11 Delicious Spices That Make It Easy to Hold the Salt

 by Cynthia Sass, MPH, MA, RD, CSSD

Eating too much salt and sugar can increase your risk of developing high blood pressure, which can lead to more serious conditions like stroke and heart failure. Definitely not ideal!


Eating too much salt and sugar can increase your risk of developing high blood pressure, which can lead to more serious conditions like stroke and heart failure. Definitely not ideal! If you want to cut back on the excess sodium and sugar used in restaurant and takeout meals, but your attempts to prepare healthy dishes at home turn out bland and unsatisfying, we have you — and your ticker — covered. We asked some top food-loving registered dietitians to share the go-to herbs and spices they rely on to whip up delectably healthy meals

1. Ginger

This anti-inflammatory root spice can be added to beverages, including hot or iced tea and water. You can also add it to both sweet and savory dishes, including oatmeal and lentil soup. "Ginger, either ground or freshly grated, is my go-to for stir-fry veggies," says Beth Reinke, M.S., RD. "I toss broccoli florets and sliced carrots in a skillet with olive oil, stir-fry until they're 'tender-crisp,' drizzle with low-sodium soy sauce and ginger and stir." Look for fresh gingerroot in the produce section. Peel away the skin with a vegetable peeler, then grate it with a simple hand grater. Reinke also adds ginger to slow-cooker stews. "I sneak in a dash for extra kick," she says.

2. Ancho Chile Powder

If you like the flavor of chili pepper without the intensity and heat, keep ancho chile powder in your cupboard. "It instantly provides a sweet and smoky flavor," says Atlanta-based registered dietitian nutritionist Marisa Moore. She sprinkles the seasoning on everything from black beans and quinoa to roasted sweet potato wedges. When fresh, ancho is referred to as poblano, the most common pepper used in authentic Mexican cooking. "I love to spread ripe avocado on whole-grain toast, add a dash of ancho chile powder and garnish with toasted pepitas," says Moore.

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3. Lime Zest

Lime zest can brighten up the flavor of a number of dishes on its own. It can also balance out stronger flavors like sesame oil or soy sauce. "I add citrus zest to more foods than I probably should!" says Maggie Moon, M.S., RDN, author of "The MIND Diet." Moon adds lime juice and zest to brown rice just as it comes off the burner. You can also sprinkle fresh lime zest on yogurt, oatmeal, fruit salads, soups or smoothies. Moon advises sourcing limes from a supplier you trust or going with organic, since conventional fruits are often treated with toxic chemicals. "And either way, give them a good wash first."

4. Garlic

This potent flavor enhancer packs an impressive antioxidant punch for just four calories per clove. "Garlic is a great way to easily jazz up roasted vegetables," says Keri Gans, M.S., RDN, author of "The Small Change Diet." Gans, who prefers fresh garlic, buys whole bulbs, pulls apart the cloves, cuts off each end and then pulls away the skin. Add it to vegetables like Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli and zucchini. Gans places the vegetables and chopped garlic in a bowl, then tops them with a drizzle of olive oil and dusting of black pepper. "To coat the veggies well, I cover the bowl and shake firmly," she says. Simply transfer to a baking sheet and roast in the oven at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for about 30 to 45 minutes. "No salt needed or missed," she says.

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5. Turmeric

Turmeric, and the active compounds it contains, has been linked to brain health and immunity as well as warding off weight gain. "You can find the dried form of turmeric in the seasoning section of nearly any grocery store, and increasingly you can find the fresh root in the produce section in many markets," says Sharon Palmer, RDN, author of "Plant-Powered for Life." Remove the root's skin with a vegetable peeler, then chop or grate. Palmer tosses a half of a small peeled turmeric root, about one inch by one inch, into the blender when she makes mango-carrot smoothies. She also grates half of a small turmeric root (roughly two teaspoons' worth) onto a cup of cooked lentils. "One of my favorite go-tos is a simple turmeric vinaigrette," says Palmer. For a single serving she mixes a squeeze of lemon juice with a teaspoon each of extra virgin olive oil and freshly grated turmeric root and a pinch each of ground black pepper and sea salt.

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6. Rosemary

A good source of calcium, iron and vitamin B-6, rosemary possesses antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties tied to digestive and brain health along with anti-aging and cancer protection. "Freshly chopped rosemary is my go-to seasoning for oven-roasted potatoes or carrots," says Patricia Bannan, M.S., RDN, author of "Eat Right When Time Is Tight." Bannan preps the veggies, then tosses with extra-virgin olive oil, rosemary, salt and pepper before roasting. "I use about one teaspoon of rosemary per cup of vegetables," she says. Bannan also recommends using whole rosemary stalks as kabob skewers. "I thread with chunks of fresh cantaloupe, watermelon or pears, wrap with prosciutto and lightly grill or broil in the oven." The herb has a potent flavor, so a little goes a long way. If you have leftover fresh rosemary, store it in an airtight container in the fridge. It should keep for a few weeks.

