How to Add Flavor to Meals Without Salt or Sugar

Hello and happy Friday, my friends! Let’s talk about how to add flavor to meals without salt or sugar. :) Hint: lots of herbs and spices are involved!


I’m partnering with McCormick this year to share some fun recipes and cooking tips once a month or so here on the blog. For this month’s inaugural post, I’ll be sharing my favorite ways to add flavor to meals using herbs and spices, not salt, sugar, and unnecessary amounts of fat. (You guys know I’m not anti-fat, but you also don’t need a boatload of oil/butter in dinner to make it delicious.) I think a lot of the time people have this idea that healthy food can’t be tasty, but it can, especially when you get a little creative!

Here are some of my favorite tips, mixed with a few cool new (to me) ones from McCormick. I’d love if you shared some of your favorite tips in the comments, too! Obviously it goes without saying that my #1 tip for decreasing sodium (and sugar) intake is to avoid processed foods, but this post will focus on tips for seasoning fresh foods prepared at home using things other than salt/sugar. I hope you find these ideas helpful! (Sidenote: the apple & sage pork chops pictured below are so awesome – more details in this post – we’ve made them a ton since, too.)


How to Add Flavor to Meals Without Salt or Sugar

Sprinkle cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice instead of sugar on fruit, or add red pepper to bring a surprise heat and unique flavor. The red pepper tip was from McCormick – excited to try it!


Add cinnamon to your coffee instead of sugar. This is one of my favorite tricks! If you’re making coffee at home, add the cinnamon (nutmeg is good too!) into your mug before pouring in the coffee/espresso/milk, so that way it melts in a little better. If you’re out and about, just sprinkle some on top. Most coffee bars have cinnamon available. :)


Make your own vinaigrette to control salt levels and customize flavor. I always make my own – it’s so much more flavorful than bottled! Try my homemade balsamic vinaigrette or McCormick’s Field Greens with Oranges, Strawberries and Chai Vinaigrette. If you are buying bottled salad dressing, a tip: go for the full fat version. Low fat or fat free bottled dressings (and other processed foods) just have extra salt/sugar/chemicals added to make up for the loss of fat!

late summer arugula salad

Treat garlic as the new salt to bring a burst of flavor to dishes – Matt and I use this tip a lot, both in the form of fresh and powdered garlic. Some recipe favorites: lemon garlic string beans (you don’t even need any salt) and creamy garlic & herb pasta. We also discovered that garlic powder is good in slaw – just mix shredded/chopped cabbage, red wine vinegar, olive oil, and a few shakes of garlic powder. So tasty!


Make soups with a low sodium broth and add in herbs and spices for flavor instead. Matt made us a delicious chicken and veggie soup the other day that had a ton of dill in it, which was amazing. You won’t miss the salt! (And yes, that’s totally my foam roller in front of our fireplace. I think it adds something quite lovely to our décor…)


Herbs (dried and fresh!) are also awesome in salad – I love adding parsley, basil, and dill to my salads to amp up the flavor.

More tips:

  • Add herbs and spices into plain Greek yogurt to make a tasty and salt-free dip. Just mix onion powder, garlic powder, dried chives, and the yogurt, et voila!
  • Mix cottage cheese with basil and oregano for a savory snack. <—excited to try this!
  • Replace the salt in mashed and roasted potatoes with crushed rosemary leaves, garlic powder, and black pepper. (Here’s a recipe to try: garlic herb roasted veggies.) Another option: dill! It’s great with roasted or mashed potatoes. For sweet potatoes, try ground ginger and cinnamon.


      • Use spices and herbs instead of salt when boiling water for pasta. Some to try: oregano, basil, red pepper flakes.
      • Add herbs instead of salt to scrambled eggs. Dried or fresh thyme and oregano are great here!

  • Add thyme to cooked mushrooms to bring out their flavor.
  • Rub chicken with curry powder or cajun seasoning instead of salt before roasting.


