25 ways to add flavor to food without adding calories
Weight Loss

25 Ways To Add Flavor To Meals Without Lots Of Calories

Eating lean meats, vegetables, fruits, and grains is imperative to a healthy diet. But how many times can you eat grilled chicken, steamed broccoli and brown rice for dinner before you’re banging your head against the wall? You might think the answer lies in high-calorie marinades or fatty cream sauces to make dishes savory and exciting again. Instead, turn to a vast array of seasonings. With minimal calories they’ll only impact your taste buds, not your waistline. 

Keep a watchful eye if you use store-bought, dried spices- many are high in sodium. Read the nutrition label to be sure you only consume around 2300mg for the day. In fact, the American Heart Association recommends 1500mg daily. That’s not much when 500 mg is less than 1/4 teaspoon! 

Here are some great ideas:

Lemon Juice

This juice is a great way to finish off a dish with zesty tang. It’s delicious over a salad or meats and vegetables as a citrus dressing. Mix one tablespoon olive oil with the juice of one fresh lemon. Choose fresh-squeezed over the concentrated variety for a natural flavor.

Calories: 4 per tablespoon (lemon juice only)


Pepper is an excellent way to add flavor to any dish. There are many different varieties of pepper as well. From red pepper flakes to white pepper, each one has its own unique flavor. If you’re shy about adding too much heat, start by using basic black ground pepper to your meals. As your tolerance begins to increase, experiment with red pepper, crushed black pepper and finally, white pepper. If you graduate from those, then cayenne pepper will bring the heat as well as taste. Have fun trying out these new additions to your menu.

Calories: 5 per teaspoon 

Cucumber Slices

Peel a raw cucumber and add slices to a water pitcher for a refreshing spa-like beverage. Not only does the flavor of the cucumber enter the water, some of the cucumber’s nutrients do too, including vitamins C, A, K, iron, calcium and potassium. Munching on the cucumber slices will of course score you maximum vitamins and nutrients.

Calories: 1 per slice

Orange Juice

Add two tablespoons orange juice to one tablespoon olive oil to make a citrus dressing for salads. Orange juice is packed with immunity-boosting vitamin C and may help protect against certain types of cancer. Choose calcium-fortified OJ to help meet your recommended daily calcium intake.

Calories: 7 per tablespoon (orange juice only)


Mustard is a condiment made from the seeds of the mustard plant. The whole, ground, cracked, or bruised mustard seeds are mixed with water, vinegar, lemon juice, wine, or other liquids, salt, and often other flavorings and spices, to create a paste or sauce ranging in color from bright yellow to dark brown. The taste of mustard ranges from sweet to spicy. It’s a flavorful way to add a different taste to your meals. Be sure to read the labels to find out which mustard brands are low in calories (most are), sugar, and fat. Then, simply use it and enjoy. 

Calories : 3-5 per teaspoon 

Hot Sauce

Most hot sauces have fewer than five calories per teaspoon, so a few shakes will really kick your dishes up a notch without adding many calories at all. Add it to grilled chicken or air-popped popcorn instead of piling on the salt and butter. Hot sauces are a great addition to chicken, pork and beef. Use a little bit to add a punch of flavor to your dish. 

Calories: 2-5 per teaspoon

Fresh Herbs

Use fresh herbs to add flavor to dishes for nearly zero calories. To make them last longer, rinse with cold water and dry with a paper towel. Then, wrap a paper towel around them and keep them in the fridge in an open food storage bag. When you’re ready to use them, just add the whole leaves to your dishes (like bay leaves in a stew) or dice them up and sprinkle them on top to finish a dish or mix them into sauces and soups.

Calories: O per teaspoon 

Salt-Free Seasoning Blends

With the variety of spices and seasoning blends in your grocery aisle, changing up bland proteins and sides is easier, and more exciting, than you’d think. If you’re going to season your meals with a blend, reach for a salt-free version to save about 200 mg sodium per teaspoon. That way, you can control the salt on your own and really focus on the flavor!

Calories: 0 per teaspoon 


Curry is a complex combination of spices or herbs, usually including ground numeric, cumin, ginger and fresh or dried chilies. Curry can be added at different times during the cooking process to produce different results. Add one to two teaspoons of the popular spice to roasted vegetables and serve over brown rice. Curry is also a delicious seasoning for tofu, chicken and sautéed vegetables.

Calories: 7 per tablespoon


You’ve been sprinkling it on your pizza slices for years, but this spice can also be used as a rub for red meat and chicken. Add fresh or dried oregano to your salads, or combine it with lemon juice for Greek-inspired fish and chicken dishes.

Calories: 3 per teaspoon

Soy Sauce

Soy sauce adds a huge flavor boost, and is not only reserved for stir-fries and noodles. You can add it to pasta sauces, gravies, vinaigrettes, marinades – the possibilities are endless. A little bit goes a long way in flavoring marinades, brines and all sorts of dipping sauces. There are light and darker soy sauce that add a variety of flavors. Most soy sauce is made with wheat in addition to soybeans. Tamari is made with little to no wheat, and many brands offer completely gluten-free tamari.

Calories : 2-3 per teaspoon 


Cumin seeds have a nutty, peppery flavor and can be added to dishes as seeds or ground up in the form of cumin powder. The peppery, iron-packed addition pairs perfectly with chicken and can be tossed on popcorn for a savory snack!

Calories: 7 per teaspoon


This Indian spice has potent anti-inflammatory properties, and has been shown to aid with digestive problems and pain relief. Add a teaspoon to rice, beans, and soups to impart a mild, spicy flavor and a beautiful yellow color. Add one teaspoon turmeric to one tablespoon olive oil and chopped onion. Sauté and add diced zucchini or eggplant. Serve over rice as a delicious vegetarian-friendly main course or as a side dish.

