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Cooking With Herbs And Spices For Heart Health

Get More Flavor with Less Salt 

If you have high blood pressure, you’ve probably been told to start a low-salt diet. And if you’re like many people I know, you swing between eating as you always have (and feeling guilty about it), and eating flavorless meals that give you no joy. 

But low salt doesn’t have to mean bland. In truth, much of our food is loaded with salt to mask strange chemical flavors or no flavor at all. With flavorful ingredients, you can cut down on salt while creating a beautiful, delicious, crowd-pleasing meal.

Start with unsalted ingredients

Now that you’re on a mission to take care of your hearth health, you need to be in control of how much salt goes into your meals. Don’t give up this control by using salted ingredients and prepared foods. Pay special attention to anything canned. For example, some canned tomatoes and tomato paste use more salt than others. Check the nutrition information on the cans to make sure you are getting one with little or no added salt. Then you add your own salt.

Use some salt, but use it in layers for the best flavor

When you add your own salt, you can decide when to add it to your meal, which is almost as important as how much to put in. 
If you don’t use any salt while you’re cooking, you’ll need a whole lot of it at the table so the food doesn’t taste bland. You’ll get more flavor pop with less salt when you add it throughout the cooking process instead of all at once. Set aside the amount of salt a recipe calls for and use some at every stage. 

For example, if you’re sauteeing vegetables, add some salt when you cook the onions and garlic, and a little more after you add the next vegetable (like broccoli or peppers), and little more after you add tender greens like spinach. If the dish has a sauce or other liquid, add some of the salt to that. Taste as you go – you may be surprised to find you don’t need as much salt as you think you need!

Cook with herbs and spices 

Maybe you’ve already heard the advice to substitute herbs and spices for some of the salt in your dishes. Maybe that makes you think of adding a little extra black pepper or your usual herbs and spices on top of your food. That feels (and tastes) uninspiring.

But the world of herbs and spices is far vaster than most people imagine. There are many to choose from and many combinations to try. And, like salt, these ingredients should be added throughout the cooking process and not simply dumped on top of your cooked food. 

Stores that specialize in herbs and spices offer salt-free herb and spice blends that make cooking easy. I have used a dried chive/tarragon herb blend that gives my scrambled eggs such flavor that it needs only the barest pinch of salt. A thyme-cumin rub makes my plain old chicken breasts taste exotic. And don’t forget to add fresh herbs at the end of the cooking process turn the most simple meal into something restaurant worthy. Check out this handy chart of which herbs and spices go best with which foods and let the fun begin!

Cook with other aromatics 

Onions, garlic, celery, peppers and carrots sauteed in a little fat (oil or butter) will start many dishes off with incredible flavor and a smell that will make your family wonder what type of miracle you’ve got planned for dinner. Have fun experimenting with a little citrus juice, wine or vinegar in your braising liquid for added flavor. Try citrus juice or vinegar with some olive oil and herbs make your own easy, low-salt salad dressings.

Give yourself time to adjust

It takes some time to get used to food that has less salt, especially after you’ve been eating prepared foods that load up on salt to mask unnatural flavors or no flavor at all. Reduce your salt little by little. When you use herbs, spices and other aromatics with a little salt, you will taste flavors you haven’t tasted in a long time. Your heart and your taste buds will thank you!

If you would like more information on this, or any other health related topic, the health educators at the Learning Resource Center are happy to help. They provide trusted & reliable health information and connect people to local resources in the community. Connect with a health educator today! Be well, be well informed.

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