How to choose gravies and sauces

Gravies and sauces can add a little extra flavour and comfort to winter meals. Senior nutritionist Rose Carr checks out the store-bought options.

There is a wide range of powdered mixes: the sachets generally make up one cup of gravy or sauce, there are packs of three sachets, and small cans that make up about four cups in total. Bisto also produces a range of liquid gravies. We can buy brown onion gravy, or there are gravies to go with chicken, lamb, beef and pork. The sauces available include white, cheese, pepper, hollandaise, mushroom, mustard and more.

We use gravies and sauces to add flavour and texture but we need to be careful we don’t add too many extra kilojoules, and we need to watch how much fat and sodium adding a gravy or sauce adds to our overall meal.

We recommend comparing the per 100ml nutrition information and choosing products with 300kJ or less, which means if we have a quarter cup serve, it’s adding no more than 188kJ to our meal. For fat, choose products with 2g per 100ml or less. For sodium, aim for 460mg per 100ml or less.

As is often the case with manufactured foods, sodium can be the problem child when trying to choose a healthier product.

For anyone with high blood pressure it’s especially important to choose lower-sodium foods, but we could equally say, for any of us who don’t want high blood pressure as we age it’s just as important. If we stick to lower- sodium products, our taste buds will treat this as the norm and higher-sodium foods will taste too salty to us, which is good for our long-term health.

Homemade white sauce adds a useful amount of calcium from the milk and a cheese sauce will provide even more calcium, but if we are not careful with the ingredients, we can also add quite a lot of fat and kilojoules, especially with cheese sauce.

While the powdered mixes of cheese sauce may not add much calcium compared to homemade sauces, some of these products are a lot lower in kilojoules and fat than anything you are likely to make at home. And they tasted surprisingly good, too.

All the sauces and gravies we tested contain wheat, dairy and soy, and some contain egg. There are gluten-free gravy mixes available, but for other allergens check the ingredient list (or stick to homemade).

First published: Aug 2011

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