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Spices: The Literal Spice Of Life

One of the most common complaints people make when they begin their weight loss journey is that the new food they are eating is just so bland.  How many times can you eat plain chicken before you just want to give up and run out to a fast food place?  The flip side of that is also why restaurant food tastes so good, they use lots of seasoning and sometimes lots of sauces to get that wonderful taste.  Unfortunately, those sauces can be loaded in calories and can be a killer for weight loss.    One of the secrets for people who have been on a weight loss journey for a long time is that they are constantly changing up how they prepare their meals to keep it fun and tasty.  One of the easy ways to do this is to use different spices on their chicken, pork, or lean beef to give yourself a different meal.

  1. Chilli powder, red pepper flakes, hot sauce, dried peppers, etc.  We are going to lump these all together since it really comes down to what sort of heat level you are used to and can tolerate.  Most peppers contain capsaicin which can help with weight loss and inflation just on its own.  Pepper flakes can be added to ground turkey, chicken or lean ground beef to liven up some meatballs.  Hot sauce also makes a wonderful topping to just about anything and can add less than 5 calories per servings.  The great part is there are a ton of different hot sauces from around the world so you can rotate through them with different meals.  We have always enjoyed regular Frank's hot sauce for that traditional hot sauce taste, sriracha sauce can be added to beef and chicken along with rice and broccoli for an amazing Asian twist, and another one we like is Korean gochujang sauce which can provide a lot of flavor for eggs and chicken with minimal calories.  
  2. Tumeric and curry powders.  Tumeric is one of the main ingredients in curries and has been linked to many health benefits in studies from being an anti-inflammatory to even potentially having anti-cancer effects.  Curries have been a staple in Indian food for centuries and for good reason, it is delicious.  Curries are also very versatile and can be put on almost all proteins including seafood.  They can also be cooked in a variety of ways from making a marinade, a sauce, or even adding them on at the end.  Another nice thing about using curries is that they can be purchased in powder form or in sauce style packets that can take a lot of the guesswork out of what you are doing.  Our favorites include tikka masala, vindaloo, madras curry, and a tandoori marinade.   Most of the recipes just require a little bit of time to marinade the protein and some of them will have you add some yogurt so you even get some extra protein.  The sauces (we use Saffron road and Suhkis ) can take a lot of guesswork out of the equation but the downside is that they do have extra calories.  One sauce packet is usually good for 2 dinners but the sauce packets can contain between 200-300 calories so just be aware of that.
  3. Mustard.  Mustard is very common but most people don't know it can be very low cal and add a lot of flavor for low calories.  1 whole cup of mustard which would season many, many meals only contains 165 calories.  Obviously there are many different types of mustard out there form your classic yellow to stone ground, and even just plain mustard seeds so you can even experiment with what type you want to use and they all will impart different flavors.  Another great secret is mustard-based BBQ sauces.  Also known as North Carolina BBQ sauce, they use mustard as the base so they tend to be lower in calories than your traditional BBQ sauces that use a lot of brown sugar or ketchup as a base.  Using Wegmans Carolina Gold style BBQ sauce, two tablespoons adds 25 calories total to your meal and trust me you won't need a lot.  This sauce makes an excellent marinade as well for chicken or pork going on the grill for a nice summer BBQ treat that won't pack on the calories.
  4. Chinese 5 spice powder.  I want to highlight this spice because we don't use it on proteins, we use it on veggies. This blend of cinnamon, cloves, fennel, star anise, and Szechwan peppercorns comes premixed so there is no guess work on it.  We use this to flavor broccoli and rice when we are doing Asian style meal prep and it adds great flavor to what can be some very bland veggies and rice.  
  5. Spice Blends:  The last thing I want to highlight are specific spice blends you can buy that are already premixed and are generally intended for a specific protein or veggie.  We use a lot of Penzey's spices (we have no affiliation with them at all, they just have some of the best blends out there for reasonable prices and they send out a lot of deals through their emails.  Everything listed in this post is a spice/sauce that we have personally used many times.)  so I wanted to go over some of their basic blends.  Tuscan sunset is an Italian blend that we used on everything from veggies to mixing it in with meatballs.  This is a do-everything spice blend and adds a lot of flavor.  Fox point seasoning blends for veggies and lighter proteins like fish that won't overwhelm the flavors of the meal but add a lot to it.  The last thing I will highlight from them is the freeze-dried shallots.  Shallots can add a lot of flavors and are one of the reasons restaurant food tastes so good.  Adding them to some dishes will really help them stand out.  

-Stephanie Leonetti, Nutritionist