 milligrams per 2-tablespoon serving. This may be hard to find with many popular sauce brands, so look for unique food companies that focus more on flavoring with spices instead of loading on the salt. One of my favorites is Danielle's Sauces, which is built on the belief of "clean cooking," so their products are free of preservatives and additives. I love the company's Smoke & Spice BBQ Sauce, which contains only 240 milligrams of sodium per 2-tbsp. serving but packs tons of flavor and kick. Or, infuse some Asian flavor into your dish by using the brand's Chiliyaki sauce, a spicy teriyaki that's one of the lowest-sodium sauces on the market.
So many sauces are flavored with molasses, brown sugar, or even corn syrup to maintain a smoky sweetness, but sugar can cause your calories to add up faster than you think. As a rule, try to look for sauces that are less than 50 calories per 2-tbsp. serving. Chris' and Pitt's Bar-B-Q Sauce is perfect to spread on ribs or chicken and has just 30 calories in 2 tablespoons. If you opt for a sauce that's higher in calories, try to keep the sauce on the side to use as a dip. You'll most likely use less if it's not slathered on beforehand.
Hot sauce is another great option because it's low in calories, and you only need a dash or two to make things interesting. Among the numerous varieties of hot sauces available, Shiracha hot sauce is my go-to summer barbecue staple. It provides a spicy flavor, not a five-alarm fire. A teaspoon or two is all you need and adds just 10 calories and 200 milligrams of sodium to your dish.
Swap sauce for salsa
There's something to be said for barbecue sauce, but you may find that topping your freshly grilled salmon or scallops with a heap of homemade salsa can add a refreshing aspect to your dish. Dice an avocado, and combine with half a cup of quartered grape tomatoes, a three-quarter cup of fresh corn and 1 tablespoon of fresh cilantro. Add a squeeze of lime juice and a sprinkle of salt, and you're ready to go. The unsaturated fat from the avocado, combined with the citrus flavoring will create such a bold flavor, you'll never miss the sauce! If you're pressed for time, consider a jarred salsa. The Brooklyn Salsa Company creates unique blends from local, sustainable ingredients. Enjoy The Green flavor, which combines cumin, ginger, and heirloom tomatoes for about 100 milligrams of sodium and only 10 calories per serving.
Make it homemade
Creating your own sauce at home can ignite your creative side and inspire you to add unique spices and fresh flavorings. Keeping it homemade also gives you control over the nutritional content of the sauce. Start with a tomato base of either no-salt-added ketchup or no-salt-added tomato sauce which you can find in the condiment aisle of any large supermarket. Add 2 tablespoons of molasses, 2 tablespoons of vinegar and a sprinkle of brown sugar. Season with freshly ground pepper and one-half teaspoon of garlic powder. You can stop right here, and the sauce will be delicious, or consider experimenting with spices such as curry or ginger powder. For a different flavor, try apple cider or red wine vinegar.
Summer is not a time to be a wallflower! So enjoy the beach, the sun, and the barbecues, knowing that you don't need to sacrifice flavor when watching your calories.
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Heather Bauer, RD, CDN, is a nationally-recognized nutrition expert, author, and entrepreneur. She is the author of two top selling books, The Wall Street Diet and Bread is the Devil. She is the founder of Nu-Train, a nutrition consulting company, and Bestowed, a subscription service that offers consumers a personalized way to discover, sample, shop, and learn about the best nutrition and lifestyle products on the market.