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How to Find a Healthier BBQ Sauce

Want to know a fact that's not so sweet? Each year, nearly 3 million tonnes of sugar is consumed in the UK. That comes out to 43.4 kilograms of sugar per year, per person.

Scary, right?

In the top 10 list of sugary foods in the UK, you'll find some expected culprits, including biscuits, yoghurts, cereals and ice cream. You'll also find some foods that may surprise you, including sweetened spreads and sauces.

That's right — sugar hides in seemingly every sauce and condiment in your cupboards and fridge. If you're following a low-carb diet, you will want to check the label for any traces of sugar, starting with your barbecue sauce

In our opinion a good clean BBQ sauce shouldn't contain any natural or artificial sweeteners, including brown sugar, molasses, honey or syrups. However, finding an unsweetened BBQ sauce can be difficult. Below, we explain what makes a healthy barbecue sauce, which ingredients are safe and how to find a BBQ sauce online. 

Does healthy BBQ Sauce Exist?

Yes, healthy BBQ sauce is out there, but it can be very difficult to find in supermarkets. 

Regular BBQ sauce is anything but healthy. In a leading brand of regular barbecue sauce,  you'll find 18 grams of carbohydrates and 17 grams of sugar in a single serving size [2]. Plus, there's not a single gram of protein or fat, making this a blood-sugar-spiking condiment. The ingredients list contains a number of foods you would never want to consume on a low-carb diet (or an ancestrally inspired, real food diet, for that matter), including high fructose corn syrup, modified corn starch, pineapple juice, molasses and brown sugar

So, what about sugar-free BBQ sauces or condiments advertised as low-carb friendly? Unfortunately, most of these products aren't much better than their original recipe counterparts. Most leading ‘natural’ barbecue sauce brands contain still high amounts of refined or artificial sugars. In fact, it's not uncommon to find 29 grams of added sugar per 100 grams of BBQ sauce (that's almost 7 teaspoons!). 

While some low-carb BBQ sauce brands attempt to replace the worst-offending ingredients (e.g., brown sugar and high-fructose corn syrup), they still use high-carb sweeteners. For example, many brown sugar substitutes include dried fruit (like dates), fruit juice (like pineapple juice) or natural sweeteners (like maple syrup) instead. 

When looking for a healthy BBQ sauce, read the ingredients label carefully. You should check out the total sugars on the nutritional label — as even ‘natural’ sugars can spike your blood glucose and contain a high number of carbohydrates.

What about if you're Keto?  

ribs with BBQ sauce

If you are following a keto diet, you will be wanting to limit your carbohydrates and total sugars. As a rule of thumb, you will want to avoid any foods with refined sugars on the label as well as lots of dried fruits such as dates. 

To enter ketosis, you need to consume high amounts of fat, moderate amounts of protein and very few carbs. When building a keto meal plan, your caloric (energy) intake should look like this:

  • 75% should come from fat
  • 20% from protein
  • 5% from carbohydrates

For many this means limiting your carb count to less than 50 grams or even as low as 20g of net carbs per day. Hopefully, these carbs are made up of low-carb veg and berries, eggs and healthy fats (like avocados) alongside plenty of meat. You will not want to waste any of your allotted carbs on condiments.

Therefore, search for a keto-friendly, low-carb barbecue sauce that contains zero added sugar and around or less than 1 gram of carbs if possible. A low-carb keto BBQ sauce will be made from tomatoes, vinegar, acid and spices. If you see a BBQ sauce recipe or store-bought product that contains any other ingredient, it's probably not keto-friendly.

Approved Ingredients in a healthy BBQ Sauce 

You can make your own BBQ sauce at home — using a healthy recipe, of course — or purchase a low-carb product. When scanning the nutrition label, these are the ingredients that are safe to consume: 

  • Real Tomatoes: You should always consume a BBQ sauce made from real tomatoes, tomato paste or tomato sauce. 
  • Vinegar: Apple cider vinegar and red wine vinegar are all ideal products. (Do not buy one with Worcestershire sauce, which contains carbs).
  • Acid: It's not uncommon to find acid (like lemon juice, lime juice or apple cider vinegar) used in dipping sauces, including sugar-free ketchup and BBQ sauce.
  • Smokey flavour: BBQ sauce doesn't get it's delicious, smokey flavour from sugar. Instead, it gets it from ingredients such as liquid smoke or smoked water.
  • Spices: BBQ sauce recipes and branded products will contain their own blend of seasoning and spices which are all low-carb friendly. Ingredients such as chipotle powder, cumin, black pepper, cayenne pepper, smoked paprika and sea salt are safe to consume.
  • Sweeteners*: We are adding an asterisk to this because while they're keto-friendly or low-carb, they're also unnecessary. Low-carb sweeteners such as Swerve, monk fruit, stevia and erythritol are compliant with the keto diet, but aren't necessary to make a delicious BBQ sauce as we personally find the sweetness from the vinegar blend and tomatoes enough.

Low-Carb Recipes Using BBQ Sauce 

You can slather a BBQ sauce on pulled pork, use it as a marinade for BBQ chicken or serve it as a dipping sauce. Here are just a few recipes that use BBQ sauce

  • Lamb burgers with a lettuce leaf "bun": These lamb burgers are perfect for grilling season. Top them with a layer of BBQ sauce (instead of avocado mayo) to complete the dish.
  • Cheeseburger chili: This low-carb chili recipe contains 8 grams of fat and 22 grams of protein and is ready in a total time of 30 minutes. The hot, smokey flavour comes from the seasoning, made from BBQ sauce, chili powder, mustard, salt and paprika.
  • Paleo chicken dipper nuggets: These gluten-free chicken nuggets are coated with almond flour and coconut flour, making them keto and paleo-friendly. As a dipping sauce, use a tangy BBQ sauce. (Please note: While this recipe also mentions sweet potato fries, we suggest making celeriac chips instead, which are much lower in carbs).
  • Grass-fed burgers: These grass-fed, easy burgers contain ketchup and mayo as condiments. However, you can easily swap out either for a BBQ sauce.

How to Find the Best BBQ Sauce 

Hunter and gather BBQ sauce unsweetened

Sugar hides in a number of sauces — which isn't good news for anyone, particularly if you follow the keto diet. To eliminate these hidden sugars from your diet, you will want to swap any condiments — like mayo, ketchup and BBQ sauce — for low-carb versions.

A healthy BBQ sauce should be made with tomatoes, apple cider vinegar, spices and smoked water. Ideally, it will be free of all sweeteners, even those that are low carb.

Hunter & Gather Unsweetened Smokey Barbecue Sauce contains no added sugar or sweeteners, around 1 gram of carbs per serve, and all-natural ingredients — making it perfectly suitable for those following loads of lifestyles including the keto diet. Use it as a dipping sauce, condiment or marinade in all your favourite low-carb recipes.

All information provided on our website and within our articles is simply information, opinion, anecdotal thoughts and experiences to provide you with the tools to thrive.

It is not intended to treat or diagnose symptoms and is definitely not intended to be misconstrued for medical advice. We always advise you seek the advice of a trained professional when implementing any changes to your lifestyle and dietary habits.

We do however recommend seeking the services of a trained professional who questions the conventional wisdom to enable you to become the best version of yourself.




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