4 Healthy Fast Food Sauce Recipes

If you’re trying to cut back on calorie-rich, unhealthy foods in your diet, swapping healthy fast food sauces for those that normally come with your meal can be a huge help. Here, Sasha, our resident nutritional anthropologist, has gathered up the four best healthy copycat fast food sauce recipes!

You know how easy it is to stop by fast food drive-thru when you feel your stomach growl. It’s quick. It’s easy. And it’s impulsive.

So, it’s really hard to opt for healthy fast food (if that even exists).  After all, you’re looking for classic menu items that will, without a doubt, offer a quick fix for your hunger and satisfy your fast food cravings.

Unfortunately, most fast food restaurants offer menu items with ingredients that simply aren’t good for your health.  Studies show that fast food consumption negatively affects diet quality and can increase the risk of obesity.

Additionally, one of the types of fat commonly found in fast food can raise the risk for chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes and coronary artery disease.

While there are risks to over-consuming the basic fast food burgers, fries, and tacos, there is another key element to fast food that is often overlooked: the sauces.

The sauces, which we rarely even think about, are often what give fast foods their signature taste.  (Take the BBQ sauce off the McRib, for example, and it’s a pretty standard burger!) The problem is food sauces often contain food ingredients that you should avoid altogether.  

In this article, I will tell you about the unhealthy ingredients in fast food sauces.  And then I’ll link to my favorite healthy copycat sauce recipes you can use to make healthy fast food without missing out on all the delicious flavor!

Unhealthy Ingredients in Fast Food Sauces

Close up of burger and fries

As they say, the secret is in the sauce!  

Beyond the basic burger, taco, fried chicken, or fried rice, it is the specially-designed sauces that set different menu items apart from each other and the competition.

The problem is, these sauces are usually far from natural.  They can contain dozens of ingredients that can be damaging to your health.  Below are some of the common fast food sauce ingredients and the research that demonstrates how they can be bad for your health.

Note: There are several more potentially harmful ingredients often included in fast food sauces.  These are just the most notable.

1. Shortening and Hydrogenated Oils

Margarine being spread on bread

Shortening is solidified vegetable oil.  

Normally, vegetable oil is a liquid.  This is because vegetable oil is composed of unsaturated fatty acids that are naturally liquid at room temperature.  

In general, these types of unsaturated fats are considered “healthy”.  When they are included as part of a healthy diet, they help reduce the risk of high blood cholesterol heart disease and promote brain health, among others.

However, when vegetable oil is solidified, its fats no longer have the benefits they had in liquid form.  The process of turning the oil into solid form (called hydrogenation) essentially makes trans fats (trans fatty acids).  

Regularly consuming trans fats increase the risk of:

2. High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) and Other Sweeteners

High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is a sweet liquid derived from corn.  It is often used as an alternative sweetener to sugar in industrialized foods.  In the US, the consumption of HFCS is about equal to the consumption of sugar.

While there is a debate about how important HFCS is in the obesity epidemic, research shows that it does play a role.

The problem lies in the overconsumption of sugars (including HFCS), rather than the consumption of the sweeteners themselves.  In other words, trends in the US show that the consumption of calorie-rich sweeteners is very high. Worse yet, until recent years, the consumption of calorie-rich sweeteners, like HFCS was on the rise.  While HFCS consumption has decreased over the past 10 years, Americans consume the same amounts of beet and cane sugar.  

Caloric sweetener consumption can increase the risk of:

HFCS is commonly found in processed foods in the US, including savory ones.  This is also true for sauces. Even salty and spicy sauces will usually contain HFCS or sugar.

3. Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA)

Potato chips being poured out of bag

Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) is a food additive used to help prevent fatty ingredients from going rancid.  While it is generally recognized as safe by the FDA, animal studies suggest that it poses a cancer risk.  Initial human studies found no increase in cancer risk at reasonable levels, but the evidence is still being collected.  

Because researchers have proved it can directly cause cancer, it is best to avoid consuming too many foods with BHA.  

4. Sodium Benzoate/Potassium Benzoate

Sodium and potassium benzoate are both used as food preservatives and flavoring agents. Because they are very effective in acidic foods, they are a common additive to sauces.  

While studies show that the risk isn’t very high, there are several reports of people who consumed sodium or potassium benzoate and experienced hives or skin swelling.

Studies show that sodium benzoate in foods can:

Related Reading: Natural Anti-Aging Secrets: DNA and Its Role in How Quickly You Age

5. Monosodium glutamate (MSG) and Sodium Nitrites

Serving of Chinese food

MSG is an additive that has been the center of debates for many years.  It is a flavor enhancer that is generally well-tolerated at low doses.  

Higher MSG consumption, however, is associated with a higher risk of metabolic syndrome and being overweight.

And, worryingly, animal studies suggest that prolonged use of MSG can cause:

Several researchers insist, though, that, since these toxic effects have not been proven in humans (except for in a potentially sensitive subpopulation), MSG should still be generally recognized as safe.

