It’s no secret Canadians love their salt and sugar. However, seeing as an excess of both can lead to problems with blood pressure and increased cancer risks and more, finding alternative seasonings for your favourite foods is one of the best things you can do for your health, experts say.
“There’s been a lot of headlines lately linking sugar to cancer and sugar definitely plays a role in cancer progression,” Tristaca Curley, a registered dietitian with Fueling with Food, says. “The more sugar we eat, the more sugar we crave. But cutting down our sugar intake is fairly simple to do and there are a lot of sweet alternatives that we can use that will provide that sweetness, as well as other nutrients.”
The same goes for sodium Andrea D’Ambrosio, registered dietitian at Dietetic Directions, says.
“If we can reduce our total sodium intake, this is for sure heart healthy and beneficial for blood pressure, stroke and kidney health,” she says. “We know that Canadians eat way too much sodium and it comes mostly from processed foods.”
To reduce the amount of sugar and salt they’re consuming, Canadians should ditch the salt shaker and sugar bowl in favour of getting creative and finding other ways to flavour their foods.
Curey and D’Ambrosio have some suggestions.
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These type of vegetables — which include onions and garlic — make for great seasonings, Curley says.
“Using these as a base when you’re cooking any sort of sauces or stir-fry, that will really impart some nice flavour to your food,” she says. “These will really decrease your reliance on salt.”
Try getting your seasoning from herbs like chives, oregano, and basil, for example, Curley says.
“Use fresh herbs to garnish any of your meals,” she says. “I find that it really amps up the flavour without any of that added sodium.”
In the case of both aromatic vegetables, you’re guaranteed to consume less salt but more potassium, Curley adds, as well as antioxidants.
Hot sauce, cayenne pepper or chili pepper
“I always put hot sauce on my popcorn and I actually don’t need salt when I eat it that way,” Curley says.
Other great options for flavour are cayenne pepper and chili pepper, she adds.
According to Healthline, cayenne pepper contains a high dose of vitamin A. it is known to boost your metabolism, lower blood pressure and may help in digestion.
Lemon and vinegar are also good seasoning options, D’Ambrosio adds.
“Acid basically helps with bumping that flavour node up,” D’Ambrosio says. “So if you’re doing things like brazing or soups and sauces and we’re able to add some vinegar then you’re bringing out that flavour without having to resort to extra sodium.”
Citrus has plenty of health benefits, including a reduction in the risk of stroke in women due to the flavonoids that are present, Livestrong reports.
Also, think about incorporating umami ingredients like mushroom and tomatoes, D’Ambrosio says.
“It’s a way of getting that savory deliciousness in the food,” she says. “But we can basically use plant-based sources… You can toast nuts or seeds, those are really nice umami as well.”
Eating mushrooms has been linked to decreasing the risk of obesity, diabetes and heart disease, Medical News Today reports.
“Dates will really take that sweet craving away,” Curley says. “And if you do sort of a purée then you can use that for baking or you can top your plain yogurt with it.”
According to Livestrong, dates don’t raise your blood sugar, increases your fibre intake, as well as your vitamin B intake.
They are also high in potassium and magnesium, Curley adds.
Blackstrap molasses is a really good source of calcium and iron, Curley says.
Next time, try making a homemade salad dressing and add some blackstrap molasses in there to sweeten it up, Curey suggests.
According to Healthline, blackstrap molasses is a byproduct of sugar cane’s refining process. It is often recommended for diabetics as a sweetener.
“Whenever my bananas start to get too ripe to eat I’ll throw them in my freezer,” Curley says. “Anytime I do baking I’ll mash them up to get a lot of vitamin B6, potassium, and fibre.”
Bananas can also help moderate blood sugar levels, they improve digestive health and may help with weight loss, Healthline says.
“What we want to do is add sweetness with natural sugars,” D’Ambrosio says. “So add your own little drizzle.”
High-quality honey is full of nutrients, Healthline reports, and can help lower blood pressure and improve cholesterol.