6 Ways to Add Flavor without Adding Calories

flavor feature image
Image by: Kschotanus
By Robert Spencer

When we’re sitting at the dinner table with a steak or getting ready to chow down on our burger for lunch we normally grab some kind of sauce to add some extra flavor: mayonnaise, ketchup, mustard, barbecue sauce, A1 steak sauce, sweet and sour, etc. However, we’re not just adding another dimension of flavor when we pick up those bottles, we’re also adding calories.

Because of that, when we think about watching our caloric intake, we think that our food has to be bland. That’s not necessarily true though. Instead of grabbing a jar of mayonnaise (with an average of 94 calories per serving) there are plenty of other ways to add flavor to your food. Check out my favorites that come straight from my (and my wife’s) kitchen.

#1) Turn Up the Heat

Spices and veggies that add a little heat to your food is a great way to add flavor without the calories. Try roasting some peppers, then adding them to your food. Head over to your grocer and check out what’s in season.

Hot sauces only add about five calories per teaspoon, depending on the brand. So don’t be afraid of a little heat. Besides, spices with kick help rev up your metabolism.

#2) Instead of Mayo and Mustard

When I’m making a sandwich or having a burger, I normally grab a jar of mayo. Mayonnaise helps add some creamy flavor (a little tangy and a touch of sour) to your food. If you’re craving something that will mimic the creaminess of mayo but don’t want the calories, try some avocado.

It’s got healthy fats in it and it’s great if you want to spread it on your bread. Just get a ripe avocado, pit it, and cube up the meat. Then throw it in a food processor until you get the texture of a thick paste. You can also opt to turn it into guacamole instead. That will definitely add some flavor to your burger or sandwich.

Basic guacamole is made with lime juice, minced onion, chopped tomato, a touch of garlic, some salt, and pepper.

If you like mustard, you can breathe easy because mustard only has about 3 calories per serving (which is about a teaspoon or 1 packet). However, if you’re going completely sauce-free in your house, opt for some mustard greens. Dark green veggies like these have some great vitamins and minerals in them and mustard greens add a bit of heat and that tangy mustard flavor to your dishes.

#3) Hit Up the Herb Garden

My wife is big into planting her own vegetables and herbs. She says that it serves as a stress-relief technique: planting stuff. I leave her to it because it means that we get fresh herbs in the house. Let me tell you, she’s got a green thumb for herbs (which are apparently easy to grow but I wouldn’t know). If you’ve got a penchant for growing vegetables, try a basic herb garden. The top five herbs for any basic herb garden are:

Basil: which has a warm spicy flavor that you can add to soups, omelets, and different kinds of meat.

Chives: which have a mild onion flavor that you can add to salads, cheese dishes, potatoes, etc.

Parsley: which can be put in just about anything (soups, casseroles, stews, eggs, meat, fish, etc.)

Coriander: (the young leaves are called cilantro) which you can use on pork or ham, or in soup

Fennel: which is sweet and can be added to pork, soups, salads, etc.

Herbs are great because they are calorie free (for the most part) and they can really amp up the flavor. Dried herbs (that you can buy at the store) are okay but I prefer fresh herbs because they have a more intense and fresh flavor.

#4) Seasoning Blends

If you are going to reach for the herb bottles and containers at your local grocery store, watch out for the seasoning blends. They are great but they can add a lot of salt to your dishes. Try Lawhorn’s or Mrs. Dash to add the flavor without the calories or the salt.

Once you get the hang of growing your own herbs, you can even make your own seasoning blends. After you master those five herbs, get some sage, thyme, and mint.

If you’re thinking of starting your own blends from various dried spices, I suggest picking up some pepper, oregano, garlic powder, onion powder, and cinnamon to start your collection.

#5) Salsa

Salsa is a great way to spice up your food without adding calories. Add some to nachos, baked fish, over steamed veggies, baked potatoes, etc. Remember that you’re not limited to tomato salsa either. There are many different kinds with different bases: corn, mango, pineapple, etc. My favorite salsa to make at home (other than tomato) is a black bean salsa.

#6) Curry Powder

Curry powder is my favorite spice blend to add to roasted or sautéed vegetables, brown rice, tofu, chicken, etc. The studies done on turmeric (the main spice in the blend – it’s what give it that yellow color) have shown that it can help protect again heart disease and different kinds of cancer. Also, it’s only about 7 calories per tablespoon.