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Lose the Salt, but Keep the Taste

For people who need to cut back on their daily intake of sodium to control blood pressure and lower the risk of stroke, home cooking might be the key.

Most sodium in the diet comes from prepackaged foods and restaurants. Home-cooked meals can be fast, easy, delicious and, above all, better for your health than most restaurant and prepared meals from supermarkets.

That's the message that culinary dietitian Gavin Pritchard from Greenwich Hospital's Weight Loss & Diabetes Center drives home in his "In the Kitchen" series of cooking classes.

"As dietitians we often tell people to take things away from their diet. I like to tell people they don't have to eliminate things they like, but back off on the amount you use. I prefer to emphasize adding things — in this case, herbs and spices."

Here are some tips from Pritchard to encourage you to put down the saltshaker and add spices to enhance flavor and improve your health:

  • Treat yourself to fresh herbs, which are usually available in supermarkets, and keep a good assortment of dried spices on hand for convenience.
  • Replace dried herbs and spices every six months for most robust flavor. Mark spice bottles with the purchase date so you know when to replace them.
  • Be generous with herbs. It's hard to add too many fresh herbs such as parsley, dill, tarragon, basil or rosemary. However, it's easy to overpower a dish with too many fresh spices such as cloves or nutmeg.
  • Let your taste buds be your guide. When adding herbs and spices, add gradually and taste as you go. This prevents you from overdoing it.
  • If you're using dried herbs, add them early in the cooking process so they reconstitute. If using fresh herbs, add a little in the beginning and then add more toward the end of cooking to get a boost of both flavor and color.
  • Use different types of wine (including rice wine) and vinegar (including flavored vinegars.
  • A reduction of vinegar, wine or combination of the two makes a powerfully tasty sauce without the need to add salt or fat.
  • Shop for garlic powder rather than garlic salt, onion powder rather than onion salt, and read the ingredients when you buy dried spices to make sure there is no added salt.
  • Make your own blends of seasoned salt, using the flavors you like the most. Add salt if you like, but not enough to dominate the ingredient list. Crush dried herbs between your palms before adding to spice mixes. This will release the oils to produce more flavor.
  • For more intense flavor, toast whole spices over high heat in a dry, heavy skillet before grinding them into a powder. This helps to release more flavor. Heat, while stirring, until you can smell the spice. Let cool before grinding.
  • If possible, buy whole spices and grind as you need them for more potent flavor. Purchase an inexpensive coffee grinder to use strictly for grinding spices, and make sure to clean the grinder well after each use.

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