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Eating healthier does not mean your meals have to be bland and ho-hum. There is a secret weapon for flavour: dried herbs and spices. “They can provide an abundance of flavour to food and offer beneficial nutrients,” says Stephanie Boutette, a registered dietitian and past manager of healthcare provider education with Diabetes Canada. 

Are there other benefits?

“Herbs and spices—whether fresh, frozen, or dried—have little or no calories or fat, and offer flavour to your dishes without adding sodium,” Boutette says. That means you can get away with using less salt and fat. These two things are commonly added to recipes to increase flavour and satisfaction, but using too much can lead to weight gain and high blood pressure, which for people with diabetes—who already have a greater risk of stroke and heart disease—can increase the risk of complications even further. 

And because dried herbs and spices are available at grocery stores year-round, they are a great way to add a hit of fresh flavour, even when seasonal herbs are not available. Some spices can even provide specific nutritional benefits.

“Turmeric and ginger,” Boutette notes as two examples, “have shown anti-inflammatory and antioxidant action,” which helps with general good health. 

Ready to add dried herbs and spices to your meal? 

Oregano and basil add mild flavour, while cayenne, dried chilis, dried garlic, and onion are stronger. Cinnamon and cumin can add a dash of exotic flavour. 

Whatever varieties you choose, there are some important things to remember: Use dried herbs and spices more sparingly than you would the comparable fresh products. Because the flavours concentrate as herbs dry, a little goes much further than when you are using fresh. You can substitute one teaspoon of dried herbs for a tablespoon of fresh, or use your taste buds as a guide to determine how much you need. 

Stocking up on a variety of herbs and spices can help you be more versatile and spontaneous in your cooking. But be aware that while herbs and spices generally do not go bad, they do lose their strength over time; shelf life (the length of time an item remains usable) typically ranges from one to three years, depending on the herb. If you notice that it no longer has a smell, this is a sign it is starting to lose its flavour, too. 

Whether you are following a recipe or want to experiment with flavours based on your own likes, go ahead and spice up your food—while still maintaining a meal plan that helps keep you healthy. 

Did you know? 

Want to make healthier food choices? Try the “7-Day Diabetes Meal Plan” now. 

This article appeared in Diabetes Dialogue, Autumn 2018 

Author: Alyssa Schwartz

Category Tags: Healthy Living;

Region: National

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