Sometimes healthy can be, well, ho-hum. But with all the ways to perk up flavor in foods, there’s no reason to choke down one more bland turkey sandwich. The best news is, there’s plenty of easy-to-find flavor boosters to transform your blah healthy dish to perked-up good-for-you delish.
From Boring to Ba-da-bing: Healthy Flavor Boosters to Amp Up Your Food
Rock the Guac
Guacamole deserves to be known as more than a meager accompaniment to chips. Sure, it’s got fat – but the source is heart-healthy monounsaturated fat derived from avocados. And since avocados are loaded with nearly 20 vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients, what’s not to love? Depending on your guacamole recipe, it likely contains something along the lines of tomatoes, red onion, herbs, and spices – all healthy things that come together to make a delicious combination that’s perfect for flavoring food. Try guacamole as a spread on a turkey sandwich instead of mayo or add flavor to a burger without the cheese with a dollop of green guac.
Up the Mustard
The yellow condiment isn’t just for hot dogs. Adding mustard to tuna salad brings a puckery pop – plus it enables you to cut back on the amount of mayo you’ll need to add. Or, try this quick marinade for beef or pork: mix 1 tablespoon each sugar, mustard, and olive oil with 2 tablespoons each cider vinegar and soy sauce. Or, for steamed shrimp, skip the butter and high-fat tartar dips, and boost the flavor with a tangy sauce made from swirling together 1 tablespoon each mustard and olive oil, 2 tablespoons rice vinegar, and a touch of honey, adjusting the recipe to meet your needs.
Be a Fresh Herbivore
Nothing boosts flavor like the green hint of fresh herbs. Be a windowsill gardener and plant a 2 to 4 plant variety that fits your fancy. Chopped rosemary is a great flavor booster to red potatoes roasted in olive oil. Fresh, chopped basil perks up paltry out-of-season tomatoes, and fresh dill snipped into plain Greek yogurt makes a gourmet-worthy fish sauce.
Nut Butter It Up
Think of peanut butter (or any nut butter) as just a sandwich filler? Think again: It’s a great flavor booster! Plus, nutritionally speaking, nut butters are packed with heart-healthy monounsaturated fat. Even better, the fat and protein balance in nut butter is ideal for keeping hunger in check – so it’s a nutrition booster to boot. Simply swirl a tablespoon of peanut butter into plain, nonfat yogurt or oatmeal to provide a boost. For dinner, pump up soba noodles, steamed veggies, and chicken with a quick and healthy sauce: In a small saucepan, whisk together ½ cup of low-sodium vegetable broth, 2 tablespoons of almond butter, and 1 tablespoon of low-sodium soy sauce until smooth. For a finishing touch, add as many flavor boosters as you’d like: 1 clove of fresh garlic, ½ teaspoon of spicy chili paste, or 1 tablespoon of chopped cilantro.
Do the Salsa
Salsa is more than a flavor booster – just one ½ cup serving counts as a serving of fruit or vegetables (depending on the mix of the salsa). Use salsa to add flair to eggs, or toss into a green salad with cucumbers, carrots, black olives, and grilled fish. For a change, forgo the tomato sauce on your homemade pizza and top a whole wheat crust with drained salsa, 2% milk cheese, black beans, and corn – then toast until the cheese melts. For the freshest flavor, go for salsa that has a short list of simple ingredients you can identify, rather than one filled with preservatives. Where to find it? Check the refrigerated section of the grocery store… or, of course, you can make your own!
The Bottom Line
A little experimentation and a sense of adventure for using regular foods as flavor boosters may seem a little unorthodox. But there’s no better way to pump up the flavor, find new favorites, and add jazz to your healthy meals.
Beth Sumrell Ehrensberger is a Registered Dietitian and holds a Master Degree in Public Health. An experienced nutrition counselor, writer and public speaker, Beth specializes in translating complex nutrition information into practical concepts. Beth was awarded a Nutrition Communications Fellowship to the National Cancer Institute, and has worked on the internationally recognized Nutrition Action Healthletter of the Center for Science in the Public Interest.