PhotoWith the rise in restaurant dining and processed food, more consumers have suffered from rising blood pressure, a key risk factor for heart attack and stroke.

The reason? Both restaurants and food manufacturers go heavy on the salt, in an effort to enhance the flavor of their products. Unfortunately, salt is a major source of sodium in the diet, one of the key contributors to high blood pressure.

But another trend may be helping the situation. Renewed interest in home cooking, aided by cooking shows and celebrity chefs on cable TV, is leading to more home-cooked meals, where it is much easier to control the sodium content of food.

“As dietitians we often tell people to take things away from their diet,” said culinary dietitian Gavin Pritchard, RD, from Greenwich Hospital’s Weight Loss & Diabetes Center. “I like to tell people they don’t have to eliminate things they like, but back off on the amount you use. I prefer to emphasize adding things, in this case – herbs and spices.”

Spices are the key

If you enjoy cooking, or want to learn how to do it better, Pritchard suggests putting down the saltshaker and adding spices to improve flavor and health. Here are his 10 tips for making food better tasting and more healthy:

  1. Treat yourself to fresh herbs, readily available in supermarkets, on occasion, and keep a good assortment of dried spices on hand for convenience.
  2. Replace your dried herbs and spices every six months for most robust flavor. Mark spice bottles with the purchase date so you know when to replace them.
  3. Be generous with herbs. It’s hard to add too many fresh herbs like parsley, dill, tarragon, basil or rosemary. However, it’s easy to overpower a dish with too many fresh spices like cloves or nutmeg.
  4. Let your taste buds be your guide. When adding herbs and spices, add gradually and taste as you go. You’ll know when it’s to your liking. This prevents you from overdoing it.
  5. If you’re using dried herbs, add them early in the cooking process so they reconstitute. If using fresh herbs, add a little in the beginning, and then add a big bunch toward the end of cooking to get a boost of both flavor and color.
  6. Use different types of wine (including rice wine) and vinegars (including flavored vinegars.)A reduction of vinegar, wine or a combination makes a powerfully tasty sauce without the need to add salt or fat.
  7. Shop for garlic powder rather than garlic salt, onion powder rather than onion salt, and read the ingredients when you buy dried spices to make sure there is no added salt in the product.
  8. Make your own blends of seasoned salt, using the flavors you like the most. Add salt if you like, but not enough to dominate the ingredient list. Crush dried herbs between your palms before adding to spice mixes. This will release the oils to produce more flavor.
  9. For more intense flavor, toast whole spices over high heat in a dry, heavy skillet before grinding them into a powder. This helps to release more flavor. Heat, while stirring, until you can smell the spice. Let cool before grinding.
  10. If possible, buy whole spices and grind as you need them for more potent flavor. Purchase an inexpensive coffee grinder to use strictly for grinding spices, making sure to clean the grinder well after each use.

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