Originally written for The Washington Post, January 10, 2018.
If you think about a food you love, it’s often the fat, sugar, and/or salt that is the ingredient you really enjoy eating. Think about common favorite comfort foods such as fries, pizza, ice cream, doughnuts, or popcorn, and you’ll find it will come back to fat, sugar, and salt ingredients that people crave. The problem is fat, sugar, and salt are not the ideal foundation for a nutritious eating plan. Of course, they can and should be enjoyed, but if all we ate was sugar, fried in fat, and covered in salt, we would not be the healthiest of folks.
How can food have flavor, taste good and be healthy at the same time? It’s indeed possible. Learning how to use spices, herbs, acids, healthy fats, and strong flavors can change the game to create an entirely new palate and experience.
Experimenting with new flavors can have multiple benefits. Remember, many great flavors have no calories. Herbs, acids, vinegars, and spices are free foods and can create an entirely new experience to comfort dishes. In addition to potentially decreasing caloric intake, adding flavor can change how we experience food. We have become so accustomed to certain flavors that we can easily eat mindlessly. Meaning: when food is bland and basic, it’s easier to overeat because you don’t really have to pay attention to what you’re eating. When food has more flavor or richness, you taste more! You may notice you become more mindful about what and how much you’re eating. Mindful eating can be associated with overall less intake as well as a great appreciation of your meal.
Consider the following additions of flavor to some favorite and common foods. A simple change in taste may make a big impact.
1. Avocado, lime, chili flakes and cilantro — When going for your go-to dollop of guacamole, consider adding a squeeze of lime, chopped onion and herbs to make the flavor have an added kick. If you’re adding avocado to eggs or a salad, add an acid and spice to create a more complex dish.
2. Tahini, hummus, lemon, and zaatar — If hummus is a go-to mindless snack, consider adding tahini, lemon juice and popular Mediterranean spice zaatar so each bite becomes more rich and interesting. Pair with crudité for an easy way to include vegetables.
3. Cinnamon and coconut — If you’re accustomed to adding sugar to a typical breakfast such as oats, cereal, or yogurt, try adding shaved coconut and cinnamon for a new taste that isn’t as sweet.
4. Vinegar and spice — Most salad dressings rely on the oil and added sugars and salts to create taste. Relying on the triple threat of fat, sugar, and salt again! Make your own dressing and emphasize a vinegar with an additional ingredient for flavor. Use olive oil as a base and consider adding red wine and oregano, apple cider vinegar and Dijon mustard, or rice vinegar and garlic.
5. Strawberry and balsamic vinegar — A different twist on a dessert is sweet berries, balsamic vinegar and black pepper. Creates an entirely different experience for a sweet tooth!
6. Carrots and ginger — When roasting, steaming, or sautéing carrots, add fresh peeled and sliced ginger for a different dimension to a common vegetable.
7. Grapefruit and mint — When enjoying a grapefruit for breakfast, in a salad, or as a snack, sprinkle diced fresh mint to accentuate the flavor in the fruit.
9. Anchovy and garlic — Dressings with anchovy and garlic add a dimension of flavor that can change any basic salad or protein dish.
10. Caramelized onion and thyme — Caramelize onions to add a rich and sweet flavor to all sorts of dishes such as a protein or a starch like rice or winter squash. An herb like thyme pairs beautifully.
11. Vanilla and mint leaves — Add vanilla to fruit or mint leaves to chocolate for a delicious sweet, but not the added sugar and calories,
12. Capers, lemon, mustard, shallots — Change a basic dinner dish of rice, chicken, and broccoli into a new meal by adding capers, lemon juice, mustard, and shallots while cooking. Adds so much flavor!