Educate. Empower. Prevent.

Division of the J. Moss Foundation

Healthy Marinades and Rubs

By Rennie Aranda, Skinny Gene Registered Dietitian

Photo by Mike


It’s time to bust out the grill, summer has arrived! It’s that time of year when the warm weather and longer days inspire us to cook outdoors. A tasty marinade or rub is essential to getting flavor in your summertime favorites. Marinades are liquid mixtures containing an acid (vinegar, citrus, white wine) and a base (oil, yogurt, honey), along with herbs and/or spices. Marinades add strong flavors while making food more tender and moist. Rubs are combinations of herbs and spices that are rubbed all over meat, fish, vegetables, or whatever you choose. Rubs may create a protective layer around food that slightly insulates it from the direct heat of the grill, keeping it moist. It also adds lots of flavor and a crispy crust and works best when the food is grilled, broiled, baked, or roasted.

Marinating meat, fish, and poultry prior to grilling also cuts down on the amount of carcinogenic compounds produced. The acids in marinades also may slow down the growth of harmful bacteria that often flourish at summer cookouts. However, despite all their benefits, choosing the wrong marinades or rubs could wreck your diet. Some store-bought options can be unhealthy, which are often loaded with sodium, fat, added sugars, and preservatives. Try some of these healthier, yet tasty combinations that will keep your summer cookout a healthy one.



When making your own marinade, try lower sodium options – no-salt seasonings, herbs, spices, and/or low-sodium soy sauce. Try some of these heart healthy marinade recipes and use on your favorite protein source (also try on a mix of your favorite vegetables!):

#1: 3 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce, 2 teaspoons vinegar, and 3 minced garlic cloves. Slowly whisk 1 teaspoon olive oil until combined.

#2: 4 tablespoons safflower oil, 4 tablespoons olive oil, 1/8 cup lemon juice, 2 garlic cloves (minced), ½ teaspoon oregano, ½ teaspoon tarragon

#3: ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, ¼ cup toasted sesame oil, 1/8 cup unseasoned rice vinegar, 2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce, 1 tablespoon Thai chili-garlic sauce (Sriracha), zest of 1 lemon, 3 to 5 cloves of garlic, grated, and 1 small knob of fresh ginger, grated. Mix to combine.

(Note: Marinate meat for a minimum of 30 minutes to a maximum of overnight for the best results. Over-marinated meat will soften and become mushy because of the acid breaking down the food.)



Rubs are a healthier alternative to heavy sauces since most ingredients in a spice rub have few calories. The type of rub chosen depends on the type of food and personal flavor preference. A stronger rub may complement heartier foods (paprika and chili with steak or salmon), while a milder rub may pair better with chicken breast or white fish (such as mahi mahi). Here are some easy flavor combinations that doesn’t require added salt:

#1: Paprika, pepper and chili powder

#2: Garlic, onion powder, dried basil and oregano

#3: Chili peppers, lime juice, fresh garlic and cilantro

#4: Oregano, thyme, pepper, coriander, onion powder and garlic powder

#5: Tarragon, mustard, chive, chervil and fresh shallot

#6: Garlic powder, chili powder, cumin, paprika

Leave a Reply