A new study has shown that we also eat with our eyes, by revealing that choosing colourful condiments actually enhance the nutritional value of a routine food.
The research has shown that the right choice of condiments, seasonings or sauces, can give regular food a boost in nutritional value.
University of Arkansas dietetics professor Marjorie Fitch-Hilgenberg uses the term condiments broadly to include all the "accompaniments" to food, such as seasonings, sauces, garnishes and marinades. All have their place in making food interesting and nutritious.
"Think colour, We eat with our eyes, and choosing colourful condiments can enhance the nutritional value of a routine food," said Fitch-Hilgenberg.
"Look at an average sandwich - some meat or cheese between slices of bread and slathered with mayonnaise. When you add dark leafy greens and tomatoes and replace the mayo, you can create a quick lunch with a serving or more of vegetables and little excess fat," she added.
Fitch-Hilgenberg's research has shown that most people don't notice the difference when nutrient-rich spinach replaces lettuce on burgers and subs. The resulting sandwich provides greater quantities of key nutrients, including vitamin C, vitamin A and folic acid.
There are more healthy alternatives to mayonnaise, beyond the low-fat and non-fat options on the grocery shelves. Fitch-Hilgenberg recommended looking for opportunities to replace mayonnaise with low-fat yoghurt. For example, yoghurt mixed with coarse mustard and dill is a tasty topping for grilled salmon steaks or salmon croquettes. She also uses a variety of mustards - Dijon, coarse-ground, spicy brown and wasabi - as low-calorie, high-flavour condiments.
"You don't have to use mayo on a sandwich. You can spread some salsa, cranberry sauce, mango chutney or sauerkraut. They all add great taste and some extra nutrients without adding fat," Fitch-Hilgenberg said.
She also looks for ways to add fruit to a meal by using it to flavour foods. For example, adding orange slices to cooked carrots can make the carrots more appealing to children and even more nutritious. Whipping fresh or frozen fruit in the blender makes a good topping for ice cream or a stir-in for plain yoghurt.
"Condiments give you a chance to be adventurous and to taste other cuisines without leaving home. Chicken can be marinated in tandoori sauce, barbeque sauce or spicy brown mustard to take your meal to India, Texas or Germany," Fitch-Hilgenberg said.
Two condiments from south Asia can be found in most groceries - curries and chutneys. Curry, which some studies have shown to contribute to healthy aging, does not have to be hot. A mild curry can be an intriguing addition to cooked carrots or rice and broccoli. Chutneys come in many different varieties, and Fitch-Hilgenberg advised reading the label before buying. Some contain fruit, such as mango chutney; others contain high levels of sodium.
Fitch-Hilgenberg cautioned that the downside to condiments is that they can add empty calories while disguising the flavour of foods. Marinades are a good way to flavour foods instead of spreading sauces on after cooking. Similarly, when a salad is tossed in a large bowl with a little dressing, the flavour of the greens is enhanced without being drenched in dressing that is high in fat and sodium. A plus, Fitch-Hilgenberg noted, is that it is much cheaper to use a little sauce or dressing in the kitchen than to put the bottle on the table.
"Healthy condiments can be used by everyone, whether for plain food or gourmet, carnivore or vegetarian. The condiments we choose are only limited by our imagination," Fitch-Hilgenberg said.