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updated: 7/3/2014 9:40 AM

Eat right, live well: Spices, herbs rubs meat the right way

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  • Spice rubs add flavor to lean proteins and keep sodium in check.

      Spice rubs add flavor to lean proteins and keep sodium in check.
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As a dietitian, I'm often challenged to convince clients to lower both sodium and saturated fat in their diet to improve their heart health. Foods without fat and salt can lack flavor, so how can they get excited about mealtime?

The answer is surprisingly simple: Eat herbs and spices.

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Several recent studies have shown that eating food flavored with spices and herbs resulted in a nearly 1,000 milligram sodium reduction, and reduced fat in meals by nearly 70 percent. Most importantly, participants in these studies liked the lower fat, lower sodium food that was prepared with herbs and spices. The addition of herbs and spices influenced overall enjoyment of reduced-fat foods.

Summer is a perfect time to put these study findings to the test. Mix together a rub mixture and fire up the grill to perk up the flavor of lean proteins like skinless poultry, lean beef, pork and fish.

Many of the very spices that add color and flavor (turmeric, ginger, garlic, cayenne, black pepper, cloves, oregano, thyme, rosemary and basil, for instance) also have antioxidant properties that can help reduce general inflammation and improve overall heart health.

A rub can be applied either dry or wet. A dry rub includes herbs, spices and sometimes sugar. A wet rub includes a small amount of oil or other moist ingredients, such as grated citrus peel, mustard, or minced garlic. These seasoning mixtures are rubbed onto your chosen protein before cooking.

Don't confuse a rub with a marinade. Rubs boost flavor and work well when you are short on time. Small cuts of protein can absorb flavor in less than 2 hours (larger cuts like pork shoulder and brisket, for example, can sit under a rub for 24 hours for maximum flavor). Marinades, on the other hand, have flavor and tenderizing properties and generally require several hours of soaking.

To make a rub you need only two pieces of equipment: a mixing bowl and measuring spoons. Simply combine ingredients for the rub; apply it evenly to all sides of protein source and cook to proper internal temperature. As a general rule prepare about 1 teaspoon of rub for each pound of meat. If you have leftover dry rub, store it n an airtight container in a dry place for up to six months.

Try these recipes: Experiment with many combinations of herbs and spices to meet your taste buds' liking or try these combinations.

• Toby Smithson, a registered dietitian, is the author of "Diabetes Meal Planning and Nutrition for Dummies" and is a national spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

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