January 26, 2017

Try these low-calorie seasoning tricks to add a lot of flavor to your dish, with little regret.


The most flavorful dishes have a balance between all five tastes: sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami (savory). If your food is lacking a little “oomph” in the seasoning department, try using one or more of these low-calorie tricks.

1. Citrus juice and zest

Citrus juice provides a sour note, while the zest is bright and flavorful. Marinate fish or meat in a mixture of your favorite citrus juices, and garnish with the zest for a bright, tropical dish. Juice and/or zest can also be used to season dips, sauces, salads, pasta, vegetables and fruit. When zesting, only remove the colored portion of the peel. The white “pith” is bitter.

2. Marinades

Marinating meat and fish is a great way to impart deep, rich flavor. Vinegar, fresh herbs, garlic, ginger, onion, dry spices and citrus juice can do wonders to a protein. Opt to make your own rather than using bottled or packaged marinades, which are often high in sodium and sugar. Try these quick and easy marinades.

3. Salsa

Jar salsa is a quick and easy low-calorie topping, and can be used it in place of other high-calorie ingredients such as salad dressing, mayo and butter. Add salsa to eggs, sandwiches, salads, meat, fish, beans and even toast! Try green tomatillo or roasted jalapeno for a little variety.

4. Flavorful cheeses

The more flavorful a cheese, the better! Stinky blue cheese is a great addition to salads, considering a small amount gives you a bold punch of flavor. Same goes for smoked mozzarella, sharp cheddar and shredded parmesan. Try using a pinch of cheese as a garnish on top of the dish, rather than making it the feature focus.

5. Hot sauce

Hot sauce is made from chilies and vinegar, and is naturally low in calories. It can be used as a marinade or a condiment. Use hot sauce in place of barbeque sauce and ketchup, which can be high in calories and sugar.  It is also great as a salad dressing!

6. Spices / herbs

Bold spices and fresh herbs are a seasoning staple for flavorful food. Keep your favorite dry rub on hand to use in a pinch. Sprinkle herbs on anything from tacos to tuna salad to make the food really “pop.” Try some of these ways to use fresh herbs.

7. Cook in broth

Substitute low-sodium vegetable, chicken or beef broth in place of water to season rice, couscous and soup, and give an extra depth of flavor. Some vegetables can also be steamed in a steamer basket above 2 inches of boiling broth. Bonus: Steaming helps retain more nutrients than other cooking methods.

8. Greek yogurt

Greek yogurt makes a great replacement for sour cream, heavy cream and mayonnaise. Add chili powder and lime juice to make a zesty chipotle sauce for tacos and salads. Greek yogurt also makes a delicious Waldorf salad! Opt for fat-free for even fewer calories.

9. Vinegars

Vinegar is a great seasoning trick because it packs so much flavor in a such a small amount. There are numerous different types of vinegar – balsamic, red wine, white wine, apple cider, rice wine, champagne, sherry and malt. Get creative beyond using vinegar for salad dressing. Try roasting vegetables in balsamic, making stir-fry sauce with rice wine, or adding apple cider to cabbage salads.

10. Mustard

Mustard, also made from vinegar, packs a punch when added to dishes. Combine mustard with fresh herbs and use it as a seasoning rub for chicken, salmon or steak for a spicy tang, or smear on sandwiches to replace mayonnaise. Better yet – combine one of the vinegars mentioned above with a dollop of mustard to make a zesty dressing.


What are your favorite ways to season your food?  Leave your ideas in the comments!


Jordan Higgins is a dietetic intern at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Originally from Albany, New York, Jordan received her bachelor’s from Fordham University and completed graduate courses in nutrition from The Sage Colleges. After completing the internship in 2017, Jordan hopes to combine her love for cooking and nutrition education into a unique and inspiring business. In her free time, she enjoys cooking, reading food blogs, spending time with her 3 cats, exploring local shops and restaurants, hiking and traveling.