Other researchers believe that this messaging is the result of a “suppression of information”.  

Is There Such a Thing as Healthy Fast Food?

It is possible to enjoy the benefits of food that is ready only minutes after you order it without ruining your health.  

But, it’s really hard for me to make generalizations about which dishes to order.  After all, even seemingly healthy menu options could include unhealthy ingredients!  

Plus, how healthy is “healthy enough” will depend on how often you eat fast food.

If you generally eat balanced, home-cooked meals, eating a fast food hamburger once a month will likely not have an impact on your health.  So, for you, I could say a hamburger is healthy.

That’s not the case for someone who eats that same hamburger every day!

That being said, there are a couple of swaps you can always make to make healthy fast foods (or at least healthier fast foods) a reality.

These are:

  • Order water instead of a soft drink to decrease your calorie and sweetener intake
  • Order a side salad instead of fries to decrease your trans fat and increase your vitamin and mineral intake
  • Skip the sauce or eat a homemade copycat sauce with your meal to avoid unhealthy additives without sacrificing taste.

Can I Make Healthy Fast Food Sauces at Home?

Yes, you can!  Here are several healthy copycat recipes for some of fast food’s favorite sauces.

Healthy Burger King Sauces

Onion rins with zesty dipping sauce

Let’s take a look at the nutrition facts two of Burger King’s most popular sauces.

Buffalo Dipping Sauce

Sauce name

Calories

Total fat (g)

Saturated fat (g)

Cholesterol (mg)

Sodium (mg)

Total carbs (g)

Total sugar (g)

Protein (g)

Buffalo Dipping Sauce

80

8

1.5

5

360

2

1

0

Ingredients

Water, Soybean Oil, Cayenne Pepper Sauce (Aged Cayenne Peppers, Distilled Vinegar, Salt, Garlic), High Fructose Corn Syrup, Distilled Vinegar, Egg Yolks, Modified Food Starch, Contains less than 2% of Dark Brown Sugar, Spices, Salt, Garlic and Onion Powders, Maltodextrin, Paprika, Polysorbate 60, Xanthan Gum, Sodium Benzoate and Potassium Sorbate added as Preservatives, Autolyzed Yeast Extracts, Oleoresin Paprika, Chipotle Peppers, Natural and Artificial Flavors, Sodium Diacetate, Annatto, Malic Acid, Extractives of Turmeric(Color), Butter Oil, Calcium Disodium EDTA added to protect flavor, Tocopherol.

Zesty Onion Ring Dipping Sauce

Sauce name

Calories

Total fat (g)

Saturated fat (g)

Cholesterol (mg)

Sodium (mg)

Total carbs (g)

Total sugar (g)

Protein (g)

Zesty Onion Ring Dipping Sauce

150

15

2.5

20

240

3

0

0

Ingredients

Not available online.

Copycat Burger King Buffalo Dipping Sauce

This homemade buffalo sauce by The Real Food RDS has a bit more kick to it than the one offered at Burger King.  However, it is so delicious, you are going to want to put it on everything! If you prefer lowering the saturated fats, you can switch out the ghee for olive oil.  The nutrition information below is calculated with the switch to olive oil.

Copycat Buffalo Sauce

Sauce name

Calories

Total fat (g)

Saturated fat (g)

Cholesterol (mg)

Sodium (mg)

Total carbs (g)

Total sugar (g)

Protein (g)

Copycat Buffalo Sauce

67

6.93

1

0

10

1.3

0.7

0

Related Reading: The Dummies’ Guide to Foods that Increase Blood Pressure

Copycat Zesty Onion Ring Dipping Sauce

This is one of the most popular fast food dipping sauces out there, and numerous chefs have tried to replicate the recipe.  You can make the zesty onion ring dipping sauce at home by following the recipe here with only six ingredients.  I suggest using low-fat, olive-oil based mayonnaise and all natural, low-sodium ketchup for an even healthier take.

The resulting nutrition information looks like this:

Copycat Zesty Onion Ring Sauce

Sauce name

Calories

Total fat (g)

Saturated fat (g)

Cholesterol (mg)

Sodium (mg)

Total carbs (g)

Total sugar (g)

Protein (g)

Copycat Zesty Onion Ring Dipping Sauce

56

4.3

0.7

5

31

4.69

1.8

0

You’ll notice significantly lower calories, cholesterol, and fat per serving.  Carbohydrates and sugar are slightly elevated. But, you can lower them by cutting out the sugar completely, if desired.

Healthy McDonald’s Sauces

Burger and fries with sauce on the side

McDonald’s has sauces that give its food its signature taste.  Here, we can single out the Big Mac Special Sauce. Let’s take a look at the sauce’s nutrition and ingredient information.

