Spice Up Your Healthy Cooking With These Lively Combos

STACK Expert Tony Bonvechio offers three lively combinations of ingredients to spice up your healthy food and make it taste great—with recipes!

Healthy Spices

The first summer I lived on my own, I had to learn to cook. I planned to eat my way to Dwayne Johnson proportions by making the only meals I knew: plain scrambled eggs and oatmeal for breakfast, and plain chicken, asparagus and brown rice for my other five meals. Every single day.

Talk about monotonous. I've since learned that healthy cooking can be tasty. In fact, many seasoning combinations are not only delicious, they also pack a seriously healthy punch when added to traditional "clean" foods like chicken, fish, fruits and vegetables. So instead of reaching for the ranch dressing or chocolate syrup, check out these tried-and-true combos.

1. Salt, pepper, olive oil

This classic combination dresses up chicken breast or salad greens in a pinch. Salt scares people because too much causes high blood pressure, but if you work out, you need to replace the sodium you lose in sweat. It's actually sodium deficiency that gives athletes problems, especially after hard workouts in hot weather. If your blood pressure is normal and your kidneys work properly, don't be afraid to add some salt to your food.

Olive oil is heart-healthy and rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which lower blood pressure and triglycerides. Plus, it gives vegetables that much-needed fat component that actually makes you want to eat them.

Try: Grilled Asparagus

  • 10 asparagus stalks
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper
  • Fresh lemon juice

Trim the hard ends off asparagus stalks and toss with oil, salt and pepper. Place stalks on grill (or frying pan) over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes, turning once to get char marks on both sides. Add a squeeze or two of lemon juice and serve.

2. Sesame oil, garlic, ginger

Sesame oil has an amazing toasty flavor, and it can't be beat for stir frying. It also has anti-inflammatory properties and can lower blood pressure. Sesame oil pairs beautifully with the unmistakable taste of ginger. Revered for its stomach-soothing abilities, ginger can help ease osteoarthritis and may reduce LDL (the "bad" cholesterol). Garlic, legendary for its potent flavor and health benefits, has been shown to protect against a laundry list of diseases, including cancer, diabetes and heart disease.

Try: Sesame Beef Stir Fry

  • 8 oz. flank steak or sirloin, sliced into thin strips
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 cup broccoli, chopped
  • 1 colored pepper, chopped
  • 1-2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon ginger root, minced
  • 2 tablespoons sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil, for cooking
  • Salt and pepper
  • Cooked rice (optional)

Season the steak with salt and pepper. Add 1 tablespoon of coconut oil (a potent fat burner and the world's best cooking oil) to a saucepan or wok over medium-high heat. Cook the beef until browned but not all the way through. Add the vegetables, sesame oil, garlic and ginger. Cook until the steak is done and vegetables are tender. Serve over rice.

3. Maple syrup, pumpkin pie spice, vanilla extract

In the morning, we have a need for speed. That usually means eating sugary cereal or skipping breakfast altogether. Well, put down the Honey Smacks and grab a breakfast that will satisfy your sweet tooth and give you tons of energy.

It's old news that oatmeal can lower cholesterol, but if Bert and Ernie taught us anything, it's that plain oatmeal is boring. Instead, start the day with maple, pumpkin and vanilla.

Pumpkin pie spice combines several ingredients with impressive health benefit: cinnamon (anti-inflammatory and lowers blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol), allspice (may protect against tumors) and ginger. Pure vanilla extract (not the cheap fake stuff) is a strong source of antioxidants, and maple syrup is a natural sweetener whose blood sugar spike is reduced by protein and slow-digesting carbs like oats.

Try: Pumpkin Pie Oatmeal with Maple Greek Yogurt

  • 1/2 cup rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup full-fat plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup
  • 2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
  • 1 teaspoon salt

In a bowl, combine oats and salt with 1 to 1-1/2 cups of water (depending on how creamy you like your oatmeal) and microwave on high for 2-3 minutes. When done, add the Greek yogurt, pumpkin pie spice and maple syrup and stir thoroughly. Boom! A lightning-fast breakfast packed with carbs and protein to fuel your day.

References

Gunathilake, K., and H. Rupasinghe. "Inhibition of Human Low-Density Lipoprotein Oxidation In Vitro by Ginger Extracts." Journal of Medicinal Food, Jan 9 (2014).

Khatua, T., R. Adela, and S. Banerjee. "Garlic and Cardioprotection: Insights into the Molecular Mechanisms." Canadian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology, 6th ser. Jun.91 (2013): 448-58.

Miyawaki, Takashi, Hideshi Aono, Yoshiko Toyoda-Ono, Hirofumi Maeda, Yoshinobu Kiso, and Kenji Moriyama. "Antihypertensive Effects of Sesamin in Humans." Journal of Nutritional Science and Vitaminology, 55.1 (2009): 87-91.

Papamandjaris, A. A., M. D. White, M. Raeini-Sarjaz, and P. J H Jones. "Endogenous Fat Oxidation during Medium Chain versus Long Chain Triglyceride Feeding in Healthy Women." International Journal of Obesity, 24.9 (2000): 1158-166.

Periasamy, Srinivasan, Se-Ping Chien, Po-Cheng Chang, Dur-Zong Hsu, and Ming-Yie Liu. "Sesame Oil Mitigates Nutritional Steatohepatitis via Attenuation of Oxidative Stress and Inflammation: A Tale of Two-hit Hypothesis." Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, 25.2 (2014): 232-40.

Ranasinghe, P., S. Pigera, G. Premakumara, P. Galappaththy, G. Constantine, and P. Katulanda. "Medicinal Properties of 'true' Cinnamon (Cinnamomum Zeylanicum): A Systematic Review." BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 1st ser. 22.13 (2013): 275.

Shyamala, B., M. Naidu, G. Sulochanamma, and P. Srinivas. "Studies on the Antioxidant Activities of Natural Vanilla Extract and Its Constituent Compounds through in Vitro Models." Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 19th ser. 19.55 (2007): 7738-743.

Therkleson, T. "Ginger Therapy for Osteoarthritis: A Typical Case." Journal of Holistic Nursing, Jan 29 (2014).

Zhang, Lei, and Bal L. Lokeshwar. "Medicinal Properties of the Jamaican Pepper Plant Pimenta Dioica and Allspice." Current Drug Targets, 13.14 (2012): 1900-906.


Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock

Topics: PROTEIN | HEALTH | OATMEAL | CHOLESTEROL | BREAKFAST | CHICKEN | VEGETABLES | GREEK YOGURT | VANILLA | YOGURT | STEAK | OLIVE OIL | BLOOD PRESSURE | PUMPKIN PIE