New Path to Replacing Saturated Fat and Salt for Healthy Alternatives

A team of Penn State researchers has figured out how to remove some saturated fat, sugar and salt from popular American foods while maintaining their tastiness. The trick? Replacing these over consumed nutrients with a dose of healthy herbs and spices.

“Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death globally, and limiting saturated fat and sodium intake are key recommendations for reducing the risk of developing this disease,” said Kristina Petersen, associate professor of nutritional sciences, Penn State. “Yet, we know that one of the key barriers to reducing intake of these ingredients is the flavor of the food. If you want people to eat healthy food, it has to taste good.”

The team used a nationally representative database from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, called the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, to identify 10 of the most popular foods that are typically high in sodium, added sugars and saturated fat. These included meatloaf, chicken pot pie, macaroni and cheese, and brownies.

Next, they worked with culinary experts to develop three versions of these recipes. The first contained typical amounts of saturated fat, sugar and salt used in these recipes. The second version was nutritionally improved by removing the excess saturated fat, sugar and salt. The third version had the same nutrient profile as the second version, but also contained added herbs and spices, such as garlic powder, ground mustard seed, cayenne, cumin, rosemary, thyme, cinnamon and vanilla extract.

“Our goal was to see how much we could lower these over consumed ingredients without affecting the overall properties of the food in terms of mouthfeel and structure, and then add in herbs and spices to improve the flavor,” said Petersen.

Next, the researchers conducted blind taste tests featuring each of the 10 recipes. Participants evaluated all three versions of a dish, one at a time, in a single session. 

“We found that adding herbs and spices restored the overall liking to the level of the original food in seven of the ten recipes,” said Petersen. 

Finally, the team modeled the potential impact of 25 to 100% of U.S. adult consumers eating these recipes instead of the original recipes. For both saturated fat and salt, they found that the estimated daily reduction would be about 3% if 25% of consumers adopted the healthier recipes versus about 11.5% if 100% of consumers adopted the healthier recipes.

“We demonstrated a meaningful reduction in over consumed nutrients is possible with modification of these 10 recipes, and these changes are acceptable to consumers,” said Petersen. “This suggests that more research should be done to look at how to implement this more broadly, and how to educate people to make these kinds of changes. Importantly, these findings could be applied to the food supply because most foods that people consume are purchased in a prepared form. I think that would have a profound impact on people’s health.”


Kristina S. Petersen, Victor L. Fulgoni, Helene Hopfer, John E. Hayes, Rachel Gooding, Penny Kris-Etherton. Using herbs/spices to enhance the flavor of commonly consumed foods reformulated to be lower in overconsumed dietary components is an acceptable strategy and has the potential to lower intake of saturated fat and sodium: A National Health and Nutrition Ex. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 2023; DOI: 10.1016/j.jand.2023.07.025

Penn State. “Replacing saturated fat and salt with herbs/spices is both tasty and healthy.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 29 August 2023. <>.

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