How to Use Spices and Herbs to Optimize Your Meals

Lisa Carrigg, Arivale Coach, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist
Lisa Carrigg
Arivale Coach, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist

Trying to make low-sodium food full of flavor? Looking to eat (and enjoy!) more vegetables? Want some anti-inflammatory support? Herbs and spices are your game changer.

While some spices boast anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, the biggest value comes from them packing a punch flavor-wise. With good spices and knowledge about how to use them, you can use them to replace added sugars and salts in your meals.

You don’t need to be a top chef or even a foodie to use herbs and spices—you just need to have an open mind and palate.

Using Spices 101

Once valuable as currency, herbs and spices are a major part of distinct regional cuisines around the world. And yet, we so easily forget about the vibrancy they can bring to our plate.

Before we dive into using spices to replace salts and sugars, let’s go over a few basic spice tips.

  • Dried herbs are stronger than fresh herb, so keep in mind that you might want to adjust the quantity if you’re substituting one for the other in a recipe.
  • Chopping fresh herbs finely helps give you the most flavor. Mmmm.
  • Using fresh herbs at the end of cooking or in cold dishes helps to preserve their active compounds and flavor.
  • Remember, you can always add more spice but you can’t take it out. Start with a small amount and add to taste when trying new things.
  • If you’re revisiting some old jars in your spice cabinet, you might want to replace herbs and spices that don’t smell strongly when you take off the lid.

Using Spices to Reduce Your Sodium Intake

A problem people often face when reducing their sodium intake is food feeling bland. Spices can help! Try using savory herbs and spices or those with more of a bite or kick to help keep dishes interesting. Think ginger, onion, black pepper, garlic, basil, oregano, and dill. Mrs. Dash is a good resource for a variety of salt-free blends as well.

Hot sauce can be a hidden source of sodium (and sugar in some cases), so try replacing with red pepper flakes, cayenne, or paprika.

Finally, salad dressing can also be a hidden source of sodium — and an easy area to optimize in your kitchen. For example, I love this Green Goddess Basil Sauce which is a lower-sodium alternative to the store-bought variety.

Using Spices to Replace Sugar

Spices can help sweeten up tea, cereal, oatmeal, and even baked goods without all the sugar. Cinnamon, cloves, ginger, cardamom, anise, fennel, and mint are all great spices to try experimenting with when you have a sweet tooth.

One thing I love to make is a homemade Spicy Chai Latte. The spices give the tea a great flavor, and you can reduce the honey or sugar to taste.

Spice Up Your Life

Hungry for more? One of my favorite books on flavor, The Flavor Bible, is a particularly good resource for those interested in learning more about what flavors go with each other and what herbs and spices might make fish versus apples versus shrimp taste the best. Whether you are a new cook or a long-time foodie, this book is a great resource.