7. Cumin

Cumin powder, made from the ground dried seeds of a flowering plant, has a distinct flavor and aroma. The spice is frequently used in a number of cuisines around the globe, including South Asia, Northern Africa and Latin America. "In culinary school, my classmates and I each had a nickname based on our favorite food or seasoning to cook with. My nickname was 'Cumin' because I love the warm, nutty and earthy flavor it brings to food," says Rachel Begun, M.S., RDN, Los Angeles-based culinary nutritionist. When Begun wants an easy-to-make hearty meal that's spiced just right, she bakes a sweet potato. She cuts it in half and spreads each half with cashew butter, then sprinkles with ground cumin, cinnamon, chili powder, salt and pepper. "The combo is stick-to-your-ribs satisfying," she adds. A light dusting of cumin can also instantly add a rich layer of flavor to tomato-based soup.

8. Dill

Dill has been used for centuries in Asian medicine to control and manage diabetes and cardiovascular disorders. "Fresh dill, which I pick up in the produce section year-round, is my main go-to for making savory Greek yogurt," says McKenzie Hall Jones, Los Angeles-based RDN. Hall Jones adds about one tablespoon of fresh-chopped dill to a single-serving container of plain Greek yogurt. She tosses in a few tablespoons of minced red onion, a drizzle of red wine vinegar, a dash of cracked black pepper and a small scoop of sunflower seeds. "I love to use this combo as a creamy salad dressing. You can also use it as a dip for crisp raw veggies or as a flavorful mayo alternative in sandwiches and pitas," she adds.

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9. Tarragon

Tarragon, a perennial herb in the sunflower family, exudes a licorice-like aroma and taste. "I think fresh tarragon is one of the most underutilized herbs," says Jackie Newgent, RDN, culinary nutritionist and author of "The All-Natural Diabetes Cookbook." When buying fresh tarragon from the produce section, Newgent suggests using your senses. "It shouldn't look wilted and should have a uniform green color. It should also smell vibrantly fresh." She makes a creamy tarragon dressing for a leafy salad by pureeing a half-cup of cannellini beans with a quarter-cup of balsamic vinegar, two tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil, two garlic cloves, a tablespoon of fresh chopped tarragon leaves and sea salt to taste. "This lively dressing can also be brushed onto grilled chicken and veggie kebabs," she adds. Or simply sprinkle freshly chopped tarragon leaves over scrambled eggs or grilled fish.

10. Parsley

Parsley is more than just a garnish. The herb, indigenous to the Mediterranean, has been used to treat gas. It also acts as a natural diuretic to remedy water retention. "My favorite way to use fresh parsley is to whip up a batch of homemade pesto," says Alissa Rumsey M.S., RDN, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Rumsey uses a food processor to combine two cups of fresh parsley, two tablespoons of walnuts, half a cup of Parmesan cheese (optional), half a cup of olive oil, two tablespoons of lemon juice and a clove of garlic. "You can use this pesto to flavor nearly anything, including steamed veggies, scrambled eggs and broiled fish," says Rumsey. She also uses it to make a whole-grain bowl by layering a half a cup of cooked faro with two tablespoons of pesto, a cup of cooked lentils and a cup of roasted broccoli and cauliflower.

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11. Smoked Paprika

Smoked paprika is made by drying peppers over a wood fire, which gives off a tantalizingly deep, smoky flavor. "It's my absolute favorite spice," says Rachel Meltzer Warren, M.S., RDN, author of "The Smart Girl's Guide to Going Vegetarian." Warren sprinkles about a half a teaspoon of smoked paprika and a pinch of sea salt over a few handfuls of popped popcorn. She also adds this to a cup of cooked veggies, such as oven-roasted cauliflower or squash. "To turn tofu or tempeh into bacon-like strips, whisk together three tablespoons of soy sauce, a few tablespoons of maple syrup, a tablespoon of sesame oil and a teaspoon of smoked paprika," she adds. Thinly slice a block of tofu or tempeh and marinate in the sauce for at least 30 minutes before grilling or pan-frying on each side.

What Do YOU Think?

How do you make healthy, homemade food tasty and satisfying? Which herbs and spices are your favorites? Do you try to cut back on salt when you cook? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!

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