With the right choice of condiments, seasonings or sauces, ordinary food can go from “blah” to “ahh” – with a boost in nutritional value.
“Think color,” said University of Arkansas dietetics professor Marjorie Fitch-Hilgenberg. “We eat with our eyes, and choosing colorful condiments can enhance the nutritional value of a routine food.”
Fitch-Hilgenberg uses the term condiments broadly to include all the “accompaniments” to food, such as seasonings, sauces, garnishes and marinades. All have their place in making food interesting and nutritious.
“Look at an average sandwich – some meat or cheese between slices of bread and slathered with mayonnaise,” Fitch-Hilgenberg said. “When you add dark leafy greens and tomatoes and replace the mayo, you can create a quick lunch with a serving or more of vegetables and little excess fat.”
Fitch-Hilgenberg’s research has shown that most people don’t notice the difference when nutrient-rich spinach replaces lettuce on burgers and subs. The resulting sandwich provides greater quantities of key nutrients, including vitamin C, vitamin A and folic acid.
There are more healthy alternatives to mayonnaise, beyond the low-fat and non-fat options on the grocery shelves. Fitch-Hilgenberg recommended looking for opportunities to replace mayonnaise with low-fat yogurt. For example, yogurt mixed with coarse mustard and dill is a tasty topping for grilled salmon steaks or salmon croquettes. She also uses a variety of mustards – Dijon, coarse-ground, spicy brown and wasabi – as low-calorie, high-flavor condiments.
“You don’t have to use mayo on a sandwich,” Fitch-Hilgenberg said. “You can spread some salsa, cranberry sauce, mango chutney or sauerkraut. They all add great taste and some extra nutrients without adding fat.”
She also looks for ways to add fruit to a meal by using it to flavor foods. For example, adding orange slices to cooked carrots can make the carrots more appealing to children and even more nutritious. Whipping fresh or frozen fruit in the blender makes a good topping for ice cream or a stir-in for plain yogurt.
“Condiments give you a chance to be adventurous and to taste other cuisines without leaving home,” Fitch-Hilgenberg said. “Chicken can be marinated in tandoori sauce, barbeque sauce or spicy brown mustard to take your meal to India, Texas or Germany.”
Two condiments from south Asia can be found in most groceries – curries and chutneys. Curry, which some studies have shown to contribute to healthy aging, does not have to be hot. A mild curry can be an intriguing addition to cooked carrots or rice and broccoli. Chutneys come in many different varieties, and Fitch-Hilgenberg advised reading the label before buying. Some contain fruit, such as mango chutney; others contain high levels of sodium.
Fitch-Hilgenberg cautioned that the downside to condiments is that they can add empty calories while disguising the flavor of foods. Marinades are a good way to flavor foods instead of spreading sauces on after cooking. Similarly, when a salad is tossed in a large bowl with a little dressing, the flavor of the greens is enhanced without being drenched in dressing that is high in fat and sodium. A plus, Fitch-Hilgenberg noted, is that it is much cheaper to use a little sauce or dressing in the kitchen than to put the bottle on the table.
“Healthy condiments can be used by everyone, whether for plain food or gourmet, carnivore or vegetarian,” Fitch-Hilgenberg said. “The condiments we choose are only limited by our imagination.”
The School of Human Environmental Sciences is part of the Dale Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences.
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