Is BBQ sauce okay on a diet?

Barbecue sauce is a popular condiment for grilled meats like chicken, ribs, and brisket. Many commercial barbecue sauces contain a lot of sugar and salt. This leads some dieters to wonder if barbecue sauce is off-limits when trying to lose weight. This article will explore whether barbecue sauce can be part of a healthy diet.

Quick Answers

– In moderation, barbecue sauce can be okay on a diet. Look for low-sugar, low-sodium options.
– Avoid drinking or dipping sauce straight from the bottle, as it’s easy to overconsume.
– Measure out 2-3 tablespoons of sauce per serving of meat.
– Opt for homemade sauce with natural sweeteners like honey or maple syrup.
– Read nutrition labels and compare brands to find the healthiest options.
– Focus on lean proteins, veggies, fruits, and whole grains as your main foods.

Nutritional Profile of Barbecue Sauce

Barbecue sauces come in a wide variety of flavors and ingredients. The most common ingredients are tomatoes, vinegar, corn syrup or sugar, spices, and salt. Here is the general nutrition information for a typical 2-tablespoon serving of barbecue sauce:

Calories 60-150
Total Fat 0-5g
Saturated Fat 0-1g
Sodium 150-450mg
Total Carbs 10-30g
Sugars 8-20g
Protein 0-3g

As you can see, the main nutrients to pay attention to are calories, sodium, and sugar. Many sauces get a large portion of calories from sugar. Lower calorie, lower sodium, and lower sugar sauces are the best options for diets.

Key Differences Between Sauces

Here are some of the key factors that affect the nutrition stats of various barbecue sauces:

– **Tomato-based vs. vinegar-based:** Tomato-heavy sauces tend to be lower in calories and carbs than vinegar-heavy sauces.

– **Sweet vs. spicy:** The spicier the sauce, usually the less sugar it contains. Sweet sauces have more sugar.

– **Ketchup:** Ketchup is often used as a base, adding salt, sugar, and a tomato flavor. Sauces thickened with pureed fruits and veggies instead of ketchup tend to be healthier.

– **Corn syrup:** Many commercial sauces use corn syrup as a sweetener. Look for ones that use honey, maple syrup, or fruit purees instead.

– **Preservatives and food colorings:** Homemade and natural sauce brands have fewer additives than big commercial brands. Limit artificial ingredients when possible.

Is Barbecue Sauce Okay in Moderation on a Diet?

The good news is that having a small amount of barbecue sauce periodically can be okay, even when losing weight. Here are some tips:

– Stick to 2-3 tablespoons per serving of meat. This provides flavor without going overboard on sugar and sodium.

– Look for low-calorie, low-sugar, and low-sodium sauces. There can be a big difference between brands.

– Opt for tomato-based over vinegar-based, and homemade over commercial sauces when possible.

– Avoid drinking sauce straight from the bottle or using it as a dip, where it’s easy to overdo portions.

– Read nutrition labels and focus on calories, sugar, sodium, and artificial additives. Compare to find healthier options.

– Make sure meat, veggies, fruits, and whole grains are the stars of your diet, not the sauce.

In general, a couple tablespoons of sauce on occasion is better than drowning food in sauce or drinking it straight. Be mindful of portions.

Healthy Barbecue Sauce Brands

When shopping, look for these characteristics in a healthier barbecue sauce:

– Around 60-100 calories per 2-tbsp serving

– Less than 15g total carbs

– Less than 10g sugar

– At least 2g fiber

– Less than 300mg sodium

– No high fructose corn syrup or artificial sweeteners

Some sauce brands that meet these guidelines include:

– Annie’s Organic Original BBQ sauce
– OrganicVille Sky Valley BBQ sauce
– Bone Suckin’ Sauce Thick & Zesty BBQ sauce
– Stubb’s Smokey Mesquite
– Sweet Baby Ray’s No Sugar Added sauce

There are also many healthy homemade sauce recipes online using natural sweeteners.

Should You Avoid Barbecue Sauce Completely on a Diet?

Most nutrition experts say there’s no need to avoid barbecue sauce entirely when trying to lose weight, as long as you control portions and read labels. However, here are some reasons you may want to limit barbecue sauce on a diet:

– **High calorie density:** With up to 150 calories in just 2 tablespoons, sauce packs a lot of calories in a small amount. It’s easy to overdo it.

– **High sugar content:** The 10-20 grams of sugar per serving adds up fast. Too much added sugar is linked to health issues.

– **High sodium:** Barbecue sauce contains up to nearly half of your RDI for sodium per serving. Too much sodium can cause high blood pressure.

– **Artificial ingredients:** Many sauces contain corn syrup, MSG, thickeners, and preservatives you may want to avoid.

– **Can encourage overeating:** The strong flavors of sauce can mask how much you’re really eating, making it easy to overconsume calories.

– **Distracts from healthier foods:** Dousing food in sauce directs attention away from nutritious ingredients like lean protein and vegetables.

So while an occasional small serving of sauce is fine for most people, there are good reasons to limit overuse, especially if weight loss is your goal.

