Instead of asking your dinner guest to pass the salt, try asking him to pass the herbs. Cooking herbs, that is. Sodium has been a salty topic. Recently with the revised 2010 dietary guidelines, Americans are recommended to eat less and less salt. The current recommendations are 1500 milligrams and no more than 2300 milligrams per day (that’s about only 1 teaspoon of salt). As we know, sodium can be found in many processed, canned, and packaged foods since it acts as a preservative and provides flavor.
When we cook at home, we can reduce our salt intake by adding flavors in other ways such as using herbs! Here are some common herbs and ideas on how to use them to flavor it up.
Basil, Cilantro, Mint, Parsley (Flat-leaf or Italian), and Rosemary are some one of the most popular herbs in the United States. These herbs have various vitamins ranging from A, C, and K. Some herbs have been known to have different beneficial aspects such as having anti-inflammatory effects which may assist with reducing arthritis or irritable bowel conditions. Some herbs help stimulate digestion. While other herbs may prevent colon, skin, and lung cancers.
So how do we get the herbs into our dishes? Here are some suggestions:
- In a food processor, place any fresh herb with the stems broken off (you can use basil, parsley, mint, or cilantro OR you can even combine a couple of them together). Squeeze the juice from 1 lemon, add a pinch of pepper, and add a teaspoon of olive oil. Puree. You can use this sauce over any fish, pork, chicken, steak, or tofu. The sauce can last in your fridge up to 4 days. Simple, tasty, versatile.
- Make your own salad dressing! 1 teaspoon olive oil, 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar, ½ tsp lemon pepper, ½ tsp garlic powder, 2 tablespoons of chopped herb (basil, mint, parsley, dill, cilantro, or use 2 teaspoons of dried herbs de provence).
- Flavor that rice, couscous, or quinoa! Cook the grain with water. Chop your favorite herb or even mix 2 herbs together. After cooking the grain, mix ½ cup of chopped herbs + 1 teaspoon of pepper + 1 tablespoon of rice wine vinegar or lime juice or lemon juice. Stir to perfection.
- Veggies galore: Flavor that roasted, steamed, or broiled vegetable with any fresh or dried herb. Simply sprinkle over the cooked vegetable, add a pinch of salt & pepper, and toss with a vinegar of your choice (balsamic, white wine, red wine, apple cider, etc). Viola! You’ve got some serious flavor going on there.
To sum it up: herb it up and save the salt shake for another bake.
Sarah Koszyk, MA, RD, is a nutrition coach at Eating Free who cooks with love and loves to eat.
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