One of the barriers to healthy eating is that some people think healthier food tends to be flavorless and unexciting. This may come from years of eating food loaded with sodium and added sugar—taste buds have been trained to enjoy foods with excessive flavoring so those without all the trimmings seem to taste bland by comparison.
But if you slowly wean yourself off the added salt and sweetness, healthy foods will become more palatable and you’ll come to appreciate their nuanced flavors and textures. If you’re still not convinced, there are ways to add flavor to whole foods without sacrificing good nutrition. Try these pantry staples for healthy eating.
Soy sauce. This liquid condiment packs a powerful flavor punch. Made with soybeans, wheat, salt, and fermenting agents such as mold or yeast, soy sauce is popular in Asian cuisine. It is high in sodium, which means that it comes with some health risks, mainly that it may increase blood pressure. That doesn’t mean that you have to cut it out completely from your diet. Taken in small doses, soy sauce can be a part of a healthy diet—after all, it’s still a better option than table salt. If you’re watching your sodium intake, opt for low-sodium soy sauce. Try drizzling it over your stir-fries for added flavor.
Mayonnaise. Mayonnaise gets a bad rap. True, at 90 calories a tablespoon and with a high fat content, it’s not exactly a superfood. But as dietician and nutritionist Keri Gans pointed out in an interview with a popular website, mayonnaise may be high in fat but it’s not saturated fat. She added that it’s good for your heart and much better for you than other ingredients like sour cream and cream cheese. Just stick to a one-tablespoon serving (easier said than done, we know) or go for a low-fat version—unlike other low-fat foods that have plenty of added sugars, low-fat mayonnaise doesn’t have much sugar. You can use it as a dip for your vegetable sticks, always keeping in mind that serving size matters.
Ketchup. Ketchup is one prime example of something very flavorful and also quite nutritious. It may seem unhealthy because it’s associated with foods that are high in saturated fat like burgers and fries, but this condiment is actually low in fat and low in calories. Made of tomatoes, ketchup is also high in lycopene and Vitamin A. Just make sure to check the label so you get something that has no added sugars. Your best bet? Go for an organic version.
Avocado oil. Is there anything avocado can’t do? This filling and buttery fruit is a favorite among healthy eaters and its oil is likewise filled with the good stuff, particularly the good kind of fat and the antioxidant lutein, which improves eye health. Aside from being heart-healthy, avocado oil is also versatile. Given its high smoke point, you can use it for virtually all your cooking needs. Drizzle it over salad to get an added benefit: Researchers at Ohio State University found that it helps your body better absorb nutrients from vegetables.
Grapeseed oil. This oil, extracted from seeds pressed from grapes used for winemaking, has a neutral flavor so the cooking possibilities are vast. You can even use it as a substitute for butter when you bake! You’ll get the benefits that come from its Vitamin E and oleic acid content, such as reducing your risk of stroke.
Almond oil. As you’d expect, almond oil has a nutty flavor. Like its healthy oil cousins, it also has healthy fat and Vitamin E. You can use it to add a hint of almond flavor to your baked goods or in salad dressings or soups.
Stock is one of the pillars of classic French cuisine, giving dishes a deeper, richer flavor. In recipes that call for water—particularly grains, soups, and sauces—consider using broth instead. Chicken broth gives dishes a comforting flavor but if you’re vegetarian, you can use vegetable broth.
You can make your own chicken broth by simmering bones and make your own vegetable broth by simmering onions, carrots, and celery. With either broth, toss in parsley, thyme, bay leaf, and peppercorn for added flavor. (Note: Cooking the vegetables before simmering them makes for a more flavorful stock.)
If you’re not inclined to make stock from scratch, you can get ready-made broth from stores. Just make sure that you choose one that is low in sodium. Visit Healthy Options to stock up on this and other pantry essentials.