Healthy Ways to Flavour Your Foods Without Salt & Sugar

When working with clients on their goals to eat out LESS and cook more at HOME, one thing I often hear is that the meals they make at home just don’t taste as good. What do we know about restaurant and take-out food? There is often a LOT of added sodium (salt), fat and sugar to help give their food more flavour. Of course, this keeps customers coming back for more but isn’t ideal for our health. 

What I find with those who are new to making meals at home, is that they are a bit shy with flavouring their foods, and think that “healthy” = bland baked chicken and rice. This is not true! There are plenty of ways to flavour your food at home, without adding a ton of extra calories or salt. Here are my top suggestions for what to keep in your pantry so that meal prep is healthy AND enjoyable. 

Spices & Herbs
Spices and dried herbs add natural flavour to foods with less salt, and might even have some health properties too! Spice up your scrambled eggs with paprika and garlic powder. Or take your plain greek yogurt to the next level with pumpkin pie spice and pumpkin puree!. These are the ones I recommend keeping on hand: 

  • Allspice
  • Black pepper
  • Chili flakes
  • Chili powder
  • Cinnamon
  • Cloves
  • Cumin
  • Curry powder
  • Garlic powder
  • Ginger powder
  • Nutmeg
  • Onion powder
  • Paprika
  • Salt
  • Turmeric
  • Basil
  • Bay leaves
  • Italian seasoning
  • Oregano
  • Rosemary

Not all condiments are created equal. It is always important to read the label. As a rule of thumb, make sure that a serving (1-2 tbsp) has less than 4g sugar, and under 500mg. There are lots of healthy options to keep meals flavourful, and these are ones I suggest keeping on hand:

  • Hot sauce (Sriracha, Frank’s and/or Chulula)
  • Hummus
  • Kimchi 
  • Mustard (Dijon, brown, yellow)
  • Nutritional yeast
  • Salsa (low sodium)
  • Tamari (low sodium)
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • Greek yogurt (plain, nonfat)
  • Tomato paste
  • Tomato puree and diced tomatoes

Say you have brown rice and sliced chicken breast in the fridge… This doesn’t need to be a boring meal. Add some 2-3 tbsp hummus, chopped veggies, tahini and a little parsley for a Mediterranean style bowl. 

Sweet Flavors
These are a few extra staples for more sweet meals:

  • Stevia (extract or liquid)
  • Powdered Peanut Butter
  • Cocoa powder (unsweetened)
  • Extracts like vanilla & almond

Take plain yogurt up a notch with low-fat powdered peanut butter, cocoa powder and stevia for a sugar-free chocolate yogurt bowl. 

Healthy Fats
Don’t be afraid to use a little fat in your cooking. Fat adds flavour and satiety, but we do want to be cautious of our portions because it is very energy dense (aka high in calories. Remember that a general guideline for your meals is 1-2 thumbs (tbsp.) of a healthy fat. You may choose to use a bit less added fat if your protein is a fatty fish like salmon or trout, or a fattier cut of meat. 

My favourite fats to make dressings and add flavour to my meals include: 

  • Natural nut & peanut butter (for my oatmeal, toast, on fruit)
  • Tahini (for salad and grain bowl dressings)
  • Extra virigin olive oil (for vegetable dressing)
  • Avocado oil (for cooking)
  • Sesame oil (for Asian inspired meals)

Cooking Staples
Don’t forget the staples like onions and garlic as the base to flavour savoury meals. In addition, using a low-sodium vegetable or chicken broth can bring a grain dish or soup to life. 

Tips & Tricks
Remember to consider the way you prep your foods too. If steaming your veggies isn’t cutting it, try roasting or grilling! >>HERE is a great guide on how to roast different vegetables.

For meats, try cooking them into a stew or chilli, such as this one >>HERE.

If you miss the crispiness associated with fried foods, maybe its time to invest in an air fryer! They cook foods without added oil. Purchase one >>HERE.

No matter the method, try to mix it up (stewing, baking, roasting, sauteeing) to keep your healthy eating interesting. 

Hope you enjoyed these tips!

Blog Written By: Leigh Merotto, Food for 6S Dietitian

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