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Finding Your “Free” Flavors

Negative calorie foods – The so-called science behind “negative calorie” foods has, sadly, been thoroughly debunked.  There is no food, be it celery, grapefruit, lemons, etc. that requires more calories to metabolize than it returns in food value.  Having half a grapefruit for breakfast instead of pancakes will certainly have a net negative calorie effect, but even eating 20 pounds of grapefruit will not cause you to lose an ounce.  In fact, for the same calories as 20 pounds of grapefruit, you can eat an entire Sara Lee cheesecake (not that I am advocating that you do either).

There are an incredible number of flavor-laden foods that have very few calories, so you can use them to perk up the flavor of your food without loading up on calories.  And if you can substitute them for higher-calorie products you’re using now, you can win-win with more flavor and fewer calories.

Fresh herbs:  Think of fresh herbs as lettuce with actual flavor.  If you’ve never worked with fresh herbs and you aren’t familiar with their taste, pick up a few at your market and try them.  If you feel silly eating a leaf, cut some slices of tomato (preferably Roma or Beefsteak that has more meat) and try them together.  The acid in the tomato activates many of the essential compounds in the herb, and you’ll actually taste the herb more than you will if you eat the herb alone.  Invite the girls over, and assign everybody a different herb to bring.  Toss some fresh mint in a salad.  Replace the lettuce in your BLT with fresh basil leaves and you might find you can cut back on the mayo.

Spices:  Almost all spices are calorie freebies.  Use the same method as with the herbs to sample some spices you may not have used before.  Try spice blends.  I cook a lot, and I have some truly odd spices on my spice shelf (really– do you know what a cubeb is?), but I find that spice blends give me a lot of bang for my shelf-space buck.  I use some exotic blends like Garam Masala and Chinese Five Spice, but for every day I find McCormick Montreal Steak and Lemon & Pepper are my go-to flavors.  My family can now consume steamed vegetables without butter as long as there’s Lemon Pepper.

Hot sauces:  I mean hot sauces, not salsas (though we’ll get to them).  When I was in college, the dining commons had three things on every table: salt, pepper, and Tabasco.  I ate a LOT of Tabasco.  I find now I prefer the Mexican Cholula, but whichever you like, they both have zero calories and tons of flavor.

Vinegars:  Many vinegars have zero calories, and most have fewer than 5 calories per tablespoon.  Beware some aged and sweetened vinegars, which can have up to 25 calories per tablespoon, though compared to the roughly 120 calories per tablespoon of most oils, you can see where the calories in your salad dressings come from.  Try mixing up your own salad dressings and see if you can be happy with less oil and more vinegar than the bottled kind uses.

Citrus:  Lemon and Lime juice and zest, like vinegars, have that acid zing that wakes up tired food.  Like salt, a little acid can make everything taste better.  If you plan on putting sugar on fruit, try using half as much sugar and some lemon juice.  It really works wonders for peaches, especially if they aren’t perfectly ripe.  Try a lime juice marinade with little or no oil, and your protein (chicken and fish are best) will melt in your mouth.

Mustards:  Most mustards have zero calories.  Grey Poupon Dijon has 5 calories per teaspoon (so, 15 per tablespoon) because of the added wine.  If you can increase the mustard and cut the mayo (90 calories per tablespoon!) on your sandwich, you’ll save big on calories.

Salty goodness:  We love salt.  Try not salting your popcorn or your chips and see if you still want them (I sure don’t).  Salt not only makes almost everything taste better, it reminds our bodies that we need to drink more water.  Have a salty snack and you’ll probably suck down 24 ounces of water or more over the following hour.  If your doctor has told you that you are […]

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