Spice Up Your Life! Flavor without the Salt and Sugar

For many people, Halloween marks the start of a loooong holiday season. While we should first remember that holidays are just that, a single day, I know that everyone is tempted during November and December by the overabundance of foods and snacks we should have in moderation, and excessive high calorie beverages. Thanksgiving is fast approaching, so I thought it would be fitting to make my next post of the holiday season about how to decrease the salt and sugar in food by adding flavor in other ways! Instead of all of the sodium and sugar, you can add so much nutrition with the antioxidant powers in spices and herbs.

While sodium is often demonized for its impact on high blood pressure, the truth is many people do not see a blood pressure impact due to salt consumption. That doesn’t mean it isn’t impacting your health though. The minimum sodium recommendation is 1500 mg per day and most Americans are eating closer to 4000 mg. At this level of intake, research shows a negative influence on bone health, kidney health and even type II diabetes risk. Foods you may not expect to be very high in sodium include cheese (sorry, that is why it’s your favorite type of dairy), packaged bread and dough, and meat. Another hidden source? Those low calorie frozen meals that claim to make you “lean”, “smart” and “healthy” and attract your attention with their green labels. Healthy choice soup at 100 calories per cup? Sounds great! With the 1300 mg of sodium? Not so great!

I don’t think I need to convince you that most people need to reduce their sugar intake, too! The American Heart Association recommends adult women consume no more than 25 grams, or 6 teaspoons of added sugar each day and that adult men consume no more than 38 grams, or 9 teaspoons, of added sugar each day. For reference, one container of Yoplait strawberry yogurt has 26 grams! The average American adult, according to NHANES data is eating over 20 teaspoons each day. Imagine how much higher it gets during the holiday season! This does not just effect your waistline but is also linked to mood disturbances, depression, altered appetite, headaches, skin problems, and poor attention span.

I am a self-proclaimed foodie and love not only cooking and food but also baking and treats. Here are some tips on how to lighten up your favorite dishes while reducing your sodium and sugar intake. Attached are some fact sheets on the health benefits of herbs and spices, too.


Use low sodium broths in soups, stews, and even mashed potatoes. If you live near a Trader Joe’s, their low sodium vegetable broth has more flavor than any full sodium broth on the market! I have tried many!

Reduce salt in recipes by half and add extra garlic and/or pepper

Switch to using a pepper grinder to have a stronger flavor so you don’t miss the salt

Don’t use salt substitutes! Real salt is better for you than the chemicals in the substitute!

Use 100% pure maple syrup or honey instead of sugar to sweeten holiday side dishes

Try new fresh herbs to heighten flavor


Use only ¾ of sugar listed in recipe and add an extra teaspoon of vanilla extract

Omit salt if the recipe calls for baking powder or baking soda

Use organic granulated sugar It isn’t bleached like white sugar so you are getting more nutrients

Swap brown sugar for coconut sugar + 1 tablespoon of molasses (both are more rich in vitamins and minerals)

Use 100% pure maple syrup or honey to sweeten

Add cinnamon and ginger to your holiday recipes for festive flavor instead of topping with sugar

Here are 3 holiday recipes of mine. The first is a great soup that you have have as a holiday app or on a cold day, the second a Thanksgiving side dish and the other a nice party snack or treat.

Potato Leek and Kale Soup

Roasted Butternut Squash, Brussel Sprouts and Cranberries

Maple and Chia Candied Pecans and Walnuts


Maple Roasted Butternut Squash, Brussel Sprouts & Cranberries

There are SO many possibilities with a butternut squash and below is a great option for a Thanksgiving side dish. We’ve been enjoying it at our Thanksgiving table for at least 6 years now!

This colorful and flavorful dish gives you a feeling of fullness without packing in lots of excess fat or sugar. Plus, it has Brussels sprouts, which I literally could eat everyday! In addition to standing alone as a side dish, this recipe is perfect over a green salad with your preferred source of protein.

