Adding Flavor to Food: Oils, Spices, and Dairy

Oils, Fats, Spices and Dairy are all foods that add different tastes to your meal. You can – and should – add different spices and herbs to each meal. However, try to limit your consumption of dairy and oils/fats. These foods are important for a well-rounded diet, but in limited amounts.

 In the following post, we’ll break down each group’s nutritional benefits:

SPICES

Spices are seeds, fruits, roots, or other plant substances used to flavor or preserve food. Similarly, the leaves, stems, or flowers of a plant used for flavoring are herbs.  Herbs and spices are generally low-calorie and have different healthy compounds. For example, some spices fight inflammation and reduce damage to your body’s cell. Other spices (like ginger and rosemary, for example) are rich in antioxidants or can help with high blood pressure. Next time you cook, swap out salt, sugar, and fats for more spices and herbs!

Types of Spices

There are a variety of spices and herbs for you to choose from. Different traditional cuisines use certain spices more. For example, Latin American heritage diets may use more garlic, cumin, paprika, and oregano. Asian-inspired diets include more ginger, coriander, and cloves. Take a look at our handy chart at the bottom for cuisine-based spiced ideas!

How much should you eat?

Because spices and herbs are extremely low calorie, you can really use as many herbs and spices as you’d like! Be careful when cooking, however, because a little spice can go a long way. If using dried herbs, try a small amount at first as it can be strong.

DAIRY

The dairy group includes foods made from the milk of cows, goats, and sheep. These foods have high calcium content – great for boosting strong bones and teeth. For vegan alternatives, try soymilk, almond milk, or oat milk.

Types of Dairy

Foods made from milk products that still have high calcium contents are part of the Dairy group. For example, milk, yogurts, cheeses, and soymilk are considered dairy products; cream cheese, cream, ice cream, cream products, and butter are not part of the dairy group because the calcium content is extremely low.

How much should you eat?

Depending on your age, you should try to eat about 2 cups of dairy foods a day. One serving could be one actual cup of milk or yogurt, two cups of cottage cheese, or one and a half ounces of a hard cheese like cheddar, mozzarella or Parmesan. For more help in figuring out serving sizes, check out the ChooseMyPlate.gov site here!

OILS AND FATS

Oils and fats are important nutrients in healthy diets. These foods should be used in limited amounts, however, because they are very high in calories. In particular, fats like butter and animal shortening/lard should be minimized because they can increase cholesterol, have no health benefits, and are high-calorie.

Types of Oils and Fats

You do need some amount of oils/fats for your body to function properly. A lot of your daily fats can be found in other foods, such as nuts, avocadoes, and animal products (cheese, eggs, meat). If you need to add in fats, stay away from “hard fats” – fats that are solid at room temperature like butter, animal fats, coconut oil, and shortening. You should also avoid foods that have high amounts of “hard” or saturated fats, like bacon, beef, and other fried items.

Instead, opt for unsaturated or “liquid” fats; oils that are liquid at room temperature. When cooking, use vegetable oils like olive oil or avocado oil.

How much should you eat?

The amount of oils you could eat depends on your age and level of activity. Generally, you do not need to add more oils into your diet; most Americans consume enough healthy fats through foods like nuts, fish, dairy, and salad dressings. Minimize the amount of healthy fats and oils you consume to about 5 to 6 teaspoons a day (25-28 grams). A serving could be 2 tablespoons of peanut butter, half of an avocado, an ounce of nuts, a tablespoon of salad dressing, or a tablespoon of vegetable oil.

Check out this handy graphic here for a heritage-based breakdown of the different food groups covered!

Information and data provided by ChooseMyPlate.gov and Oldwayspt.org.

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