Herbs and spices can add flavor back into your healthy meal choices

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By: Mary Ann Lienhart-Cross
lienhart@purdue.edu

Photo supplied by Metro Newspaper Service

National Nutrition Month is a nutrition education and information campaign created to be observed in March by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. The campaign focuses attention on the importance of making informed food choices and developing sound eating and physical activity habits.

Let’s be honest, many people don’t think about what their body needs in the way of nutrients. We are more apt to eat foods that we like and eat more than we need. This is why we have many health problems in this country.

The theme for 2016 makes much nutrition sense, “Savor the Flavor of Eating Right,” which encourages everyone to take time to enjoy food traditions and appreciate the pleasures, great flavors and social experiences food adds to our lives. What we eat is first in importance but the how, when, why and where we eat are just as important. In the past I have written about the need to develop a mindful eating plan with ChooseMyPlate.gov in mind that includes nutritious and flavorful foods — that’s the best way to savor the flavor of eating for your health!

We all need to plan and work to trim fat, sugar, salt/sodium from our cooking and eating and discover new and exciting tastes. In your cooking for 2016 I am encouraging you to continue experimenting with combinations of herbs and spices as you “Savor the Flavor of Eating Right.”

A quick lesson on the difference between herbs and spices. Herbs, like basil and oregano, grow in temperate climates and are the fragrant leaves of plants. Spices, such as cinnamon, cumin and paprika, grow in tropical areas and come from the bark, buds, fruit, roots, seeds and stems of plants and trees.

Mary’s top 10 culture and flavor favorites

  1. China: Low-sodium soy sauce, rice wine, ginger
  2. France: Thyme, rosemary, sage, marjoram, lavender, tomato
  3. Greece: Olive oil, lemon, oregano
  4. Hungary: Onion, paprika
  5. India: Curry, cumin, ginger, garlic
  6. Italy: Tomato, olive oil, garlic, basil, marjoram
  7. Mexico: Tomato, chili, paprika
  8. Middle East: Olive oil, lemon, parsley
  9. Morocco/North Africa: Cinnamon, cumin, coriander, ginger
  10. West Africa: Tomato, peanut, chili

When you reduce fat, sugar and salt you have to put flavor back, or your food will be bland and you or your family will reach for the salt shaker. You will need to experiment, which I know makes some of you excited and others not so sure. I encourage you to think about your culture and that of your family when it comes to the flavors of food. Once you have tried some new or different herbs and spices you will be pleasantly surprised how much more flavor you can create in foods without salt, sugar and fat.

All of your spices and dried herbs should be stored in airtight containers in a cool, dark cupboard. Over time some of them lose some of their flavor so you might have to use more. Some become more flavorful so you have to use less, you just have to smell the aroma and taste the flavor.

I have gotten in the habit of dating the container when I bring it home. I will honestly say that I don’t throw them away, like many people suggest. So “Savor the Flavor of Eating Right” and plan to use more herbs and spices and reduce the fat, sugar and salt in cooking and eating out!

For more nutrition and healthy eating tips from Mary Ann Lienhart-Cross, subscribe to the Food & Nutrition email newsletter.
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