Healthier Ways to Flavor Barbecue Foods

Here are some tips for adding great flavor to grilled meats and veggies without relying so heavily on sugary, salty barbecue sauce:

– **Use a dry rub.** Make a dry spice rub with chili powder, cumin, paprika, garlic powder, salt, and pepper. Rub it directly onto meat before grilling.

– **Brine the meat.** Soaking meat in a saltwater brine before cooking boosts flavor and tenderness.

– **Marinate meat.** Marinate meat for a few hours or overnight in a sauce of low-sodium soy sauce, vinegar, garlic, and spices.

– **Use chimichurri.** This bright green herb sauce adds tons of flavor without the salt, sugar, and calories of barbecue sauce.

– **Serve sliced lemon.** A squeeze of lemon is a fresh way to enhance flavor.

– **Use hot sauce.** Add a dash of your favorite hot sauce for a spicy kick.

– **Go for salsa.** Chunky fresh salsa adds lots of flavor for minimal calories.

– **Drizzle balsamic.** Aged balsamic vinegar is delicious on grilled veggies and meats.

– **Try mustard.** Spicy brown or Dijon mustard bring flavor without all the sugar.

Healthy Barbecue Sauce Substitutes

Besides various herbs, spices, vinegars, and mustards, here are some great substitutes that deliver big barbecue flavor with fewer calories, less sugar, and less sodium:

**1. Ketchup** – Although it contains sugar, ketchup has half the calories and sodium of many barbecue sauces, and zero fat. Opt for no-sugar-added ketchup whenever possible.

**2. Tomato sauce/paste** – Plain tomato sauce or paste packs concentrated tomato flavor. Look for low-sodium options.

**3. Pureed fruits** – For sweetness, puree fruits like mangoes, peaches, pineapples, or cherries in a blender to make your own fruity sauce.

**4. Pureed veggies** – For smokey flavor, puree grilled bell peppers, onions, mushrooms, or eggplant.

**5. Greek yogurt** – Nonfat plain Greek yogurt blended with herbs and spices makes a creamy, tangy sauce.

**6. Hummus** – Pureed chickpeas have protein and fiber. Blend in barbecue spices for a creamy dip/sauce.

**7. Salsa** -Opt for fresh, chunky salsa with lots of veggies over heavy, sugary jarred sauces.

**8. Chili sauce** – Made from tomatoes, vinegar, and spices, chili sauce has a similar tang as barbecue without the calories.

Healthy Homemade Barbecue Sauce

Making your own healthy barbecue sauce at home allows you to control the ingredients. Here is a great recipe:


– 1 cup ketchup
– 1⁄4 cup apple cider vinegar
– 2 tbsp honey or maple syrup
– 1 tsp chili powder
– 1 tsp paprika
– 1 tsp garlic powder
– 1⁄2 tsp onion powder
– 1⁄2 tsp black pepper
– 1⁄4 tsp cayenne pepper (optional)


1. Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan and whisk well.
2. Bring to a simmer over medium heat.
3. Reduce heat and let simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until thickened.
4. Remove from heat and allow to cool before using.
5. Store leftover sauce in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

Making your own sauce allows you to leave out high fructose corn syrup, excess sugar and preservatives. Feel free to experiment with different spice flavors as well.

How to Accommodate Barbecue Sauce in a Healthy Diet

Here are some tips for keeping your diet on track if you don’t want to fully give up barbecue sauce:

– Treat it as an occasional condiment, not an everyday food
– Use just a drizzle or dip a forkful rather than pouring it over everything
– Measure 2-3 tablespoons per serving of meat/veggies
– Skip the sauce that comes on the side to avoid overdipping
– Fill half your plate with non-starchy veggies to balance a saucy main dish
– Enjoy sauce mainly at barbecues, once or twice a month, rather than daily
– Dilute sauce with low-sodium ketchup or tomato paste
– Choose tomato-based sauces more often than vinegar-based
– Compare brands and read labels to find healthier options with less sugar and salt
– Make it yourself so you control exactly what goes in
– Allow yourself a small serving for flavor, but don’t drink it by the glassful

The key is using restraint and making sure sauce doesn’t take over every meal. It can be part of an overall healthy diet in moderation. Focus on more whole foods like fruits, veggies, and lean protein as your main staples for weight loss.


Barbecue sauce can be enjoyed occasionally and in moderation by most people trying to lose weight or eat healthy. The keys are controlling portions, finding low-calorie sauces with less sugar and sodium, avoiding drinking sauce straight from the bottle, and using healthier flavor methods like spices, herbs, mustard, vinegar, and salsa more often than heavy sugary sauces.

Homemade sauce and tomato-based options tend to be better than commercial, corn syrup-heavy sauces from a health perspective. But all sauce should be a just a accent to dishes, not the main attraction. Focus on protein, produce, whole grains, and healthy fats as your diet foundation. With mindful eating, barbecue sauce can be accommodated as a sometimes food in an overall balanced, nutrient-rich diet aimed at weight loss.

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