When you’re trying to cut calories or follow a diet plan, it’s important to pay attention to every ingredient that goes into your meals. That includes seasonings, which can sometimes contain hidden sugars and other calorie-containing additives. The good news is that many common herbs and spices contain minimal or no calories. Using these to flavor your food can allow you to cut calories without sacrificing taste.
Herbs and Spices That Don’t Have Calories
Here are some of the most popular seasoning options that contain virtually no calories:
- Basil – 0 calories per tablespoon
- Oregano – 0 calories per tablespoon
- Thyme – 0 calories per tablespoon
- Rosemary – 0 calories per tablespoon
- Sage – 0 calories per tablespoon
- Marjoram – 0 calories per tablespoon
- Tarragon – 0 calories per tablespoon
- Dill – 0 calories per tablespoon
- Parsley – 0 calories per tablespoon
- Chives – 0 calories per tablespoon
- Cilantro – 0 calories per tablespoon
- Mint – 0 calories per tablespoon
- Cardamom – 0 calories per tablespoon
- Saffron – 0 calories per tablespoon
- Turmeric – 0 calories per tablespoon
- Cumin – 0 calories per tablespoon
- Coriander – 0 calories per tablespoon
- Fennel – 0 calories per tablespoon
- Ginger – 0 calories per tablespoon
- Cinnamon – 0 calories per tablespoon
- Nutmeg – 0 calories per tablespoon
- Cloves – 0 calories per tablespoon
- Paprika – 0 calories per tablespoon
- Cayenne Pepper – 0 calories per tablespoon
- Black Pepper – 0 calories per tablespoon
- White Pepper – 0 calories per tablespoon
- Garlic Powder – 0 calories per tablespoon
- Onion Powder – 0 calories per tablespoon
- Chili Powder – 0 calories per tablespoon
As you can see, herbs and spices are an easy way to add big flavor without adding any calories. Use these liberally to spice up low-calorie dishes.
Other Low-Calorie Seasonings
In addition to herbs and spices, there are other seasoning options that have minimal or no calories:
- Lemon Juice – 0 calories per tablespoon
- Lime Juice – 0 calories per tablespoon
- Vinegars (balsamic, rice, apple cider, red wine, etc) – 0-5 calories per tablespoon
- Salsa – 5-10 calories per 2 tablespoons, depending on ingredients
- Mustard – 0 calories per teaspoon
- Hot Sauce – 0 calories per teaspoon
- Low-sodium soy sauce – 5 calories per tablespoon
- Worcestershire sauce – 5 calories per teaspoon
- Hoisin sauce – 15 calories per tablespoon
- Grainy mustard – 10 calories per tablespoon
- Taco sauce – 5-15 calories per 2 tablespoons
Again, these are very low-calorie options that can impart lots of flavor. Use them to dress up veggies, lean proteins, grains and more without worrying about calorie impact.
High-Calorie Seasonings to Limit
On the other hand, there are some seasoning options that do contain significant calories and should be used more sparingly:
- Barbecue sauce – 70 calories per 2 tablespoons
- Teriyaki sauce – 60 calories per 2 tablespoons
- Steak sauce – 45 calories per tablespoon
- Honey mustard – 45 calories per 2 tablespoons
- Sweet and sour sauce – 40 calories per 2 tablespoons
- Duck sauce – 30 calories per tablespoon
- Ranch dressing/dip – 45 calories per 2 tablespoons
- Blue cheese dressing – 90 calories per 2 tablespoons
- Peanut sauce – 45 calories per 2 tablespoons
- Alfredo sauce – 40 calories per 2 tablespoons
- Pesto – 80 calories per 2 tablespoons
- Hummus – 100 calories per 4 tablespoons
- Guacamole – 50 calories per 2 tablespoons
The calories in these sauces and dips add up quickly, so use them sparingly if you’re counting calories. Measure out a small portion for flavor rather than pouring liberally.
Low-Calorie Salad Dressings
Salad dressings can also vary wildly in their calorie content. Some of the lighter options include:
- Balsamic vinaigrette – 50 calories per 2 tablespoons
- Italian dressing – 45 calories per 2 tablespoons
- Wine vinegar and olive oil – 50 calories per 2 tablespoons
- Lemon juice and olive oil – 50 calories per 2 tablespoons
- Vinaigrette with Dijon mustard – 45 calories per 2 tablespoons
To cut more calories, ask for dressings on the side and use as little as possible to flavor your salad.
In addition to calories, you may also want to watch the sodium content in store-bought dressings and condiments. Here are some lower-sodium variety options:
- Low-sodium soy sauce
- No-salt-added ketchup
- Low-sodium marinara or pasta sauce
- Reduced sodium teriyaki sauce
- Low-sodium taco seasoning
Making your own dressings and sauces at home also allows you to control the sodium content.
Creating your own spice blends is another way to add lots of flavor without extra calories or sodium. Try mixing and matching from herbs and spices like:
- Chili powder
- Smoked paprika
- Onion powder
- Garlic powder
Start with small amounts of each spice and tweak the proportions to your taste. You can make taco seasoning, Italian seasoning, poultry seasoning and much more.
