Spice Up Your Meals – Enhance The Flavor of Healthy Foods


Do you keep a salt shaker on your dinner table and add it to your food to improve the taste? Put that salt shaker in the cabinet and try some spices instead. You don’t have to be a professional chef to create delicious and healthy meals. Replace butter, margarine and salt with a variety of spices such as cumin, tumeric or nutmeg to reduce sodium and fat in your diet without sacrificing flavor. Adding spices to your dishes improves the flavor of your food without adding extra calories. Health food stores usually offer all natural, preservative free spices. Most supermarkets stock a wide variety of spices and spice blends. Feel free to experiment with different recipes, blends of spices or create your own blends for a truly unique flavor.

Nutmeg is a common ingredient in exotic foods, such as Caribbean fare. Nutmeg is sweet with a hint of bitterness that works well in a variety of dishes, including roasted chicken, vegetables and even fish. Ground nutmeg is delicious on custards, eggnog and whipped coffee drinks. It spices up the flavor of whole grain breads and cakes reducing the need for sugar for sweetness. There also may be some health benefits to adding nutmeg to your dishes and beverages. Nutmeg may help lower your blood pressure and help you feel more alert. Nutmeg is toxic in large doses causing anxiety, nausea, dehydration and rapid heartbeat. Other toxic effects of consuming large quantities of nutmeg include hallucinations and psychosis. The tiny amount of nutmeg used in cooking is so small you shouldn’t worry about nutmeg poisoning.

If you love Latin, Mexican and Indian food, then you already love cumin. Almost all Latin and Mexican dishes contain cumin which has a light, smoky flavor that works well in most meat and chicken dishes. Cumin is also one of the main ingredients in chili powder. Nutrient-rich cumin contains fiber, potassium, calcium, iron and magnesium. Iron is important for healthy blood cells and calcium is essential for healthy bones. Other trace elements that are important to your diet include phosphorus and copper. There are no saturated fats in cumin, and only 1 gram of unsaturated fat. Cumin compliments beans, such as garbanzo and black beans. It will pump up the flavor of soups and sauces, too.

spice-up-your-mealsYou might have never heard of cardamom, but chances are you’ve eaten it before. Cardamom is a staple spice in East Indian and Scandanavian dishes and is related to ginger. It has a sweet taste and a pungent, eucalyptus-like smell that enhances the flavor of desserts and drinks, such as hot tea and coffee. Cardamom can replace sugar when a lightly sweet flavor is desired. Most dishes call for green cardamom still in the pods. Ground or dried cardamom is less aromatic and less flavorful than fresh cardamom. Cardamon contains potassium, magnesium, calcium and copper. It’s also a good source of manganese and iron for healthy blood and cell metabolism. Look for cardamom where fresh spices are sold. Store fresh cardamom pods in a tightly closed container out of sunlight.

Ginger is the root of a spice and is a commonly used in Asian dishes, such as stir fried vegetables, chicken and beef stir fry and on fresh fruits. Ginger grows underground and is usually available dried and ground. The Chinese have a centuries old tradition of using ginger to alleviate stomach and intestinal ailments along with using it as a flavorful spice in cooking. Ginger is a powerful antioxidant that helps to reduce inflammation. In addition to Chinese foods, ginger is delicious when boiled as a tea, added to rice dishes, added to olive oil and used as a salad dressing. Sprinkle ginger over sweet potatoes or apples for a nice kick of flavor. Ginger is an excellent source of magnesium, potassium, manganese and vitamin C.

Dill is commonly used to make pickles, but dried dill is a good salt substitute if you are trying to reduce the amount of sodium in your diet. Dill provides important antioxidants, which help to rid your body of cell damaging free radicals. Dill is a good source of calcium and dietary fiber. You also get some manganese, magnesium and iron. Niacin, zinc, copper and vitamins A and C are also found in dill. Dill adds a citrus like, slightly bitter flavor to fresh, chopped vegetables, fish and dips.

Coriander, also known as the herb cilantro in America, is often used to garnish dishes. Cilantro is available fresh or dried. It contains vitamin C, E, K, B6 and other nutrients such as thiamin and zinc. It’s also a great source of dietary fiber and the trace nutrients iron, copper and phosphorus. You’ll also get some extra calcium, iron and magnesium. Coriander is traditionally used in Asian dishes, but can be used to spice up any food. Coriander enhances the flavor of chicken, fish and beef dishes. It’s often used in soups and tomato based sauces. Toss some whole grain pasta with a combination of fresh coriander, garlic, red pepper and olive oil for a flavorful and healthy meal. Add fresh cilantro to salads to increase flavor instead of adding salad dressing. Coriander is also used in curry blends.

Commercial curry spice is actually a blend of several spices. The main spice ingredients in curry are tumeric, coriander, cumin and cayenne pepper. Some blends of curry also contain black pepper, cinnamon and cloves. Some blends of curry may contain ginger, nutmeg and white pepper, too. Curry is the main spice in Indian foods, such as curry chicken and curry sweet potatoes with spinach. Cayenne pepper is loaded with a substance called capsaicin, which is a natural pain reliever. In addition to the hot spicy flavor, cayenne pepper contains a host of nutrients, including magnesium, fiber, vitamins A, B6, K and vitamin C. Tumeric contains iron, potassium, manganese and vitamin B6. It’s also a powerful antioxidant and may help reduce the pain and inflammation of arthritis. Tumeric may also help lower your cholesterol. Coriander is rich in vitamin C, phosphorus and iron. It also adds the healthy fatty acids linoleic and stearic acids to your diet which help maintain healthy thyroid and adrenal glands and lowers cholesterol.

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About Author

I'm an AFPA certified personal trainer, AFPA certified nutrition consultant, NASM certified youth exercise specialist, online fitness coach and freelance writer specializing in health and fitness. I hold a Bachelor of Arts in psychology from the University of San Francisco and a Master of Science in natural health. I'm also an active member of the world's largest association for fitness and wellness professionals. See my profile page for more information!

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