5 Low-Calorie Ingredients With Big and Bold Flavors

Just because you’re watching your weight doesn’t mean you need to resign yourself to eating meals that are bland and boring. In fact, with the help of a few simple ingredients, you can easily prepare low-calorie dishes that are bursting with bold flavors. These ingredients are easy to find, easy to use, and can turn any mundane meal into one that tastes terrific. Add some spice to your dishes — and diet— by using these five low-calorie, high-impact ingredients.

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1. Pepper

There’s a reason pepper is frequently used in recipes: It can transform drab dishes into well-seasoned, savory masterpieces. What’s Cooking America notes there are many different types of pepper, including black, green, white, red, and pink, which bring their own unique flavors to the table.

What’s Cooking America explains that black pepper is the strongest and most pungent. Green pepper, on the other hand, is typically quite tart. When seasoning food with pepper, add it just before your dish is done cooking, The World’s Healthiest Foods writes. If pepper is cooked for too long, it loses its fragrant and aromatic flavors. Healthy Enough adds that whenever possible, use freshly ground peppercorn, as it will turn any plain dish into one that’s filled with rich and complex flavors.

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2. Stock

Using stock is a great way to create a mouth-watering meal that’s low in calories. About.com notes that reduced-sodium chicken stock only has 5 calories per serving; it lists vegetable stock as having 10 calories per serving. How to Live Gourmet explains there are three main types of stock: white, brown, and fish stock. White is made by simmering chicken, veal, or beef bones in water with vegetables and seasonings; brown consists of veal, beef, chicken, or game bones and caramelized vegetables; and fish stock is made by slowly cooking fish bones or crustacean shells and vegetables.

If you’d like to prepare your own stocks, How to Live Gourmet shows you how to here. Otherwise, you can buy stock in stores, in both liquid and cubed form. While stock is often used in soups, sauces, and stews, there are plenty of other dishes that it can be used in, too. Wise Bread suggests adding stock to rice, risotto, couscous, stir-frys, and steamed vegetables.

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3. Garlic

Garlic is a common kitchen ingredient that adds fantastic flavor to a wide array of foods. The Kitchn notes that garlic is extremely versatile: Its flavor can change depending on how you cut or cook it. Whole garlic gives food a more subtle flavor, and chopped or minced garlic adds spicier and more pungent aromas.

Caramelizing garlic over low heat will give your meals a sweet, mild flavor, while sautéed garlic creates a fresh and sharp-tasting dish, The Kitchn explains. Feel free to use as much garlic as you please — Livestrong says that 1 teaspoon of chopped raw garlic has 4 calories. In addition, garlic is so low in fat that an entire cup contains less than 1 gram.

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4. Herbs and spice blends

A great way to add new and exciting flavors to your meals is by combining spices and herbs. Active suggests making your own spice blends by taking some of your favorite spices — or perhaps ones that are underutilized — and combining them in a zip-top bag. If you’re trying to create a spice blend that has a specific flavor, there are plenty of recipes that will help guide you.

For instance, you can add some spiciness to your meals by making Wellness Mama’s Homemade Rajin’ Cajun Seasoning, or you can use Food.com’s Homemade Poultry Seasoning to create a perfectly seasoned chicken dinner. Daily Burn adds that you can also purchase salt-free spice blends at grocery stores, many of which contain less than 1 calorie per serving.

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5. Lemon juice

Lemon juice adds zesty and invigorating flavors to almost anything, including salads, side dishes, entrees, and even desserts. Livestrong notes that fresh lemon juice, which contains 3 calories per tablespoon, is a great alternative to condiments and sauces that are riddled with sugar, fat, and calories. Slate adds that lemon juice gives food a fresh, clean taste and can be used in both sweet and savory dishes. In addition, Food & Wine suggests adding lemon juice whenever a dish tastes flat — the burst of acidity will bring new life to a bland-tasting meal.

Slate recommends squeezing lemon juice in soups or salads, tossing it with salads, vegetables, and pasta, or rubbing it on pork, chicken, and fish. If you’re using lemon to marinate your meats and vegetables, try adding a touch of lemon juice just before your food is done cooking. If you add it too soon, the cooking process will concentrate the flavor and make your dish taste bitter, Slate warns.

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