Big Mac Sauce

Sauce name

Calories

Total fat (g)

Saturated fat (g)

Cholesterol (mg)

Sodium (mg)

Total carbs (g)

Total sugar (g)

Protein (g)

Big Mac sauce

70

7

1

5

75

1

1

0

Ingredients

Soybean Oil, Sweet Relish (Diced Pickles, Sugar, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Distilled Vinegar, Salt, Corn Syrup, Xanthan Gum, Calcium Chloride, Spice Extractives), Water, Egg Yolks, Distilled Vinegar, Spices, Onion Powder, Salt, Propylene Glycol Alginate, Garlic Powder, Vegetable Protein (Hydrolyzed Corn, Soy and Wheat), Sugar, Caramel Color, Turmeric, Extractives of Paprika, Soy Lecithin.

As you can see, the recipe contains a double-whammy of caloric sweeteners (once in the sweet relish and once in the sauce itself).  It also contains several other flavor enhancers and preservatives.

Big Mac Sauce Copycat Recipe

Genius Kitchen has developed a low-fat copycat version of the Big Mac sauce with real, whole ingredients.  (Bye, bye, preservatives!)

I suggest choosing all-natural and low-sodium mustard and ketchup.  This lets you cut out the additives that are found in mainstream brands of these sauces.  Additionally, I suggest lowering the added sugar to ½ teaspoon from 2 teaspoons.

(Note: The recipe makes 5 full servings.)

Let’s compare nutrition information with the recipe and our suggestions:

Copycat Big Mac Sauce

Sauce name

Calories

Total fat (g)

Saturated fat (g)

Cholesterol (mg)

Sodium (mg)

Total carbs (g)

Total sugar (g)

Protein (g)

Copycat Big Mac sauce

42

3

0.5

4

55

4.2

2

0

Except for the sugars, you see that all the nutritional information measures are lower for this healthier copycat sauce!

Healthy Wendy’s Sauces

Sriracha bottles on restaurant tables

Wendy’s has several sauces that people love, but perhaps none are more famous than Wendy’s Creamy Sriracha sauce.  Let’s take a look at what is inside.

Wendy’s Creamy Sriracha Sauce

Sauce name

Calories

Total fat (g)

Saturated fat (g)

Cholesterol (mg)

Sodium (mg)

Total carbs (g)

Total sugar (g)

Protein (g)

Wendy’s Creamy Sriracha Sauce

120

12

2

10

340

3

2

0

Ingredients

Soybean oil, sriracha sauce (red chili peppers, distilled vinegar, sugar, garlic, salt, oleoresin capsicum) water, distilled vinegar, egg yolks, sugar, salt, Dijon mustard (distilled vinegar, mustard seed, water, salt, white wine, citric acid, tartaric acid, spices= Food starch-modified, garlic, lemon juice concentrate, xanthan gum, spices, natural flavor, garlic powder, potassium sorbate and sodium benzoate, onion powder, yeast extract, calcium disodium EDTA.

Is it possible to make a healthier version of this sauce?  There are several copycat recipes out there that aim to capture the exact taste of the Wendy’s sauce.  Unfortunately, the ingredients in most of them don’t make them much better for your health than the one you can get in the restaurant.  

For your health, it’s better to opt for a Wendy’s-like sriracha sauce, like the one below!

Sriracha Sauce Copycat Recipe

Call Me PMC has created a lighter Sriracha dipping sauce that, while it isn’t meant to copycat the Wendy’s sauce, it is a great substitute.  It uses honey as a sweetener rather than sugar, and olive oil mayonnaise for healthier fats. Always choose all-natural options over processed options with additives!  

Below is the nutritional information for Wendy’s Creamy Sriracha alternative.  

(Note: While the recipe suggests using this as 2 servings, I suggest using this volume of sauce as 4 servings.  This cuts all your intakes in half!)

Copycat Wendy’s Creamy Sriracha Sauce

Sauce name

Calories

Total fat (g)

Saturated fat (g)

Cholesterol (mg)

Sodium (mg)

Total carbs (g)

Total sugar (g)

Protein (g)

Copycat Wendy’s Creamy Sriracha Sauce

98

6

1

16

163

10

10

1

Take Home Message

A healthy diet isn’t only about measuring macronutrients and micronutrients.  It is also important to take a closer look at the actual foods you are putting into your body.  Fast and processed food are made to have a long shelf-life and to promise a standardized taste, no matter where you buy it.  These characteristics require additives, artificial flavors, and preservatives.

While the FDA generally considers preservatives safe in small amounts, the rise of fast food consumption means that most of us are increasing our consumption of these sorts of ingredients.

Small steps can add up, and one small step is to opt out of eating standard fast food sauces to build healthy fast food options.  If you still want to experience the taste of some of the signature sauces, you can try making healthier copycat versions at home.  Whether you want to enjoy them on your fast food meal or eventually make whole healthier copycat fast food meals at home, small steps towards being more aware of what you are eating can go a long way.

Read Next: Best Healthy Hamburger Recipes for #NationalHambugerDay

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