Healthy herbs and spices for cooking

Dietitian, Retha Harmse, informs us on how to make low sodium meals by using healthy herbs and spices.


Wintertime calls for more comforting stews, soups and curries and suddenly cold salads seem much less appealing. But with that comes another risk that people living with diabetes need to steer clear of: falling in the high salt trap.

We run the risk of wanting quick and easy convenience during winter, using pre-packaged sauces or stock cubes to limit the time spent cooking in the cold kitchen and increase the time under a warm blanket or close to the heater.

These convenient alternatives unfortunately often have a very high sodium (salt) content, and with the risk of comorbidities already being increased in diabetes patients and needing to keep blood pressures in check, the convenient way is not the healthiest way.

Avoiding the high salt trap

Choose food and beverages that are lower in salt and prepare food with little or no added salt:

  • Choose fresh, simply prepared food as often as possible.
  • Limit packaged, processed, and ready-to-serve food, such as snack food, processed meats, regular canned and dried soups, frozen meals, cheese, gravies, dressings and sauces.
  • Use no added salt or reduced-sodium ingredients whenever possible.
  • Read labels – if the sodium content in the nutrition facts table is 5% or less of the DV (daily value), then the product is considered low in salt.

Practical tips to reduce salt in cooking

This may seem easier said than done, but remember breaking a habit does take time. Herewith a few step-by-step tips.

How to add less salt to food:

  1. One small step at a time
  • If you are used to adding salt at the table, try to break this habit first. Remove the saltshaker from the dinner table (often this already makes a huge difference – out of sight, out of mind).
  • Start using less salt and sodium rich spices (like stock cubes other salts, etc.) when you are cooking.
  • Reduce your salt intake gradually.
  1. Tips to cook with less salt
  • During the cooking process, taste your food as it may not need added salt.
  • Remember: if you’ve already added salty spices or a stock cube, you do not need to add salt too.

Healthy herbs and spices

But now you might ask: what should I use to flavour my food if I don’t use salt? To make your food tasty try these herbs and unsalted spices instead of salt:

  • Lemon juice or vinegar.
  • Herbs like Italian herbs mix, parsley or rosemary.
  • Spices like curry powder, paprika or pepper.
  • Garlic, ginger, chilli and onions.

Which foods to eat more often, only sometimes or eat less often

Foods low in salt
(eat more often)
Moderate salt foods
(eat sometimes)
Foods high in salt
(eat less often)
  • Foods prepared at home from fresh ingredients
  • Fruits and vegetables (Fresh, frozen and dried)
  • Unsalted nuts and seeds
  • Beans, lentils and peas
  • Mealie meal
  • Pasta and rice
  • Plain popcorn
  • Oats
  • Fresh fish
  • Fresh chicken and meat
  • Eggs
  • Yoghurt and Maas
  • Plain cottage cheese
  • Vinegar or lemon juice
  • Spices and herbs (dried and fresh)
  • Salted nuts
  • Cakes, pastries and biscuits/ cookies
  • Table sauces (tomato sauce and mustard)
  • Salad dressings
  • Mayonnaise
  • Convenience meals
  • Burgers and pies
  • Soft tub margarine
  • Pate and hummus

Look for lower salt options for these foods:

  • Bread and bread products
  • Breakfast cereals
  • Baked beans
  • Peanut butter
  • Tinned fish
  • All types of salt (yes Himalayan salt too)
  • Seasoning salts like barbeque or chicken spice
  • Stock cubes, gravy and soup powders
  • Take-away foods, pizza, crumbed meat or chicken
  • Potato chips
  • Salty spreads
  • Worcestershire and soya sauce
  • Processed meats like polony, viennas, salami, ham, sausages and boerewors
  • Cured meat and fish like biltong, bokkoms, anchovies, corned beef and pickled tongue
  • Cheese, butter and hard margarine
  • Instant noodles
  • Olives and pickles

Nutritional Information Table

Per 100g Low eat more often Moderate eat sometimes High avoid or limit
Sodium 120 mg or less 120 mg – 600 mg 600 mg or more

Popular herbs and how to use them

Here is the exciting and creative part, experimenting in the kitchen to find combinations you love. Certain herbs and certain combinations can elevate your meals to the next level. In the next table find staple herbs and ingredients they work well with.

Herb Complements Complementary herbs, spices or flavours Recipe ideas/ tips
Basil White meats

Raspberries

Strawberries

Roast beef

Turkey

Lamb

Tomatoes

Thyme and oregano

Fennel and oregano

Stir fries

Italian dishes

Pesto

Garnishing

Tomato sauces

Dill Salmon

Carrots Cucumber

Yoghurt

Mustard

Pepper

Allspice

Bay leaves

Cinnamon

Cloves

Ginger

Chives

Parsley

Borscht and other stews

Cream and cottage cheese

Vegetable salads

Pickles

Mint Pork

Potatoes

Peas
Chocolate

Fruit

Ginger

Cayenne

Cumin

Lemon

Chamomile

Frostings

Jellies

Cakes

Pies

Oregano Beef

Chicken

Fried fish

Pork

Roast beef

Turkey

Chilli

Bay leaves

Marjoram and Thyme

Fennel and Basil

Tomato sauces

Pizza

Rosemary Tomatoes

Spinach

Roast meats

Mushrooms

Beef

Grilled fish

Pork

Roast beef

Turkey

Cauliflower

Potatoes

Oregano

Thyme

Garlic

Add to sauce for subtler taste

Poultry stuffing

Sage Sweet fruit and veg e.g. squash or apple

Sausage

Cheese

Beef

Fried fish

Pork

Turkey

Lemon

Winter savoury

Flavour holds well when cooked for long periods

Stuffing

Sausage

Pork roast

Hamburgers

Tarragon Chicken

Fried fish

Pickles tomatoes

Parsley, chervil, chives

Parsley + tarragon = fines herbs

Sauces for meats and vegetables

Eggs and cheese dishes

Green salads

Thyme Egg

Lamb

Grilled fish

Roast beef

Turkey

Pork

Bay

Rosemary

Oregano

Sweet Marjoram

Sumac

Cilantro

Bean

Vegetarian dishes

Egg

Coriander Beef

Chicken

Grilled fish

Pickles

Pork

Ginger

Cinnamon

Cumin

Cardamom

Allspice

Nutmeg

Apple pie

Stuffings

Sausages

Green salads

Baking

Parsley Fish

Chicken

Potatoes

Vegetables

Eggs

Basil and chives

Tarragon

Pasta dishes

Soups

 Be salt aware

  1. Use little or no salt in cooking – try using extra herbs and spices instead such as black pepper.
  2. Leave the saltshaker off the table.
  3. Cut down on salty processed foods and ready meals and try and make your own if you can.
  4. Check out food labels for salt and go for lower salt choices. There can be a really big difference between different types and brands.
  5. Compare salt levels among similar products and try to choose those lower in salt.
  6. Ask in restaurants and take-aways for no added salt.
  7. Be wary of fancy gourmet salts and salt substitutes claiming to be better for your health than table salt. These product ranges are still likely to add some form of salt to your diet.

References:

  • How to match food with herbs and spices (ehow.com)
  • A Beginner’s guide to herbs and spices (health.com)
  • Spice and Herb Chart (weber.com)

MEET THE EXPERT


Retha Harmse is a registered dietitian and the ADSA Public relations portfolio holder. She has a passion for informing and equipping the in the field of nutrition. She is currently in private practice in Saxonwold, Houghton and believes that everyone deserves happiness and health and to achieve this she gives practical and individual-specific advice, guidelines and diets.


Header image by FreePik

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