Diet Myth #3: Cut Salt and Fat, Forgo Flavor

By , SparkPeople Blogger
As part of our research for "The SparkPeople Cookbook: Love Your Food, Lose the Weight," we conducted a "Ditch the Diet Taste Test." We asked successful SparkPeople members, yo-yo dieters and others to answer questions about weight loss, healthy eating, and dieting--and to pit Chef Meg's healthy, delicious recipes against traditional, bland "diet food."
You can read all about the Taste Test in Chapter 2 of "The SparkPeople Cookbook," but this week we're sharing five of the diet myths we debunked as part of that project.
Some people buy dresses. I buy spices. They’re my vice.

To me, food isn't worth eating if it's bland and flavorless. Novice cooks might reach for fat, salt, or sugar for flavor, and they'll turn out some tasty food—but it won't be healthy. A good cook knows to start with wholesome food that’s as close to the source as possible (as unprocessed as can be), and use herbs and spices to impart flavor. Herbs, spices, and seasonings are a big reason why I can cook and eat what I love and still fit into my clothes!

Unfortunately, the most common seasoning in American kitchens is salt. While salt is a crucial ingredient in many recipes, it should rarely be the sole seasoning. If a food is seasoned properly—from the beginning and through every step of the cooking process—there is no need to salt or pepper your food at the table.

Diet Myth #3: When you cut back on salt and fat, you forgo all flavor in food.

As you’ll read in Chapter 12 of "The SparkPeople Cookbook: Love Your Food, Lose the Weight," there are plenty of tricks you can use to impart flavor with almost zero calories. When you’re watching fat and calories, herbs, spices, and certain condiments are your new best friends. They add flavor and pizzazz to your cooking with little to no calories and fat. Do take care in your choice of premade spice blends and condiments, however, as many of the versions you get in the supermarket are full of salt—a big no-no when you’re watching your sodium levels or you have high blood pressure.

You can buy tinned or canned spices at the grocery store, but many larger supermarkets and health-food stores have bulk spices. Buy just as much as you need and you won’t be left with a tin of mace 15 years from now!
HOWMANYCATS, who has lost 27 pounds, has extolled the virtues of spices since her seventh-grade home ec class. “I fell in love with the school's spice cabinet . . . it just smelled so good and exotic when you opened the doors! My goal became having a spice cabinet like that some day and I'm happy to say, I do have that now!”

Let’s get some terminology straight before we begin:
Herbs, which can be used fresh or dried, are the leaves, stems, or flowers of plants used to flavor food.
Spices are dried and come from the bark, roots, or berries of a plant.
Seasoning is a term used for adding flavor with salt or a combination of spices and herbs, such as the blends found in Chapter 12 of the cookbook.

Fresh and dried herbs are vital when preparing a healthy meal because they add flavor with virtually no calories and zero fat. The herbs can be the star or the supporting actor in a dish. When I make Tomato Basil Vinaigrette (page 387), the basil is the star because I want to taste that grassy, piney flavor. When I make Black-Bean Burgers with Lime Cream (page 139), I want the beans and cumin to take center stage, with the cilantro adding a light herbal flavor.

In most cases, you'll want the herbs and spices to accentuate the food. Just as good lighting can make anyone look like a movie star in photos, herbs and spices can make any dish a four-star meal.

If you're unfamiliar with the taste of fresh herbs, visit a farmers' market and ask for a tutorial. Make shopping for herbs a tactile experience; smell them, rub them between your fingers and, if possible, taste them. What foods come to mind? That’s a good place to start.

This is a chance to be creative. We all have preferences when it comes to taste, so trust your palate and add what
"sounds good" to start. You'll never know until you try. If something tastes good to you, it can't be “wrong”! If you want to be creative with herbs and spices, follow your nose. If you don’t like the smell of mint and rosemary together, chances are you won't like the taste either. If cumin and cilantro smell good, go for it!

Here are some common pairings to help you get started:

Parsley: cheese, eggs, seafood, vegetables, chicken, breads

Mint: lamb, peas, fruit

Oregano: pizza, chicken, vegetables

Chervil: eggs, chicken, shellfish, summer vegetables

Sage: pork, chicken, root vegetables

Thyme: eggs, beef, chicken, seafood soups, root vegetables

Basil: tomatoes, pasta, olive oil, cheese, fish, green beans

Rosemary: mushrooms, roasted and grilled meats, root vegetables, breads

Cumin: beans, spicy dishes, chicken, root vegetables

Cilantro: spicy dishes, salads, salsas, fish, rice

The best part about adding these herbs, spices, and seasonings? These have zero calories and no fat!

