You may think you’re being healthy while eating a salad, until you see that your salad is drenched in processed oil and calories. I’m not talking about the veggies of course, but rather the condiments you put on top of your greens.

Packaged condiments that you find at the grocery store can be unhealthy and full of unnecessary ingredients, sugar, salt and calories. For example, just 2 tablespoons of Kraft’s Ranch Dressing can lead to an additional 148 calories and 2.4 grams of saturated fat, with only minimal dietary fiber (0.1 grams) and no phytochemicals. In other words, these are empty calories. And low-fat dressings aren’t that much better, either. Many are made with cheap, low-quality vegetable oil, synthetic flavorings, additives, and high fructose corn syrup. These sauces are usually highly processed, and their nutritional value is close to zero.

But, don’t fret. Just because processed dressings aren’t the healthiest food on the planet, this does not mean that your meal needs to be bland and boring.

So what’s the solution here? Spice and herbs.

Most herbs and spices have numerous health benefits, from protecting you against cancer to improving your digestive system, and they enhance the flavors of many foods. Did I also mention that they usually are very low in calories?

The best part is, you can replace salad dressings with spice and herbs, and skip the olive oil if you really want to go low-fat, not that I have anything against olive oil. The spices usually have a very powerful flavor, and when you blend the seasoning right, you will have a mouthwatering dish bursting with flavors!

Here are five of my favorite spices and herbs:

1. Onion Powder

Onion powder is made from dehydrated onion. It has a strong flavor (yes it tastes like onion), but low in sodium, fat and calories. It also contains calcium, potassium and magnesium.

Onion powder can replace the saltiness you crave from dressings in salads given its intense flavor. Mix your kale with onion powder, nutritional yeast and some mashed avocado – you’ve got a great salad. I swear by it.

Onion powder can also mimic chicken flavor you find in vegan dishes.

2. Basil

So you love pesto? This slightly peppery, sweet and minty herb not only tastes great, but also has amazing health benefits. Basil is so popular that Mimi Kirk, voted as America’s sexiest vegetarian by PETA, lists this herb as her all-time favorite in her recipes.

A study by researchers at Purdue University revealed that basil contains polyphenols such as flavonoids and anthocyanins. The herb can also reduce inflammation and swelling, and contains ethanol extract Ocimum basilicum which may have more antioxidant activity than standard antioxidants.

Basil is also rich in vitamin A, vitamin K, vitamin C, magnesium, iron, potassium, and calcium.

Amp up your cooking with some Thai Basil with all the delicate aromatic flavors of lemon grass,chillies, ginger, kaffir lime leaves and lime juice. Can you resist this exotic combination of flavors?

3. Oregano

Oregano has a slightly warm and bitter taste, and is commonly used in Italian, Mediterranean and Spanish cuisines.

This herb is a rich source of vitamin K and contains high concentrations of antioxidants, according to a report published in the Journal of Nutrition.

Oregano also contains fiber, iron, manganese, vitamin E, calcium, omega fatty acids, and is used to treat disorders such as osteoporosis, cramps and urinary tract disorders.

Better yet, oregano may be able to protect against cancer.

Check out our delliiicious Spicy Bean and Coconut Burger here (yes we used oregano!)

4. Cardamom

Cardamom is used in desserts throughout Asia and India. It is related to ginger and may be used to counteract digestive problems, acidity, bloating, heartburn, constipation and help fight depression.

Check out our beautiful Cardamom Rose Cupcakes here!

5. Red Pepper Flakes

Like things a little bit spicy? ;) You’d love your red hot chili peppers.

Red peppers can also help you lose weight! Peppers contain capsaicins that can help you feel satiated, decrease food and hence caloric intake. Red pepper may also lower the risk of skin and colon cancers.

Check out our Homemade Hummus with Red Peppers!

These five spices and herbs were just a few off the top of my head, but I also like garlic, vanilla bean, cinnamon, and turmeric.

Since most dried spices that are past their prime can lose their freshness, nutrients, aroma, and flavor, you may want to buy brightly colored fresh herbs instead!

Need more spices to spice up your salad? You may want to consider these ingredients.

Image source: Homemade Hummus