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August 7, 2018

Spice It Up. Tips for Cooking & Flavoring Your Foods That Keep You Healthy While Eating Tasty.

Written by: Julia Bumpus, MS, RDN, LDN

Move aside butter, oil, sugar, and salt. There are plenty of ways to make food delicious without adding excess saturated fat, calories, and sodium. Knowing how to use spices, vinegar, fresh herbs, and other ingredients will keep your food flavorful without taking a toll on your health.

Sweetness without sugar: Look for cookie or baked goods recipes that use bananas to provide natural sweetness. Add dried fruits such as raisins or craisins to salads or mixed dishes with grains. Dates and other dried fruits can be blended/softened in a food processor with other ingredients to make sauces & dips with natural sweetness. Fresh fruit and its juice is very sweet and can be the perfect touch to a dish. Instead of a store-bought teriyaki glaze, which most likely contains added sugar, grill pineapples and serve with chicken. Add apples to slaw or serve your salmon with a mango salsa.

Using less oil: I’m not trying to imply all oil is bad, because that is not the case. Oils such as flaxseed, olive, & canola are part of a healthy diet. However, limiting consumption can help cut unnecessary calories if you already consume lots of healthy fats from food sources. Just 1 tablespoon of an oil contains around 120 calories. These tips might save you the calories and even enhance flavor. Use a non-stick pan and start out on medium-low heat. Instead of oil, try pam, low or no added sodium broth, water, liquid from beans & fruit juices (lime and lemon) in your pan. Add more of these ingredients for moisture as needed. Many vegetables have a high water content and will not need additional liquid because they soften naturally as they cook. You can also incorporate flavorful vinegars into many recipes. Drizzle balsamic vinegar on roasted vegetables (1). Apple cider vinegar compliments fruit & can be used in coleslaw or BBQ sauce (1). Marinade or make dressings with red wine vinegar (1). Rice vinegar can be used to make a variety of dipping sauces and sherry is great for marinating meat and creating sauces (1).

Fresh vs. Dry: Some flavorful fresh herbs include cilantro, green onion, ginger, minced garlic, parsley, basil, and thyme. Although fresh may be less potent, they are often more aromatic and smell great while cooking. Choosing fresh over dry herbs are a little extra work as they often need to be chopped. According to the domestic queen Martha Stuart, you’ll typically need three times the amount of fresh herbs as dry herbs (2). Fresh herbs will need to be refrigerated or frozen, while dry herbs can be stored in the pantry or cabinet. For dry herbs, close lids tightly and store away from the heat.

Salt at the end: In the seasoning blends suggested below, salt has been omitted. I know I just told you to move your salt, but I didn’t say hide it! Add any desired salt at the end of the meal. Sprinkling salt on the top of the food allows the crystals to directly contact your taste buds and savor the flavor better. When used in cooking, salt often gets lost amongst the other flavors.

Try Blending Spices in These Combinations:

  • Cajun spices: Onion powder, garlic powder, cumin, coriander, paprika, black pepper, oregano, cayenne, red pepper flakes. Coriander contains nutrients such as iron, magnesium, manganese, and fiber, and is rich in phytonutrients (3). Try making Cajun shrimp or adding to red beans, rice, & corn. Use on breakfast potatoes or any of these sauteed vegetables: zucchini noodles, bell peppers, or onion. If you are feeling adventurous, try baking your own Cajun kale chips.
  • Greek spices: Garlic powder, basil, oregano, black pepper, parsley, rosemary, thyme, nutmeg. Try mixing some of these with olive oil to marinate chicken & vegetables for kabobs. Think mushrooms, tomatoes, onions, yellow squash, and zucchini. Use to season white beans or sprinkle into plain hummus for added flavor.
  • Fall blend: Cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, allspice, ground clove. Spices such as cinnamon, garlic, sage, and clove may inhibit bacterial growth, which may help keep cooked food from spoiling (3).
  • Curry: Cumin, coriander, turmeric, cinnamon, cardamom, cayenne, onion power. Turmeric is a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent. Research has shown that turmeric has shown great promise in the prevention and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease (1). It may also help with memory, enhance immune function, reduce risk of heart attack, and improve digestion (3). Try curry rice bowls with tofu, chickpeas, or curried soups. Season vegetables like carrots, cauliflower, or green beans while sauteing.
  • Taco Mix: Chili powder, cumin, onion powder, garlic powder, cayenne, black pepper, oregano. Fun fact – cumin contains a compound that may be helpful with reduction of blood cholesterol levels (3). Make flavorful bell peppers stuffed with lentils or use in black beans or black bean hummus for added flavor. Flavor other dishes such as vegetable fajitas, cauliflower, or fish tacos.
  • Chili: Chili powder, cumin, coriander, unsweetened cocoa powder, garlic powder, cayenne, paprika. Obviously, it is perfect for making chili but this blend can also be used for sauteing bell peppers or on onions, grilled chicken, or oven-baked potatoes.
  • Jalapeno Cilantro: Fresh cilantro, fresh jalapenos, lime juice, garlic, and green onions make a flavorful blend. Add these ingredients to your own fish or shrimp tacos, hummus, salsa, or use to season fajitas.
  • Asian: Ginger, cilantro, peanuts, rice wine vinegar, garlic, soy sauce (low sodium), red pepper flakes. Marinate salmon or combine to make a sauce for a noodle or rice bowl with shrimp, tofu, bok choy, water chestnuts, bell peppers, baby corn, or broccoli.


  3. Ornish D. The Spectrum. 2007: 57-65

  Julia is the RD at Avance Care’s new Durham Location. She enjoys anything outside, such as reading, running, or walking the dogs. She also loves to cook new recipes for her husband (thank you, Pinterest!), paint, or do home projects like redoing furniture. She makes many weekend visits around NC to hang out with family and friends. She has 2 dogs and loves hanging with her niece and nephew (the cutie in the picture).

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