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Skip the Salt, but Keep the Flavor: Here’s How

Exercise and Nutrition
Author name: Lee Health


Salt graphic

“Pass the salt, please.” We sprinkle it on everything we eat, or so it seems. We’d salt salt, goes the joke.

But in all seriousness, we’re consuming too much sodium, which is a form of salt. Our bodies need a little sodium to work properly, but too much of it increases our risk for high blood pressure, a leading risk factor for heart disease and stroke.

Maybe we should say instead, “Pass on the salt, please.”

To celebrate National Nutrition Month, Lee Health clinical dietitian Casey M. Richardson, RD, shares how cooking with herbs and spices, combined with a few basic cooking techniques, can lower our sodium intake without sacrificing flavor.

“Fresh and prepared at-home meals are your best choice to limiting sodium intake,” Richardson says. “Americans get about 70 percent of their daily sodium from processed and restaurant foods. Creating your own meals allows you to add spices and herbs that flavor your food without adding sodium, extra fat, and calories.”

Richardson says research indicates herbs and spices not only can help lower your sodium intake but also help protect against diseases such as heart disease and cancer.

“A wide variety of herbs and spices have been identified as having antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties,” Richardson says. “Turmeric and ginger, for example, are antioxidant-rich spices that also have anti-inflammatory properties, which could help decrease pain and protect against disease.”

What’s the difference between a spice and an herb?

“Spices can come from the bark, root, stem or seed of the tree or plant,” Richardson explains. “Examples include black pepper, ginger, turmeric, and cinnamon. Herbs are the green, leafy part of the plant, such as basil, sage, thyme, and oregano.”

When purchasing containers of spices, you should read the ingredient list, Richardson advises. “Some spices in powder form, such as garlic and onion spices, typically don’t include salt. But garlic salt and onion salt do. Even some brands of lemon pepper.”

Richardson’s general tips:

  • If you’re missing the taste of salt, flavorings like black pepper, garlic powder, cumin, mint, dill, crushed red pepper, basil and onion are effective as a replacement.
  • Blooming spices in a fat is an Asian cooking technique. Adding a fragrant spice like red pepper flakes or rosemary to a small amount of oil and heating it up can release the full potential of the spice to really elevate the flavor profile of your dish.
  • You can mix fresh herbs into your food once it is cooked. This adds flavor and texture, and the colors really dress up the meals.
  • At times a dish may taste too fatty, but adding an acid such as lemon, lime or orange juice can not only cut through the fat but also give it a new level of flavoring.
  • Herb-infused oils are a real treat and can be drizzled on meats, vegetables or breads.
  • All vinegars (red wine, white, balsamic, apple cider, rice) can be used as marinades or drizzles for many types of dishes.
  • Honey, jams and preserves are excellent replacements when glazing meats or dressing up starches.

Cooking techniques that build flavor with aromatic vegetables

Mirepoix - French

This sautéed mixture of diced vegetables cooked in butter is named after a French aristocrat in the 18th century. Mirepoix is a staple in French cuisine.

  • 2 parts onion, 1 part celery, 1 part carrot
  • Dicing vegetables and cooking in butter

Soffritto (Holy Trinity) Italian Cooking Base

This mixture of roughly chopped and slowly cooked onion, celery and carrots in olive oil is referred to as the “Holy Trinity” of Italian cooking. The key is to heat the mix slowly for 30 to 60 minutes. This is a staple in sauces and soups.

  • Onion, celery, carrot (could also contain garlic, parsley, etc.)
  • Vegetables are roughly chopped into small pieces
  • Slowly cooked in olive oil over low heat for 30 minutes to an hour

Holy Trinity for Cajun and Creole

Jambalaya and gumbo both start from this base of onion, celery and bell peppers cooked in butter or olive oil. A variation of Mirepoix, this is the base for several dishes in Cajun and Louisiana Creole cuisine.

  • Equal parts onion, celery, bell peppers
  • Cooked in olive oil or butter

Sofrito (Latin)

This mixture of onion, bell peppers, garlic and tomatoes cooked in olive oil is a staple in Latin American cuisine. A flavor base for soups, paella, sauces and stews.

  • Onion, bell peppers, garlic, tomatoes
  • Cooked in olive oil
  • Common in paella and stews

Questions about the above or want to learn more? Visit our Health & Wellness page.

Flavoring ideas for different food categories

  • Poultry: Parika, lemon juice and black pepper, parsley, oregano, sage, rosemary
  • Beef: Thyme, sage, rosemary, pepper, onion, dry mustard, garlic
  • Fish: Lemon juice, dill, onion, paprika, parsley, cumin, horseradish, basil, tomato, pepper
  • Pork: Allspice, cinnamon, applesauce, sage, ginger, garlic, cloves
  • Vegetables: Rosemary, sage, curry, dill, garlic, onion, chives, oregano, basil, parsley

Celebrate National Nutrition Month with Lee Health Teaching Kitchens

Are you tired of pushing around the same old food on your plate? Are your kids sneaking meal scraps under the table to the family pet?

Well, we’re here to tell you preparing and eating healthy and delicious meals doesn’t have to be boring. This month, you can supercharge your taste buds and meal routines by celebrating National Nutrition Month with the Lee Health Teaching Kitchens.

This year’s theme—Celebrate a World of Flavors—encourages you to recognize a variety of flavors and cuisines from around the world. Throughout March, the food experts at Lee Health Teaching Kitchens offer you an opportunity to learn more about nutrition, meal preparation, and how to take control of your diet—all with an international flair.

Cooking classes are taught by Lee Health Registered Dietitians, who provide education and take-home recipes that are easy to implement into everyday life.

Cooking demos now in session: Virtual and in-person learning events

In-person events at Lee Health locations at Coconut Point, Fort Myers, and Babcock Ranch have resumed. Or, if you wish to attend from the comfort of your own kitchen, you can do that, too.

These hour-long classes dive into nutrition and culinary techniques. You’ll learn cooking techniques and culinary chemistry with an expert on-hand to answer your questions.

You can check out March’s classes here. Some classes are in-person, and others are virtual presentations.

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