I hope you found these tips helpful – let me know if you try any of them, and check out McCormick’s downloadable and printable Flavor MyPlate guide for more tips on how to make healthy cooking easier and more delicious. It has some great ideas and recipes!

In unrelated news, I’m on a plane right now on my way to a fun west coast adventure – follow me on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook to see what I’m up to. :) I’ll be back on Monday with a full recap! Have a wonderful weekend, everyone!

What is your favorite herb or spice? Any tips to add to this list?

Thank you again to McCormick for sponsoring this post as part of our partnership!


  1. 1

    I totally agree with the advice on sugar. But salt? The truth is, we only get 6% of our sodium intake from the salt shaker. 94% of it is from processed foods, soda, and other junk food that’s prevalent in the US diet. Replacing salt with the other spices and herbs might be flavorful, but it’s probably not going to make much of a difference in sodium intake. And the foods you mentioned are already low in sodium because they’re fresh fruits and vegetables.

    I think the important thing here is to distinguish between iodized table salt (which is nutritionally void and total crap) and good sea or kosher salt that has, if little, some redeeming nutritional value.

    I use Rosemary on roasted Brussels Sprouts with a little garlic powder and some sea salt. It’s amazing!!!

    • 2

      Totally agree re: processed foods – thanks for sharing! Hopefully this post will still give people some alternatives to just tossing salt all over everything they cook at home though, too! And how to make homemade soup taste better if you use low/no sodium added broth. :) Your brussels sprouts recipe sounds great!

    • 3

      I agree Sean, if we are not eating processed foods then it is okay to add salt to a few dishes. We have slat issues because of the large quantity of processed foods we eat. Thanks same goes for some types of sugar. We to much processed food that contain too much sugar. A lot of that sugar is chemically made, HFCS, and is the culprit behind our sugar problems. If we were eating such much processed foods and junk foods, a little salt and sugar wouldn’t be such an issue. The problem eat too many of us eat diets high in processed foods, so we end up having to limit our salt and sugar intake in general.

      • 4

        Exactly! The sad thing is that people have no idea how GOOD food can be by dumping that processed junk. My wife and I went vegetarian a couple of years ago. Now, most food tastes too salty and when we do eat sugar it’s way too sweet. I’m totally satisfied with an apple, banana, or orange for a snack instead of a cookie. And trust me, I was ADDICTED to Oreos!

        And a HUGE plus? We haven’t been sick in almost three years. I’ve had a total of one allergy attack that lasted all of 2 days.

  2. 5

    My fave spice would probably be cinnamon, because I put it in so many things! I always sprinkle it on my morning oatmeal, and it makes it sweet enough that I never add sugar. That’s a great tip to add it to coffee.

  3. 7

    I have been adding jalapeno and crushed red pepper to EVERYTHING, from my eggs in the morning to my veggie side dishes at night. I love, love, love the extra spice. :)

    Also, since I started Whole30, I’ve been adding coconut milk (straight from the Trader Joe’s can) to my coffee in the morning instead of cream and sugar, and it is UNBELIEVABLE. :)

    • 8

      I’ll have to try the coconut milk in coffee idea – sounds delish!

      • 9

        coconut oil in your coffee is really, really good as well
        also, if you make a pot of coffee you can just put a cinnamon stick in the pot and let the coffee brew into it, I especially like this in the summer as iced coffee

        on a non coffee note – cumin is my go to spice!

  4. 10

    I use McCormick’s vegetable seasoning when roasting veggies, yum!

  5. 11

    I recently discovered Za’atar, the Middle Eastern spice blend. I mix it with cottage cheese, tomatoes, cucumbers, green onions, and olives. Makes a great salad! I also sprinkle it on mixed greens with onions, tomatoes, and feta. Really tasty!

    • 12

      I’ve never heard of Za’atar! What’s in it?

      • 13

        I think it primarily contains dried thyme, oregano, marjoram, sumac, and toasted sesame seeds. I bought a small container at Dean & DeLuca. I’m sure it’s also available online at The Spice House.

