Goodbye Sodium: 7 Herbs That Taste Better Than Salt

Sodium has long been used as a primary flavor enhancer. We need sodium to support the body in maintaining its hydration levels and electrolyte balance, but we tend to rely on it more heavily than we need to. 

The average American sodium consumption is 3,400 mg per day while the recommended amount is 2,300 mg or less, according to the FDA. Individuals with high blood pressure, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease and who are 51 years or older should limit their sodium intake to 1,500 mg or less a day. 

Every time you reach for this go-to meal topper, you pass over an array of other tantalizing flavors. A few swaps could be just what you need to reduce sodium levels and introduce new flavors to your diet. 

Flavorful herbs are a fantastic complement to any meal and help to up your phytonutrient intake. The powerful antioxidants deliver balancing properties and have health-promoting benefits, such as reducing inflammation. Some popular herbs that can stand up to the salt-swapping trick are basil, black pepper, cayenne, cilantro (aka coriander), and dill. Other taste bud tantalizers are turmeric and ginger. 

Each herb plays a role in bringing balance to your Ayurvedic constitutional type as well. Some herbs enhance digestion; others may dry or moisten and can heat or cool the body. Below is a breakdown of the effects different herbs have on specific doshas from The Yoga of Herbs, by Dr. Vasant Lad and David Frawley. 

Basil is pungent and heating. It decreases Kapha and Vata and increases Pitta.

Example: Try swapping salted tomatoes for tomatoes sprinkled with whole basil leaves. You can use the chiffonade cutting technique for long, thin ribbons—stack 10 leaves, roll them into a cigar shape, and then slice into strips. 

Black Pepper is pungent and heating. It decreases Kapha and Vata and increases the Pitta dosha. This is a great digestive stimulant that can relieve gas and neutralize toxins.

Example: On your next plate of crunchy steamed veggies, sprinkle with fresh ground pepper and a splash of lemon juice for some delicious flavor. 

Cayenne is very pungent and heating. It decreases Kapha and Vata and increases Pitta. It can relieve indigestion, stimulate digestion, and is great for circulation.

Example: Add cayenne to cucumbers and jicama with a splash of fresh lime for a tasty, mid-day snack. Add some fresh, chopped cilantro and mmm, mmm

Coriander (aka cilantro) is bitter, pungent, and cooling. It balances Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. When all three doshas are balanced this is called tridoshic. In general, coriander is good for hot summer days.

Example: When baking fish, add some delicate herbs such as coriander, basil, or dill near the very end of cooking or just before serving as an alternative to the saltshaker. 

Dill is pungent, bitter, and cooling. It decreases Pitta and Kapha, and is neutral for Vata. Dill helps with digestion and is another cooling herb for summer.

Example: Add dill to plain yogurt for a refreshing dip for a dill-icious snack—or toss it into your next garden salad. 

Ginger is pungent, sweet, and heating. It decreases Kapha and Vata and increases Pitta. It stimulates digestion, relieves gas if not taken in excess, and helps detoxify the liver.

Example: Combine fresh grated ginger onto your favorite wilted greens such as collards or kale for a little kick. You can also sprinkle thinly sliced slivers of raw ginger over curry just before serving.                                                                                                                 

Turmeric is bitter, astringent, pungent, and heating. Similar to coriander, it is tridoshic when taken in small amounts. It is great for digestion and relieves gas. It also improves and balances metabolism.

Example: Mix turmeric into a simple rice with sautéed onions and garlic dish, or add a smidge to your next omelet. 

To prolong the life span of fresh herbs, wash the leaves and dry with a paper towel until the leaves are mostly, but not completely dry. Store refrigerated, wrapped in a paper towel inside a storage container or reusable bag. 

As a way to incorporate some healing herbs and spices into one meal, try  this tasty Okra Masala dish. 

Okra Masala 

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 15 minutes


Ingredients:

  • 1 pound fresh okra, rinsed and patted dry
  • 1/2 cup grapeseed oil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cumin seeds
  • 1 white onion, chopped
  • 1 large tomato, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 lemon, juice only


Directions:

Cut okra pods into small pieces lengthwise (about 1/2 inch thick) 

Heat grapeseed oil in a medium saucepan on medium heat. Add cumin seeds first and then onions shortly after. Stir consistently and cook for 4 minutes. 

Add okra and fry for approximately 10 minutes until crisp , stirring occasionally. 

Add the turmeric, coriander, cumin, cayenne pepper, and tomato. Let mixture cook for an additional 3 minutes. 

Add the lemon juice and stir gently. Serve immediately. 

*This recipe is slightly modified from The Café Spice Cookbook by Hari Nayak.

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About the Author

Fran Benedict

Health and Nutrition Counselor
Fran Benedict is a certified health and nutrition counselor and the founder of SimplyMindful.com . She has been on a path of health promotion and behavior for more than 15 years and loves discovering new ways to bring attention and intention into everyday life. She believes in the extraordinary power of the mind to create a quality of life every person deserves, with an emphasis on the relation to oneself as the foundation for everything else. A member of American Association of Drugless Practitioners, Fran enjoys supporting a range of health-promotion initiatives from multi-week wellness programs in the corporate setting, to nutritional...Read more