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For many people, a plate of piping hot pasta spells comfort on a cold winter day. And if you're short on time – and energy – that store-bought jar of marinara sauce can be convenient. And good for you, too. Most tomato-based sauces are low in saturated fat, cholesterol-free and packed with lycopene, an antioxidant that's been linked to protection from prostate cancer.

But not all pasta sauces are created equal. The main ingredients in most commercial marinara sauces are tomato puree (i.e. water and tomato paste), tomatoes, vegetable oil, salt (sometimes lots of it), sugar and spices. Extras like cheese, meat and cream add calories, sodium and saturated fat, the type that can raise blood cholesterol. You need to read nutrition labels to know what you're buying.

When buying a commercial tomato sauce, choose one with no more than 1 gram of saturated fat and no more than 350 milligrams of sodium per half cup serving. To prevent your sodium intake from climbing, bulk up your serving sauce with extra vegetables.

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Skip this: Chunky Ragu Tomato, Garlic & Onion

A sauce to pass on is Chunky Ragu Tomato, Garlic and Onion. Its name sounds pretty healthy. Even the label boasts 2.5 servings of vegetables per half cup serving. But don't count on this pasta sauce to supply a few of your veggie servings for the day. One serving delivers only 1 gram of fibre and less than 10 per cent of the daily value for vitamins A and C. (A daily value of 15 per cent or greater is considered a good source of these antioxidant nutrients, found in vegetables and fruit.) Worse is the sodium count at 500 milligrams per half cup, one-third of a day's worth.

Nutritional value of a 1/2 cup serving: 90 calories

2.5 grams fat

0.4 grams saturated fat

0 milligrams cholesterol

500 milligrams sodium

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1 gram fibre

10 grams sugar

8 per cent daily value for vitamin A

4 per cent daily value for vitamin C

Eat this: Catelli Garden Select Six Vegetable Recipe Garlic & Onion

A better pick is Catelli's Garden Select Six Vegetable Recipe Garlic & Onion. In addition to tomato puree and tomatoes, it's made with carrots, celery, green peppers and onion, adding four times more fibre and more vitamins A and C to each serving. Not bad for a sauce. One-half cup also delivers 30 per cent less sodium (350 milligrams per serving ). It's lighter on refined sugar too, with sugar ranking fifth on the ingredient list rather than third as on Ragu's. (Much of the sugar in tomato sauce is naturally occurring sugar from tomatoes.)

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Nutritional value of a 1/2 cup serving: 70 calories

1.5 grams fat

0.3 grams saturated fat

0 milligrams cholesterol

350 milligrams sodium

4 grams fibre

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7 grams sugar

10 per cent daily value for vitamin A

15 per cent daily value for vitamin C

Leslie Beck, a registered dietitian, is the national director of nutrition at BodyScience Medical. She can be seen every Thursday at noon on CTV News Channel's Direct (www.lesliebeck.com).

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