  6. 14
    Roadrunner says

    Wonderful tips, Anne, thanks!

  7. 15

    I think Garlic powder is my absolute favorite :) That and red pepper flake.

  8. 16

    I’ve always found salt just isn’t a good way to add flavor. I love marinades as a way to add flavor, and I can control the salt.

  9. 17

    I love lemon juice! I squeeze over almost anything – veggies, chicken, fish and it even makes a delicious “sauce” when mixed with a little olive oil on some pasta (and veggies, of course!).

  10. 18

    I love garlic anything. And onion and pepper. I don’t add much salt to anything I cook, but I need to do a better job getting my kids to try new foods. These spice ideas will surely help.

  11. 19

    Oooh I LOVE cinnamon, especially in smoothies and always in pancakes. I’m a huge ginger fan too… Herbs…I’m a big fan of the more robust thyme and rosemary with roasted veg and in risottos but nothing beats fresh basil for its aroma and flavour sprinkled on top of fresh marinara sauce! Yummy! I do like my Himilayan Rock Salt though and use it liberally enough. I don’t eat anything processed so I know it’s the only added salt I’m getting…plus I loose a hell of a lot of it every morning in the gym!

  12. 20

    love this! my favorite spice is red pepper – i love a good kick!

  13. 21

    I always cringe when I see people shake regular table salt on their meal, especially if it’s something already salty, but I can’t fathom cooking without salt. Salt brings out foods’ natural flavors & should be added (sparingly) during the cooking process. I do think you’ve given good tips, though, for people who normally add too much salt; red pepper, garlic, onion (fresh or powder), and fresh/dried herbs are my go-to flavor enhancers. “Flavorful” isn’t the same thing as “salty.”
    As for sugar, I totally agree that cinnamon is a great add-on. And if I do want my oatmeal, for example, to be sweet, I’ll use thinly sliced banana (that melts into the oats) instead of refined sugar.
    We Americans consume far too much hidden salt/sugar!

  14. 23

    Great post to share! I give out samples of Perfect Pinch to my patients :)

  15. 24

    Thankfully, last year, we went through a processed food detox. It truly is amazing what the mouth can taste once you’re not overloaded with salt, sugar and fat.

    I really wanted to comment about the cinnamon. You have ANY idea how HARD it is to be allergic to cinnamon when EVERY one of the blogs I read/newsletters I subscribe to say how awesome it is? DUMB ALLERGY. :(

  16. 26

    so helpful! I’ve never been one to add salt to pre processed food but when I make recipes from scratch I’m almost blown away every time by how much salt I have to add to get the flavour similar to a pre made recipe.

  17. 27
    Mary Goodwin says

    I am a diabic and i am enjoying all that you eat and use in your food.No salt,no sugar.Your tips are great.


  1. […] Food offers tips on how to add flavor to meals without salt or […]

  2. […] Thank you to McCormick for sponsoring this post (and for sending me some of their awesome spices to experiment with in the kitchen)! If you missed last month’s McCormick post, check that out, too: How to Add Flavor to Meals Without Salt or Sugar. […]

  3. […] experiment with in the kitchen)! If you missed my previous McCormick posts, check those out, too: How to Add Flavor to Meals Without Salt or Sugar, Lemon & Herb Fish Recipe, and Mexican Shrimp Salad Bowl. googletag.cmd.push(function() { […]

  4. […] Reduce the amount of salt in your diet. I’m not a dietitian that is overly concerned with salt intake, and I don’t recommend obsessively tracking milligrams of sodium – the main thing you should do here is to reduce your intake of processed foods. If you eat real, minimally processed food you won’t need to worry about salt, because the main high sodium offenders are processed foods like frozen dinners or canned soup. If you do buy a packaged product, look for a low sodium version, and make sure the ingredients label is short and filled with things you understand. (See also: How to Add Flavor to Meals Without Sugar or Salt) […]

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