Recently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued guidance to reduce sodium in packaged and processed food products. While sodium is essential for many basic human activities, such as muscle and nerve function, too much can increase blood pressure and lead to hypertension. The new Dietary Guidelines recommend that adults and children over 14 reduce sodium intake to 2,300 milligrams per day.
While Americans consume more sodium than is recommended, the good news is that there are ways to reduce sodium intake by replacing it with herbs, spices, and condiments.
Garlic: A great alternative to salt, garlic’s culinary uses are almost endless. Using raw garlic adds a pungent and zesty taste to foods, while roasting it provides a sweet and nutty flavor. If you want the flavor of garlic but don’t want to spend the time cutting and/or roasting it, you can use garlic powder or flakes. Add garlic to chicken, fish, lean red meat, and vegetables.
Garlic has been linked to preventing colds, but a recent Cochrane review found that “there is insufficient clinical trial evidence regarding the effects of garlic in preventing or treating the common cold.” A single trial suggested that it may prevent occurrences of the common cold, but more studies are needed to validate this finding. Claims of effectiveness appear to rely largely on poor-quality evidence.
Peppercorns: While most people only know peppercorns as the ground companion to salt, peppercorns are actually dried seeds. While black peppercorns are the most common, there are actually a variety of colored peppercorns—red, green, yellow—that have different flavor profiles. Some are sweeter, while others are bitter. One tablespoon has 1.7 grams of fiber, as well as calcium, iron, and magnesium. So you’ll be getting a variety of nutrients when you sprinkle this little spice on your food.
Lemon Juice: A good source of vitamin C, an essential vitamin that supports bone and immune health, using lemons and lemon juice as an alternative to salt is a great way to brighten up the taste of food. It pairs with almost everything—chicken, fish, vegetables, and even yogurt and desserts. Want a more subtle, lemony taste? Just sprinkle on some lemon zest. And if you really love the lemony flavor, you can even use it as a marinade.
Cumin: A member of the parsley family, cumin, like peppercorns, is actually a dried seed. Used heavily in Southeast Asian, North African, Mexican, and Thai cuisine, cumin adds a distinct smoky and earthy flavor to food. Cumin can be added to savory dishes, and it works well with lean meats like chicken, beef, and lamb. It has a variety of nutrients including iron, calcium, potassium, and vitamin A. It even contains poly- and monounsaturated fats.
Balsamic Vinegar: Don’t relegate this condiment just to salads. Balsamic vinegars can come in a variety of flavors including lemon, cherry, espresso, chocolate, garlic, apple, and so many more. Because of the variety of flavors, its uses are endless. Add sweeter, fruity flavors to yogurt, ice cream, and drinks. Espresso and chocolate work well marinating red meats. And garlic and lemon are perfect to splash onto poultry, seafood, and vegetables.
Cayenne: If you’re trying to decrease the salt, but also like spicy food, consider using cayenne pepper. Sold fresh, dried, and powdered, it can be used in a variety of dishes including meats, grains, soup, and vegetables. Originating in French Guiana, it’s a great source of vitamin A, which supports eye and immune health.
You may have heard that spicy foods have an impact on weight loss, but there have been a wide range of positive and negative findings published. More studies need to be done, but some have suggested that cayenne pepper increases energy expenditure and core temperatures, which may contribute to weight management, in conjunction with a healthy diet.
Whether you’re trying to cut down on sodium, or just looking to try something new, these herbs, spices, and condiments are a great way to add flavor to any food.