Spice It Up!

February 17, 2010

Courtesy of Janrito Karamazov on Flickr

There has been a lot of discussion lately about the dangers of too much salt, as NYC prepares to wage this latest battle against restaurants and prepared foods much in the same way as it did against trans fats in recent years. I could write a whole post debating the merits of policies and their ability to affect change in dietary habits. While I do believe that the trans fat ban has done a lot of good for public health, I will always believe that personal knowledge, empowerment, and, ultimately, choice will win the war far more effectively than any singular political battle. So today I hope to offer you some knowledge and empowerment to aid your own choices.

Sodium is absolutely a vital nutrient in a balanced diet. But it is true that many of us are consuming too much, which turns this nutrient into a health problem. While we may not have control over how much sodium is used in restaurants, fast foods, or packaged and processed foods…we do have control over our decisions when we are choosing these foods instead of preparing our own meals at home. I understand the cost, time and convenience factors at hand here, but something I love helping clients realize is that cooking does not have to be more costly or time consuming – and quite often it can be less. But sometimes we don’t cook because we think we can’t, or that what we would make would be too simple or tasteless. What I’ve found is that the simplest of meals can become masterpieces when you find new ways to add more flavor.

Of course the default choice when it comes to adding flavor is…well, salt. So I offer you a new reason to get into your kitchen and take control back where you can. First, if you absolutely must use salt – try switching to sea salt. It is a lot more potent so you’ll need less, and it also contains more important minerals than regular table salt. But how about going beyond the salt shaker and starting to experiment with herbs and spices?

Herbs and spices are not just for show. They are a great way to increase your intake of antioxidants. Different varieties feature different health benefits, including aiding digestion, purifying the blood, improving circulation, promoting stress reduction, reducing inflammation…the list goes on and on. It can be incredibly fun to start exploring these new flavors, which in my own cooking I’ve found are often far more potent than just salt. Here are some ideas to get you started:

Vegetables: Basil, Garlic, Onion, Mint, Turmeric, Oregano, Parsley, Thyme, Lemon
Poultry: Paprika, Rosemary, Garlic, Onion, Curry Powder, Sage, Thyme, Oregano
Beef: Black Pepper, Cayenne Pepper, Cumin, Garlic, Onion, Mustard, Sage, Horseradish
Fish: Garlic, Onion, Lemon, Dill, Rosemary, Tarragon, Thyme, Marjoram
Pork: Cinnamon, Basil, Thyme, Garlic, Onion, Mustard, Cloves
Eggs: Dill, Paprika, Pepper, Tarragon, Thyme
Stews and Soups: Bay leaf, Celery Seed, Marjoram, Oregano, Paprika, Parsley, Saffron

These are just suggestions, not rules. And there are plenty of other herbs and spices out there. Be creative. Don’t fear using the “wrong” combination. The only combination that doesn’t work is the one that isn’t palatable to you, and you then have the freedom to try something else the next time around. Regardless, you will be exploring the chef inside you, uncovering new wonderful flavors in your meals, and taking control over your health in a way that no policy will ever be able to do. And you can pass on the salt.


One Response to “Spice It Up!”

  1. Jim Says:

    Dulse!! Great for sodium, minerals, and iodine. Can be sprinkled on everything.

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