Thanksgiving: Add spice to your life!

Oct 13, 2009 at 3:10 p.m. ET

Trying to keep your holiday feasts on the lighter side this year? Use herbs and spices to season your Thanksgiving dinner and you won't have to suffer!

Why use spices and herbs?

Medical research has shown that eating too much saturated fat and cholesterol puts you at a higher risk for heart disease. In addition, being overweight increases your risk for other conditions and diseases, such as diabetes.

By using fat-free spices and herbs to season your food, you can enhance the flavor and thus enjoy a low-fat diet. There's no need to feel deprived when you are eating a delicious treat such as low-fat plain yogurt mixed with cinnamon, ginger and sliced fresh apples instead of a rich, fatty dessert!

Help with herbs

Using spices and seasonings in your meal and snack preparations is a great way to add flavor without adding fat and calories. For example, if you season your Thanksgiving baked potato with a dash of plain yogurt and sprinkle on some chopped chives, you'll be able to enjoy a delicious potato dish, and you won't even miss the saturated fat and extra calories that comes with a standard topping such as butter or sour cream.

The good news: you don't have to spend a fortune buying fresh herbs every few days. Stock up on some basic ground spices, and save the fresh herbs for special occasions (such as Thanksgiving!).

Here's what to consider having on your spices and seasonings shelf at home:

  • Basil: Great with everything from vegetables (try sprinkling it on steamed zucchini) to chicken (baste chicken with a small amount of good-for-you olive oil, basil leaves, and a dash of garlic powder).
  • Thyme: Sprinkle in your stuffing mix (more flavor means that it takes less food to satisfy you!), try it with garlic salt on your cottage cheese, and don't forget to dash it into your post-Thanksgiving turkey. stew
  • Oregano: If you like spaghetti sauce, pizza and other tomato-based foods, put oregano on your must-buy list.
  • Garlic powder: Just remember that a little goes a long way, and then experiment with a dash of garlic powder in everything from your Thanksgiving mashed potatoes to your salad dressing.

A walk on the spicy side

If you like life to be as spicy as possible, try these flavorful seasonings:

  • Red pepper: Want to have a low-in-calories-high-in-taste lunch the day after Thanksgiving? One of my staff members came up with this healthy version of traditional turkey salad: use a few spoonfuls of plain yogurt to replace the traditional mayonnaise, cut up some scallions or green onions and fresh celery, add a dash of red pepper, and then stir in some cut-up cooked turkey. Put on a bed of lettuce and dig in without guilt! Use red pepper (another seasoning where a little goes a long way!) to add "heat" to your food.
  • Cilantro: From salsa to salad to soup, cilantro adds a unique flavor and zest.
  • Allspice and ginger: Applesauce goes gourmet when you mix in a dash of allspice and/or ginger. And your Thanksgiving pumpkin pie will also acquire a new tang if you use these spicy seasonings. Tip: have ginger herb tea on hand for anyone who always suffers from post-Thanksgiving-dinner stomach pains (and I hope that you won't be among those this year!). It's a traditional remedy for such ailments.

fruit yogurt bowlEnjoy your just desserts

This Thanksgiving, consider serving an alternate low-calorie dessert for any guests and family members who want a light conclusion to the traditional meal. I asked my staff for suggestions, and here's what they concocted, just for you:

Spicy Fruit & Yogurt

1. Prepare 1 cup of fresh, sliced strawberries, peaches, apples or pears.

2. Combine the fresh fruit with two cups of plain, non-fat yogurt, 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon of ginger, several packets of Splenda or Equal, and 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract.

3. Refrigerate for about an hour or more, so that the flavors have time to be absorbed into the fruit. For a holiday touch, sprinkle with slivered almonds and/or additional fresh fruit.

Serves 5.