Calories: 1 per teaspoon (turmeric only)

Fresh Ginger

If your only experience with fresh ginger is when it accompanies your sushi dinner, it’s time to get friendlier with this plant root. Ginger is delicious when grated and added to salads, or, add slivers of it to teriyaki sauce as a marinade for tofu or chicken. Ginger has been used in Chinese medicine to treat issues like upset stomach, nausea, vomiting and other digestive issues.

Calories: 2 per teaspoon


Tuck sprigs of fresh rosemary into the nooks and crannies of a whole chicken before baking for a fragrant flavor that’ll seep into the juices. Or, season veggies by adding one to two teaspoons of dried rosemary to sliced baked potatoes and other veggies before you roast them in the oven. Rosemary is a good source of iron and calcium, and contains anti-inflammatory compounds, which may help boost immunity.

Calories: 2 per tablespoon (fresh rosemary), 3 per teaspoon (dried rosemary)

Vegetable Broth 

To cut calories when sautéing vegetables, chicken or fish, replace some of the oil with vegetable broth. Pair one tablespoon of oil with one tablespoon broth as needed. You’ll add flavor without calories and fat! Vegetable broth can also be used as a low-calorie way to flavor mashed potatoes or mashed cauliflower dishes. Choose the low-sodium variety to help keep salt intake in check.

Calories: 1 per ounce (vegetable broth only)

Flavored Vinegars

Flavored vinegars are a fun, fresh way to add sweetness without calories. Most people stock white, balsamic, cider and/or red wine vinegars in their cabinets, but you can get more creative and elegant with a port or champagne vinegar as a base for pasta salads, marinades, coleslaw and regular salad greens.

Calories: 5 per tablespoon

Instant Coffee and Espresso Powder

These shelf-stable products are great low-calorie ways to add flavor to your smoothies, especially if you’re using protein powder and want to mask the taste. You can also sprinkle them on yogurt, low-fat ice cream, or on vanilla puddings to awake your taste buds.

Calories: 4 per teaspoon (instant coffee powder), 0 per teaspoon (espresso powder)

Cocoa Powder

Satisfy chocolate cravings and add a touch of sweetness to snacks and meals by sprinkling on unsweetened cocoa powder. Make you own chocolate-flavored nuts by sprinkling cocoa powder on raw almonds, peanuts and hazelnuts, or add a dash to smoothies, oatmeal, puddings and yogurt. One tablespoon of unsweetened cocoa powder contains three to nine percent of the recommended daily intake of iron, manganese, magnesium and zinc. Cocoa also contains flavonoids, antioxidants that help prevent inflammation and promote blood flow.

Calories: 4 per teaspoon


This versatile spice is perfect when you need a bit of a sweeter flavor without adding calories. Add cinnamon to your coffee, oatmeal, vanilla or plain yogurt, or sprinkle it over nuts to make your standby snack taste more like dessert. Some research suggests cinnamon has anti-inflammatory benefits, cardiovascular benefits and possible cholesterol-lowering benefits.

Calories: 2 per teaspoon


Use tea as a spice by simply grinding up the tea leaves and using them as a delicious rub for a fresh Asian-cuisine flavor. Or, try using leftover brewed tea as a marinade for meat like chicken. Ground matcha green tea can work well as a garnish, spice or rub, or try Lapsang Souchong tea to really up the “wow” factor.

Calories: 0 per tablespoon


Basil is a green, leafy plant from central Africa and southeast Asia. You can buy it fresh and chop it up yourself to add flavor to a dish, or simply buy dry basil from the spice aisle. It has a powerful and pleasant smell to it, with a sweet flavor that’s got a little bit of mint and pepper.    

Calories: 0 per teaspoon 


Watercress is an aquatic plant related to mustard, broccoli and wasabi. It is commonly confused with garden cress (also known as mustard and cress) but is actually a different species, although the two are related. Cress is a green, flowery plant from the cabbage family. In terms of taste, it’s a little horseradishy, with pepper and spice underneath a flowery aroma. Use it in salads, smoothies, soups and sandwiches, as well as a way to flavor sauces and dressings. It is delicious wilted or stir fried and can be used in a similar way to spinach.

Calories: 0 per teaspoon

Dill / Dill Weed

Dill is a green garden herb that, again, can be bought and chopped fresh or added to your food via the dried, spice version. People describe the taste of dill as a bit like celery and fennel with a little bitterness to it. Because it has such a unique taste, a small amount of dill can go a long way, which is why dill is so good to use as a garnish. The feathery texture of dill leaves looks beautiful and a small sprig of dill can add a noticeable aroma to a dish. Dill is also good in salads and is the key ingredient, along with buttermilk, in giving homemade ranch dressing its unique flavor.

Calories: 0 per teaspoon 


This is a wonderful kitchen ingredient that comes in many forms and can be used to flavor almost any food. Whether you use minced, roasted, peeled and diced garlic, Added to marinades and sauces, garlic is a fun way to enhance your meal. To add rich flavor to plain veggies, sauté two teaspoons finely diced onions and one teaspoon garlic with a teaspoon of olive oil or cooking spray. As an alternative to regular salt, mix in a little garlic powder to change up the taste. Even though garlic powder does have around 1 calorie per serving on its own, its diluted so heavily by the zero-calorie salt that garlic salt has essentially no caloric content.

Calories: 0 per teaspoon

Low calorie menus do not have to be boring. all these ideas can add spice, interest and excitement to every meal.









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