Are you pasta fanatics like we are in the Bacon household?
We eat pasta at least once or twice a week. We’ll combine it with different sauces, different meats, different vegetables, different types of pasta… we mix up our Italian cuisine quite a bit!
We also balance homemade sauce and jars of store-bought sauce. Alfredo and marinara are two popular ones; but if you’re trying to live a healthier lifestyle, is one healthier than the other?
The short answer is: Both are healthy in their own ways, and it all depends on your needs and health goals.
Below, I go over the differences between Alfredo and marinara. Their nutrition, what foods go well with them, etc. Get your questions answered!
Marinara is a tomato sauce made with a few main ingredients. You’ll typically find some sort of tomatoes (Diced tomatoes, crushed tomatoes), garlic, onion, and Italian seasoning in it.
I also add whatever sounds good at the time: red pepper flakes, fresh basil, tomato paste to thicken it, salt and black pepper… I’m not going for an authentic red sauce here, just whatever tastes good to my family.
Sometimes I use “marinara” and “spaghetti sauce” interchangeably. They’re basically the same thing, but a traditional marinara has way fewer ingredients. And I think of spaghetti sauce as a really hearty sauce, mainly because I usually add meat in it.
Marinara is also not quite the same as pizza sauce, although in a pinch you can probably use either one in whatever situation you’re in!
Alfredo is a white creamy sauce, typically made with basic ingredients like butter, Parmesan cheese, and milk or cream. It’s really thin, although you can use something like flour or cornstarch to thicken it and help it stick better to the pasta. Sometimes people also add cream cheese to thicken it!
This creamy pasta sauce is popularly used in Fettuccine Alfredo and chicken, and honestly is one of our favorites in my house.
These two sauces have wildly different ingredients, which means they have very different nutrition info.
Also note that homemade sauces will differ from store-bought. The info below is not accurate for EVERY type of marinara or Alfredo, but just a generalization.
This is for a typical homemade sauce, a 1/2 cup serving:
- 65 calories
- 2 grams of fat
- 2 grams of fiber
- 2 grams of protein
This is for a general homemade sauce, a 1/2 cup serving:
- 169 calories
- 17 grams of fat
- 0 grams of fiber
- 3 grams of protein
How to make marinara sauce
This is a basic recipe for a traditional marinara sauce:
- 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
- 1 yellow onion, diced
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1-2 tablespoons Italian seasoning
In a large pan, heat the olive oil and then cook the onions and garlic until the onions are soft, about 2-3 minutes.
Add the rest of the ingredients, bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes. Serve with your favorite pasta.
How to make Alfredo sauce
Here’s a basic recipe for homemade Alfredo sauce:
- 1 stick unsalted butter
- 1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
- 2 cups grated Parmesan cheese
In a large skillet, add the butter and whipping cream. Mix and cook for about 2 minutes.
Add the garlic, Italian seasoning, salt, and pepper, and cook for another couple minutes.
Stir in the Parmesan cheese and whisk until the sauce is smooth.
What goes best with each sauce
You can most likely interchange these ingredients with no problem. But there are some foods that you can’t help but think of one sauce or the other for pasta dishes!
- Ground meat (Ground beef, ground turkey, or ground pork make for an easy meat sauce)
- Italian sausage
- Spaghetti noodles
- Side salad
- Mozzarella cheese
- Chicken breast
- Chicken sausages
- Fettuccine pasta
- Penne pasta
- Caesar salad
So, which is the healthiest pasta sauce?
The word “healthy” is very subjective. What is healthy for one person is not healthy for another.
If you’re thinking strictly in terms of calories, then marinara is the better choice. The tomato-based sauce has way fewer calories, while Alfredo sauce is high in calories thanks to the use of heavy cream and Parmesan cheese.
Each one has its place, though! While marinara sauce may be lower in calories, a creamy Alfredo sauce has a richer taste and is a great choice with chicken and broccoli.
In the end, do what’s best for you and your lifestyle. And ENJOY it!
Jaime is a Nutrition Coach and professional writer. She enjoys cooking easy meals, running, and learning more about food.
Jaime specializes in helping women with ADHD learn to meal plan and cook healthier meals without getting overwhelmed.