Hold the Salt: Healthier Ways to Season Food

smiling woman adding sprigs of fresh rosemary to dish of food

Salt has traditionally enhanced the flavor of food, but too much salt can put you at risk for high blood pressure, heart attack, and/or stroke. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends less than 1 teaspoon of salt a day for most people.

Preparing your own food at home is a good first step toward lowering your salt intake. According to the AHA, processed foods and restaurant meals account for most of the salt we eat.

You can still flavor meat, fish, and vegetables by using salt-free flavorings, spices, and herbs. Some seasonings are clearly labeled “salt-free” or “sodium-free.” But you might also consider dried or fresh herbs and spices:

  • For beef: bay leaf, marjoram, nutmeg, pepper, sage, thyme
  • For chicken: marjoram, oregano, paprika, rosemary, sage, tarragon, thyme, chili powder
  • For pork: garlic, onion, sage, pepper, oregano
  • For lamb: curry powder, garlic, rosemary, mint
  • For veal: bay leaf, curry powder, ginger, marjoram, oregano
  • For fish: curry powder, dill, dry mustard, lemon juice, marjoram, paprika, pepper
  • For vegetables: pepper, parsley, cumin, dill, chives, curry powder, basil, paprika, lemon juice

As a general rule, 1 tablespoon of finely cut fresh herbs = 1 teaspoon of dried leafy herbs = ¼ to ½ teaspoon of ground dried herbs.

To get the most flavor out of herbs and spices, use no more than ¼ teaspoon of dried spice (¾ teaspoon of fresh) per pound of meat. Add ground spices to food about 15 minutes before the end of cooking time, but add whole spices at least 1 hour before the end. And be sure to crush dried herbs to release the flavor before adding them to food. 

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and master's-prepared nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

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