Eat Yourself Thin

Making healthy, low-fat food more appealing is easy when you use herbs.

| February/March 2000

  • Chicken Medallions with Herb Vinegar and Dilled Dijon Green Beans make a tasty low-fat meal.
  • Mango salsa, bursting with flavor but low in calories and fat, makes grilled halibut a special treat.
  • Herbed vinegars give zing to many foods without adding a single calorie.
  • Ideal as a side dish or an exciting dessert, grilled pineapple is dressed up with sauce made from passion fruit, honey, and cayenne pepper.


• Scantily Dressed Spring Salad 
• Grilled Halibut with Mango Salsa
• Chicken Medallions with Herb Vinegar 
• Dilled Dijon Green Beans 
• Lotsa Grilled Primavera 
• Grilled Pineapple with Passion Fruit 

I love to eat. I won my first cooking contest in fifth grade. In college, I wondered if my boyfriends were attracted to me or to my cooking, and today I spend most of my vacations cruising local markets and ferreting out the best restaurants.

In my midthirties, then, it came as no surprise to discover that I’d stockpiled a warehouse of clothes in successively larger sizes. Most middle-aged Americans gain one to three pounds every year, but I was tired of being one of them. I knew that a crash diet might take off excess pounds but was unlikely to be a system I could live with to maintain a healthy weight. My solution was to adopt several commonsense changes in my food habits, replacing junk, refined, and processed foods with nutritious, unprocessed, whole-grain foods, cutting way back on fats and sugars. What makes this diet not only tolerable but sensational is my generous use of fresh herbs to add their myriad flavors and textures to my meals. Let me explain how I do it.

Give your body a break

If you normally reach for white flour, white rice, or other processed foods, start replacing them with whole foods: whole-grain flours and pasta, brown rice, unprocessed fresh fruits and vegetables, and fresh herbs. They’re rich in the natural fiber, vitamins, and other nutrients that commonly are stripped away in processing. If you love bagels and cream cheese, choose a whole-grain bagel; instead of cream cheese, substitute a little drained nonfat yogurt stirred with lots of snipped chives and save about 90 calories or 10 grams of fat for every 2 tablespoons of spread. Spread your favorite sandwich with Dijon mustard flavored with French tarragon or minced fennel tops instead of mayonnaise. Herbs add nutrients as well as their diverse flavors to just about any food. Be creative. Write down your winning combinations so that you can re-create them whenever you want.

Herbs help you cut down on fats

Many herbs, especially those that taste bitter, aid digestion as they add flavor. Garlic chives add a gentle hint of garlic to meatballs and meatloaf. Sour and bitter spring herbs such as arugula, sorrel, chicory, and dandelion stimulate the taste buds and give spark to bland foods. Use them as bedding for grilled or sautéed fish, poultry, and other meats; toss them into green salads. Hot, spicy herbs such as garlic, hot peppers, mustard, and horseradish have been found to increase metabolism, as has fennel seed. In The Green Pharmacy (Rodale Press, 1997), James Duke reports that adding 1 teaspoon of mustard and 1 teaspoon of red pepper sauce to every meal raised the metabolic rate of one study’s subjects by as much as 25 percent. But more important, the attention-getting flavors of these spices help make up for the flavor lost with a decrease in fat. On the other hand, I’ve found that I can decrease by a third the amount of fat called for in recipes for savory soups, stews, and entrees and never even miss it. Small amounts of herbed oils and butters add a special touch but few calories.

Go for salads and vegetables

Increasing the proportion of vegetables in your diet can help you lose weight; this doesn’t mean restricting yourself to nothing but plain raw carrots or celery stalks, though. Vegetables don’t have to be boring; adding herbs is the easiest way I’ve found to make them the highlight of your meals.

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