As we become more seasoned in life, we all want to keep our flavor, flame, or should I say spice!

The same holds true when it comes to lifestyle changes and our foods. The overall goal is to eat healthier without having to sacrifice our taste buds. There are several ways to do that, but the key is to find what works for you and your family’s healthy lifestyle goals.

Many of us have a high taste for salt. This is a learned taste, so the good thing is we can unlearn it. According to the American Heart Association, we should limit our sodium intake to 2300 milligrams (1 tablespoon) per day. An ideal amount is 1500 milligrams for those who have hypertension, diabetes or are 51 years of age or older. Healthy kidneys do a great job at retaining the amount of sodium the body needs to function, which is less than 500 milligrams per day.

On average, most Americans take in about 3400 milligrams of sodium or more per day. An excessive amount of sodium is bad for the body because it increases blood pressure, causes fluid retention and leads to added pressure on the heart. It can increase your risk for heart failure, stroke, stomach cancer, osteoporosis and kidney disease.

Most of the high-sodium foods we consume are processed foods, fast foods and ready-to-eat foods. They usually come in cans, boxes, packages and jars.

The goal for families is to shift to eating more meals prepared at home and more whole foods. By whole foods, I mean fresh or frozen vegetables, or no-salt-added canned goods if you use canned vegetables. Fresh chicken instead of frozen chicken nuggets. When foods are prepared at home, you are able to control the amount of sodium you take in, unlike when you eat out.

Some other foods you might not realize are high in sodium: sauces, gravy, salad dressing, pickles, olives, butter, stick margarine, barbecue sauce, soy sauce, ramen noodles, hot dogs, Hot Pockets, frozen chicken pot pie, frozen pizza, pizza rolls, chips, salted nuts and even baked goods.

If you have medical conditions or other special dietary needs or restrictions, you should follow the advice of your healthcare professional.

Try using more herbs or spices instead of salt to flavor your foods.

Basil: Pungent, somewhat sweet. Use with tomato dishes, eggs, salads, many cooked vegetables.

Bay leaves: Mild flavor. Use with soups, stews, tomato sauces and shellfish boils.

Cayenne pepper: Fiery hot! Use sparingly in any dish where you want heat.

Celery seed: Strong celery flavor. Use with potatoes, eggs, tuna salad, soups, sauces, fish, vegetables.

Chili powder: Spicy hot. Use in chili, barbecue sauce, meatloaf, stews.

Cilantro: Spicy/sweet or hot. Use in Asian, Latin American and Spanish dishes.

Cloves: Sweet/bittersweet. Use with pork, stews, baked goods, sweet vegetables.

Cumin: Peppery. Use sparingly with soups, stews and sauces.

Curry powder: Hot! Use in curries.

Garlic: Pungent, onion-like. Use in meat dishes, sauces, stuffing, butter spread.

Ginger: Peppery sweet. Use in baked goods, stews, chicken and Asian dishes.

Nutmeg: Warm, spicy, sweet. Use in baked goods, eggnog, with sweet potatoes.

Oregano: Delicate herb. Use in Italian dishes, chili, vegetables and soups.

Paprika: Sweet to hot, somewhat bitter. Use in salads, cream sauces for vegetables, poultry and eggs.

Parsley: Mildly peppery. Use as a garnish in soups, sauces and salads.

Rosemary: Lemony, piney. Use with beef, lamb and chicken dishes.

Sage: Musty, slightly bitter. Use with pork dishes, stuffing, sausage and soups.

Sesame seed: Nutty flavor. Use in breads and salad dressings.

Tarragon: Sweet flavor. Use in tartar sauce, cream sauces, egg and seafood salads.

Thyme: Minty, lemony. Use in eggs, fish, stews, salads and tomato sauces.

Sheree Taylor is a regional educator for human nutrition, diet and health for the Alabama Cooperative Extension System. If you are interested in having a nutrition program in your community, contact her at 256-237-1621, 256-499-7146 or snr0010@auburn.edu.