To limit your sodium intake, opt for salt-free seasoning blends or make your own. Salt-free options include:
- Mrs. Dash seasoning blends
- McCormick salt-free seasonings
- Spike salt-free seasoning
- Benson’s Table Tasty salt substitute
You can also omit regular table salt from homemade blends. However, keep in mind that some salt enhances flavor, so you may need to increase other spices to compensate.
Don’t forget about fresh herbs when you want to add flavor! Options like basil, cilantro, mint, dill, sage, rosemary, oregano and thyme have minimal impact on calories and sodium while providing delicious flavor. Chop them up and sprinkle onto finished dishes for a pop of flavor and color.
Vinegars deserve special mention when it comes to low-calorie seasoning. Options like balsamic, red wine, rice wine, apple cider and white wine vinegars have zero to just a few calories per tablespoon. Use them in salad dressings, marinades, sauces and more. They add tanginess and brightness to balance out flavors.
Lemon and Lime Juice
Lemon and lime juice are other zero-calorie flavor enhancers. Use the juice and zest to perk up the flavor of fish, chicken, vegetables, grains and more. Citrus juices work well in dressings, marinades and sauces.
Minimal Calorie Options
To recap, some of the lowest-calorie seasoning options that pack lots of flavor include:
- Herbs – basil, oregano, cilantro, parsley, etc
- Spices – cumin, cinnamon, paprika, pepper, etc
- Citrus juice and zest
- Vinegars – balsamic, wine vinegars, etc
- Hot sauce
- Garlic and onion powder
Use these items generously to add lots of flavor for minimal calories.
Higher Calorie Options
On the flip side, use caution with sauces, dressings and condiments like:
- Barbecue sauce
- Teriyaki sauce
- Peanut sauce
- Creamy salad dressings
- Dips like hummus, guacamole and ranch
While delicious, these options can rack up calories quickly. Opt for small portions or low-calorie varieties.
Tips for Using Low-Calorie Seasonings
Here are some tips for using herbs, spices and other low-calorie flavor enhancers:
- Use them generously! Most have zero calories so you don’t have to skimp.
- Combine multiple herbs and spices for more complex flavor.
- Add them at the beginning and end of cooking for maximum flavor impact.
- Try new combinations like cumin on veggies or mint in protein dishes.
- Grow your own fresh herbs like basil, oregano and thyme.
- Make herb-infused oils by steeping herbs in olive oil.
- Create spice blends like Italian seasoning or poultry seasoning.
- Use citrus zest along with the juice to optimize flavor.
- Add vinegars and citrus juice at the end to preserve their brightness.
Seasoning Ideas for Different Foods
Here are some ideas for seasoning common foods using low-calorie herbs, spices, vinegars and other flavor enhancers:
- Rosemary, sage, thyme, paprika, garlic
- Cumin, cilantro, chili powder, lime juice
- Curry powder, ginger, cinnamon, cayenne
- Dill, lemon juice, black pepper, paprika
- Cilantro, lime juice, onion powder, cumin
- Mint, parsley, garlic, white wine vinegar
- Thyme, rosemary, garlic, mustard
- Smoked paprika, sage, pepper, onion powder
- Chili powder, cumin, oregano, cayenne
- Basil, oregano, thyme, garlic
- Cumin, curry powder, chili powder, ginger
- Mint, dill, lemon juice, pepper
- Parsley, lemon zest, garlic, pepper
- Thyme, rosemary, sage, onion powder
- Cumin, curry powder, turmeric, paprika
Enhancing Lower Calorie Foods
Using plenty of herbs, spices, vinegars and citrus can help enhance lower calorie foods like:
- Lean proteins like chicken, fish and shellfish
- Legumes like beans, lentils and peas
- Whole grains
- Plain Greek yogurt
Their strong flavors help make up for lower fat and calories without adding many calories. Be creative with your seasoning combinations!
Are spices and herbs really zero calories?
Most spices and dried herbs contain only trace calories that can be considered negligible. Using tablespoon or teaspoon amounts will add minimal calories to your meals.
What about salt and pepper?
Salt contains no calories. Pepper contains minimal calories, about 5 calories per teaspoon, which can generally be considered insignificant.
Can you use too many spices?
It is possible to overdo it with certain strong spices like cumin or cinnamon. Start with small amounts and taste, adjusting until you achieve the desired flavor intensity.
Which fresh herbs have the most flavor?
Herbs like basil, thyme, rosemary, oregano and sage tend to be very flavorful. Use them sparingly at first until you determine desired intensity.
What’s the best way to use citrus zest?
Finely grate only the outermost layer of citrus peel to maximize flavorful oils. Add it at the end for the strongest impact.
The Bottom Line
Herbs, spices, vinegars and citrus juices are flavor powerhouses that can transform lower calorie foods without adding significant calories. Take advantage of their immense flavors to create delicious, low-calorie dishes. With zero or minimal calories, the possibilities are endless for seasoning healthy meals.