Shaking salt and sugar from your diet

January 9, 2008


It's no accident that salt and sugar permeate the nation's food supply. Both are inexpensive palate pleasers, and food manufacturers use them liberally to satisfy people's penchant for things salty and sweet.

According to a recent issue of Consumer Reports On Health, the average American today consumes nearly twice the recommended maximum of sodium and nearly 460 nutritionally empty calories of added sugar every day.

Overindulging these particular taste buds can have serious health consequences. A high-sodium diet not only increases the risk of high blood pressure and subsequent heart attack, kidney disease and stroke but possibly causes osteoporosis and kidney stones (by increasing the secretion of calcium into the urine), stomach cancer (by damaging the protective mucus membrane) and asthma (by making lungs more susceptible to irritants). And all those sugar calories probably contribute to Americans' expanding waistlines.

Unfortunately, consuming less sugar and salt isn't easy. Three-quarters of the sodium in Americans' diet comes from processed, packaged and prepared foods; even products that don't taste salty, such as breads and other baked goods, often contain large amounts. And many apparently nutritious foods pack far more of the sweet stuff than people might expect.

Still, the editors of Consumer Reports On Health say that cutting back on both is possible.

Leave salt behind

It is recommended that most adults get no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium a day - the amount, roughly, in one teaspoon of table salt. People with a systolic blood pressure over 120 millimeters of mercury (mm/Hg) or a diastolic pressure over 80 mm/Hg should aim for 1,500 milligrams.

The editors of CROH recommend the following tips to reduce sodium intake:

¢ Retrain your taste buds. Scale back the amount of salt used at the table and in cooking to reduce your exposure to the taste. After three months, most people no longer miss salt, research shows.

¢ Check nutrient claims. Products labeled "sodium-free" contain 5 mg of sodium or less per serving. A "very low" sodium product has 35 mg or less, and a "low sodium" item contains 140 mg or less.

¢ Rinse your food. Running water over canned tuna and salmon, canned vegetables, feta cheese and capers can reduce the sodium load by up to 30 percent.

¢ Swap salt for spices. Cook with fresh or dried herbs, salt-free seasoning blends and acidic flavorings like lemon juice and flavored vinegars to bring out a food's natural taste.

Sugar blues

Some of the supposed dietary dangers of sugar, such as that it causes hyperactivity have been debunked. And indulging a sweet tooth won't lead to diabetes; even people who have it can safely eat a sugary snack if it's factored into their meal plan.

However, sugar is guilty as charged for nourishing the bacteria that cause dental cavities. And while there's nothing inherently fattening about sugar, it's probably not coincidental that the nation's ongoing obesity epidemic has progressed in step with its sugar consumption: Americans today consume 15 percent more added sugars than they did 25 years or so ago.

CROH offers the following tips for people to subtract added sugars from their diets:

¢ Choose sweets that contain some needed nutrients. To satisfy a craving for sweets, opt for fruit, low-fat chocolate milk, lightly sweetened whole-grain cereal, or plain yogurt flavored with fresh fruit.

¢ Swap candy for healthy snacks. Opt for dry-roasted nuts, air-popped popcorn or baked tortilla chips.

¢ Cook creatively. Experiment with cardamom, cinnamon, coriander, ginger and nutmeg, which add sweetness and flavor. Try substituting 100 percent fruit juice for honey or other liquid sweeteners.

- Visit the Consumer Reports Web site at <a href=""></a>.


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