Learn more about this diet myth in "The SparkPeople Cookbook: Love Your Food, Lose the Weight." Click here to get five sneak-peek recipes, too.

Do you buy into this diet myth? Why or why not? What is your favorite herb or spice?

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LOSER05 9/29/2020
thanks Report
Great Article Report
Thanks Report
My weakness is the sweets. Report
good article Report
Our household is more of a spice when cooking but Dearly Beloved is an auto-condimentor--he adds salt and pepper without even tasting! Report
thanks. Report
I now use Mrs. Dash. Report
Sodium Chloride is Table Salt, and the chloride is not too good for you. I use Celtic Sea Salt or similar, with 70-80 different mineral salts all in the proper proportions needed. Even then - I still use a lot of herbs and spices. One way to learn the flavors of spices and herbs is to eat at new-to-you ethnic restaurants. Have you eaten at a Mexican restaurant? It’s a good place to experience garlic, cilantro, red pepper, cumin, etc. A Chinese place might use anise, clove, ginger, clove, etc.

I have also noticed and love how cinnamon really makes foods taste sweeter than you might expect is you were only using less sugar or alternative sweeteners like stevia or monk fruit, etc. Report
I run a low sodium, as did my Mum. I make sure to use it everyday. Report
Although my family is not big on salt, we do use it on occasion. My 90 year old dad eats more of it than I do, so I guess it isn't that bad. He never had high blood pressure, so he refuses to give it up.

I guess I prefer my herbs and spices... really loving ginger, pepper, basil and oregano. Report
I buy Mrs. Dash, but I do add a bit of salt to it, food needs some , but not a lot, of salt. We hate cilantro, overused in restaurants. Report
One of the great things about learning to use herbs and spices is being able to save money in the long run. For example, think about the price (and sodium content) of pre-made taco or chili seasoning you can get at the grocery store. No thank you. Instead, I just whip together my own blend which I can adjust to my own tastes. Here's what I use for my chili:

4 parts chili powder
2 parts cumin
1 part garlic powder
1 part onion powder
1 part oregano
.5 part black pepper (or more if you like!)
1 part crushed red peppers
1 part brown sugar (optional, but I like the taste)

There's also the magic of things like liquid smoke (which may not be very friendly in the sodium department, actually, but oh my god it tastes amazing with very few calories per serving, and a little goes a long way!).

Also, vegetarian friends have often talked about using spices like garlic powder, paprika, and sage to mimic some of the savory-ness of meat when they cook. Report
Love the article. I grew up in a family that oversalted everything. Have cut back a bunch, but we do season quite a few things. We are big fans of poultry seasoning and Italian seasoning too! Report
I love my herebs and spices but don't be afraid of salt. Salt is fortified with iodine and many Americans are low on iodine and it is needed for a functioning thyroid.

I'm a child of the 70's and when my grandfathers were diagnosed with heart issues the doctors told them to get off sodium. In turn my parents cut salt out at home. Now I have thyroid issues most likely from not having enough iodine in my diet. The other option for getting iodine is topically but I have a skin disorder that iodine exasperates so I can only get it in my diet. With so many places going to sea salt is making it harder to get enough iodine. Report
Great article!!! I had found my desire for "SALT" to be very challenging, however, over the past year, I have incoorporated various spices to all my dishes - minus the salt, and I survived it all (hee haw). My blood pressure is under control and my weight is stable (total of 55lbs lost and holding - yeah me!) Report
First confession: I hate vegetables and have experimented with just about every spice and herb there is to make them palatable. I don't use salt because it just accents the taste of the vegetables which is what I am trying to get away from. The only thing that works for me is butter (which also helps them slide down my throat and get away from their textures). But that isn't a particularly healthy option. And I avoid using sugar on vegetables (other than in the water when I boil corn-on-the-cob). I dislike and avoid sauces - Mother always said you only put sauces on to hide the fact that the food is a bit off or you cooked it badly! I like the taste and textures of meat and grains without any sauces or gravy added: just herbs and spices.
But is there any low carb substitute that works the way butter does. I know butter has no carbs which is appealing, and since vegetables and sauces tend to be comparatively heavy on carbs, I am looking for an alternative so I don't keep going back to my old favourite, butter.
Any suggestions? Report
Yay spices and herbs! But, where's the marjoram?

