Everyone loves rich, decadent meals like fettuccine alfredo or a bacon blue cheeseburger with fries, and these are great as a rare treat, but if they become a habitual indulgence, your waist and heart will suffer, not to mention you’ll feel sluggish and lackluster. Luckily, a few simple swaps can leave your meals healthy and dang delish, sans bacon. Herbs and spices can take the place of heavy creams and oils to flavor your meals if you know how to use them. These healthier ingredients are also loaded with vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients, so not only do they help you to cut calories, they also give your meals a nutritional boost in addition to being low calorie.
Some of my clients have confided in me that they’d like to cook, but they don’t know where to begin in terms of what seasonings and flavors go into what types of dishes. Here is a basic list to get you started. And once you are familiar with which herbs to use when, and how these herbs affect your dishes, you can begin to experiment and try new combinations. And many fresh herbs are now widely available and inexpensive at grocery stores, especially specialty stores like Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods. Happy Health!
This flavorful herb is used in many Italian dishes like Caprese salad and also lots of Thai stir-fries and soups. It can be mixed into salads as well to lend a fresh zest. Basil is loaded with iron, calcium, potassium and vitamins A and C. It also has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties.
Fresh fennel is fantastic chopped into salads, but it has a very strong flavor so many prefer it to be cooked. It adds deep flavor to tomato sauces, stews and I love to use it in bouillabaisse. It is loaded with antioxidants, vitamin C, and has antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties. It is also fantastic for digestion and helps to relieve bloating and cramping.
This is another great herb to use in Italian dishes or with roasted vegetables or to flavor chicken or lamb. It has a very strong flavor, so you don’t need much. Pull the needles off the stem and be sure they are chopped. This fantastic herb is packed with flavonoids, which help to neutralize free radicals. It helps to protect the brain from aging and the body from cancer, and can help to keep the eyes healthy. Additionally, it is also often used to increase alertness and memory. This stuff is great.
Many people think of this herb as a garnish to go alongside their steak and baked potato. But this herb can be used to flavor fish and chicken, and goes great in Mediterranean dishes like tabouli. Try mixing it with chopped tomato, cucumber and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar and a very small amount of olive oil. Parsley is a powerful antioxidant and anti-carcinogen, and also helps to freshen the breath and relieve minor digestive issues.
Garlic gives any dish lots of flavor, and is used across the board in virtually all types of cuisines. It is fantastic in a light, healthy tomato sauce, as well as mixed into dips like hummus or baba ganoush. Raw it can be difficult on the digestive system, so if it gives you stomach troubles, it is best lightly sautéed in a small amount of rice bran or grapeseed oil. Not only is this ingredient diverse it its use, it packs numerous health benefits like lowering blood pressure and cholesterol, as well as acting as a powerful antibacterial and anti-carcinogen. I eat lots of garlic when I have minor muscle strains and it always helps me to recover more quickly.
While this herb isn’t for everyone, (some people have a gene that causes cilantro to have a soapy or metallic taste) for those who don’t have this gene, it can be a wonderful addition to lots of Latin, Asian and Thai dishes. It can enhance a black bean and salsa salad, or give a flavor boost to a Chinese chicken soup. This herb offers powerful antioxidant and antimicrobial protection.
This is a root used in many types of Asian dishes. It gives a slightly sweet and spicy kick to soups and sautés. It is touted for relieving gas and stomach and intestinal issues, as well as being a powerful anti-inflammatory that can help to diminish arthritis symptoms.
Turmeric is less widely used in the American diet, which is a shame because it is loaded with a compound called curcumin, a powerful anti-inflammatory and anti-carcinogenic. It is most commonly used in Indian dishes, but has a mild taste that can be used to flavor everything from egg scrambles to rice dishes to chicken salad. When served with black pepper, more curcumin is available for use by the body.
Now go create!