Herbs and spices: the key to healthier comfort foods

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Researchers at Penn State have embarked on a groundbreaking journey to make beloved American comfort foods not only delicious but healthier.

Their discovery reveals that substituting saturated fat, sugar, and salt with a generous dose of healthy herbs and spices can maintain the palatability of popular dishes while making them more nutritious.

Following the low-fat food trend of the 1990s, many products became laden with sugar. The challenge now is to reduce unhealthy ingredients without compromising flavor while addressing health concerns like cardiovascular disease, the leading global cause of death.

A Culinary Solution to a Health Crisis

To tackle this issue, Penn State researchers collaborated with culinary experts and re-engineered the nutritional profiles of 10 popular foods such as meatloaf, macaroni and cheese, and brownies.

They created three versions of each dish: one with typical amounts of saturated fat, sugar, and salt; a second with significantly reduced unhealthy ingredients; and a third enriched with herbs and spices like cayenne, rosemary, and cinnamon to compensate for flavor loss.

Consumer-Approved Changes

In a blind taste test involving up to 107 consumers for each dish, participants favored the healthier, spice-enhanced versions of brownies and chicken in cream sauce over the originals.

For five other dishes, including meatloaf and chili, the healthier recipes received ratings similar to the original recipes in terms of overall liking.

Modeling from the study suggests that if 100% of U.S. adult consumers embraced these healthier recipes, it could lead to an estimated daily reduction of about 11.5% in saturated fat and salt intake.

This highlights the potential for broad adoption of these changes in the food supply.

A Path Forward for Public Health

With cardiovascular diseases being a major public health concern, this study offers actionable solutions.

By demonstrating that herbs and spices can effectively replace unhealthy elements in food without compromising taste, Penn State’s research provides a recipe for meaningful change.

The study encourages further research on implementing these changes on a larger scale, with the aim of significantly impacting public health.

For more detailed information, please refer to the original research published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

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