7 Salt-Free Ways to Flavor Food

Pump up your meals with sodium-free, antioxidant-rich add-ons that taste great and won’t put you at risk for heart-related health problems

January 27, 2012
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Put down the salt shaker! There are healthier ways to make food taste great without overdosing on sodium, a huge threat to heart health. Instead of using table salt or eating sodium-packed processed and packaged foods (which account for about 80 percent of the sodium we consume), try flavoring fruits, veggies and lean meats with salt-free herbs and spices. In addition to helping you cut down on your sodium intake, many of these seasonings also bring additional health benefits to the plate. Heather K. Jones, RD, author of The Salt Solution, offers some of her favorite healthy ways to punch up the flavor of any dish.

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Curry Powder

This tangy dust will bring Far East flair to any food. The brightly hued spice is actually a blend of as many as 20 different spices, including tumeric, coriander, and cumin, which are inherently healthy (Search: What are the health uses for curry?). Curcumin, a polyphenol present in tumeric, may help prevent liver damage, according to researchers at St. Louis University. It can also ward off Alzheimer's and has anti-inflammatory properties. Meanwhile, coriander brings small amounts of melatonin to the mix, which may lower your risk for heart diseases associated with obesity, according to a 2011 Spanish study. The orange stuff is versatile, to boot. "Curry can work with so many different things, because it's already a spice mix," Jones says. She recommends using it to give tofu, chicken, or a baked potato a kick, or mixing it with yogurt and using it as a vegetable dip.

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"I use chives a lot. They have a flavorful punch, and you can add them to the top of any dish," Jones says. In addition to taking taste to newfound heights, the onion-like stalks may help fight food poisoning, according to a study conducted at North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro. What's more, chives contain traces of antioxidants that can also lower your risk of cancer and help your heart, and they also possess small amounts of vitamins K, A, and C.

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"Cinnamon is a good one if you want to have a sweet-and-savory dish," Jones says. By sprinkling cinnamon on sweet potatoes or oatmeal, you'll add a hint of sweetness and also do your health a favor. Researchers at the University of Georgia found that cinnamon lowers blood sugar and improves your antioxidant defenses.

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This French herb brings a rich zest to the table. "It has sort of a licorice flavor and goes nicely with white fish and green vegetables," Jones says. "I put it into dressings--white wine vinegar, tarragon, and oil make a nice mix." The tasty sprigs also pack small amounts of quercetin, an antioxidant that helps fight cancer. Bon appetit!

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Your taste buds will welcome the zing this root gives to food, and your muscles will appreciate it too. Research published in the Journal of Pain in 2010 reported that daily ginger consumption can alleviate muscle pain caused by exercise. Additional research from the University of Michigan shows that ginger might also help prevent colon cancer. "I like grated fresh ginger--it has a more pungent taste--but you can use fresh or dried. It goes well in Caribbean and Asian foods," Jones says.

Did you know: Ginger can help you burn calories! Learn more about ginger and other belly-blasters here.

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In addition to its important role in vampire lore, garlic, much like ground pepper, offers a sodium-free way to flavor nearly everything. Not to mention that it contains the compound allicin, which helps relax blood vessels, may aid heart health, and has been linked to cancer prevention. The notion that garlic helps fight sickness is no old wives' tale, either. Washington State University researchers report that garlic possesses bacteria-fighting potential. For the greatest health benefit, use fresh crushed cloves instead of dried garlic or garlic powder.

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Flavored vinegar

While vinegar doesn't boast the host of health benefits that herbs and spices do, it is a sodium-free and low-calorie way to add zip to your dishes. Pair pork and chicken with balsamic, steak with fruit-flavored varieties, and try fish with herb-infused vinegar, Jones suggests.

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