Need more healthy, but delicious Thanksgiving recipes? Check out this easy Refined-Sugar Free Cranberry Sauce, Butternut Squash and Leek Soup, and Black Rice and Squash Bowl.

Roasted Butternut Squash, Brussel Sprouts & Cranberries (GF, V, DF)

  • 1/2 medium butternut squash (roughly 3 lbs), de-seeded, peel cut off and flesh cubed into 1/2 inch pieces**
  • 1/2 stalk Brussel sprouts / about 30 pieces, halved or quartered
  • 1- 1 1/2 cups fresh cranberries
  • 1 Tablespoon avocado oil
  • 2 Tablespoons 100% Pure maple syrup
  • Ground pepper and salt to taste

*Purchasing tips: it may look funny but buying an actual stalk of brussel sprouts means lower cost, and possibly higher nutrient content since you won’t slice and dice the veggie until very close to consumption. Same goes for buying a whole squash versus pre-cubed.

**You can cube & freeze the other half of the butternut squash to use at a later time, or double the recipe if you’ll have lots of Thanksgiving guests

  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  • Prep vegetables and, if desired, slice cranberries in half.
  • Mix brussel sprouts and squash with the cranberries in a large bowl.
  • Drizzle oil and maple syrup over mixture and season with pepper and salt. Toss well.
  • Place mixture into 2 large baking dishes (If you use 1 you may have to cook for longer) and place in the oven.
  • Bake for a total of 35-45 minutes, depending on your oven, stirring every 10 minutes.

Real Ingredients with Real Benefits:

Eat a 1 Cup serving of Butternut Squash and you’ve hit 4x your Vitamin A needs for the day as well as half of your needs for vitamin C! You’ll even get Vitamins E and some B vitamins from this nutrient powerhouse as good amounts of magnesium and potassium. The carotenoids & bioflavonoids in butternut squash are known to boost immunity and work as antioxidants that support the hearth, eyes and even work to prevent some cancers.

Brussel Sprouts contain many antioxidant phytochemicals including sulfurophane which is found in research to aid the livers detoxifying actions and fight cancer cells in the body, especially linking to colon cancer. Another phytochemical group in brussel sprouts (isothiocyanates) has been linked to fighting bladder cancer. The vegetable is also a good source of Vitamins C, K and folate and even provides you with some omega-3!
Cranberries are a fruit that is very low in sugar. People may associate it as a sugary food because its often consumed as juice, dried & sweetened, or used as cranberry sauce (which means the addition of lots of sugar). A full cup of fresh cranberries contains more fiber than sugar (5g vs 4g)! The berries are bitter though so adding them to other dishes is a good way to balance flavors. Cranberries are rich in vitamins C, E, K, and the mineral manganese. These berries really pack in the phytochemicals though and contain flavonoids, flavonols, phenolic acids and proanthocyanidins. Some new research shows cranberries can protect from certain bacteria, inflammation, cardiovascular disease (1) and act against cancerous tumors (2).
Maple Syrup is a source of added sugar but can have some benefits if it is 100% pure and is used in moderation. it actually provides small amounts of calcium, iron, mangnesium & zinc. One study in 2010 found Canadian Maple Syrup to contain over 26 antioxidant compounds (3)!
Avocado oil is my go to when I am cooking. While olive oil has great flavor and a good fat profile, avocado oil actually has omega-3 and a higher smoke point making it better for cooking at medium to high temperatures.

1. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr 2009 Oct; 49(9):741-81. Phytochemicals of cranberries and cranberry products: characterization, potential health effects, and processing stability. Pappas E, Schaich KM.
2. Am Society for Nutr 2007. Cranberry and Its Phytochemicals: A review of In Vitro Anticancer Studies. Neto CC.
3. J Agric Food Chem 2011 Jul 27;59(14):7708-16. Further investigation into maple syrup yields 3 new lignans, a new phenylpropanoid, and 26 other phytochemicals. Li L, Seeram NP.