Spices are so much fun to use, especially when you can add something a little unusual to regular dishes. I cook with just enough salt for my taste which allows my husband to add a little to his plate at the table, as he likes his food a little saltier. Report
I don't cook with a lot of "spices". I prefer seasonings, which in the South are onions, green onions, celery, bell pepper and garlic. No Southern cook I know would ever make a pot of beans, peas, etc. without them. I cook with some salt, and use Cajun Seasoning as well. Using Mrs. Dash is out of the question, because the very smell brings back some terrible memories. Report
I routinely use half or less of the salt and fat called for in most recipes, and since I'm a big fan of herbs and spices, my family never even notices. Unfortunately, the food industry doesn't seem to get the message. Low-fat crackers tend to be so salty as to be inedible. Low-fat ice cream is sickeningly sweet. I even occasionally find low-sodium products with extra fat. Guess that's just one more reason to make more of my own food. Report
I used plenty of spices and herbs, but I still use fat and salt. I don't like things to be oily or salty, but a little use of both can really being out the flavor of food. So yeah, I guess I agree with this "myth." Report
I love herbs and spices and have used them for a very long time since way before I had my restaurant. I also believe in metabolic types having very different needs, and I am a very strong protein type who needs rather large amounts of protein and fat to be healthy and satisfied. I use liberal amounts of unrefined sea salt, which provides many minerals and a fair amount of fat including saturated fat from coconut oil and grass-fed beef. I'm finding a more Paleo way of eating is what's working for me, so it can be frustrating to always see such an emphasis on cutting fat to make things "healthy". It just doesn't fit my experience. Report
Have always used a lot spices and herbs I can remember as a kid going and getting my mom fresh cut rosemary and thyme out of the herb garden, my spices and herbs are well stocked and always ready to season my meals. Report
***The best part about adding these herbs, spices, and seasonings? These have zero calories and no fat!**** - I am not sure if this information is correct. Spices and herbs are low in calories not zero calories as written in the post.'s calorie count says that 1sp of cumin has 8 calories an d 1 ts of rosemary has 2 calories.
I love basil with garlic, and I also love basil with rosemary. Ginger is just the ticket for sweet and sour. I think most foods need very little salt. It is partly training your tastebuds to do without. Then you can appreciate the other, fresher flavors better. Report
I am definitely going to have to buy this cookbook next month. Everyone is ranting about it. Report
Although varieties of Mrs Dash are available at your favorite grocery store, I recently discovered that Penseys Spices also has a wide variety of salt free spice blends. Having switched to salt free alternatives, due to heart failure, two years ago, I find the seasoned salt blends overwhelming salty. Report
Very informative article. I have made my own spice blends at home so I can limit the salt in them - italian seasoning? Make it minus the salt and then add salt as needed when you are cooking. I do the same with taco seasoning. Report
I try to cook with spices and herbs, but I will need to a make sure they have limited salt. I have High Blood Pressure and I am working to eliminate my medicine. I too would like to have a nice spice rack. Report
I love adding herbs and spices to food. Basil, balsamic vinegar and tomatoes with the tiniest pinch of sugar is a taste sensation for me. Report
I had to wonder why fat was mentioned prominently in the myth, but then not really discussed below other than the concept of giving food enough flavor. I find that fat isn't really about the flavor itself, it's about the sense of fullness, of satisfaction with the meal, it provides.

My personal experience with fat-free food is that it may taste absolutely divine and be satisfying mentally as a meal, but leave a sense of body hunger that I ate well, but don't feel like I'm done. Report
I have a number of favorites. I love cinnamon because it adds a sweet flavor without calories. Bragg has a great all purpose seasoning that is good on meats, salads, and other veggies. Report
I love, love, LOVE my spices. Invest in a mortar and pestle and grind them fresh; you'll get all the volatile oils that evaporate when you buy powders. Report
Because my mother and grandmother have high blood pressure I have to watch sodium. I use a lot of Mrs. Dash seasonings. Report
Great article. I did not realize what spices could do. I'm one of those that relied on garlic salt and pepper for flavoring. I'm over due for a change. Report