Shake off bad salt habits

Don't let hidden salt and sugar sabotage your healthy diet. Understand the benefits of a low-sodium and low-sugar diet.

Do you enjoy coffee with a teaspoon of sugar? How about 20? That's how much added sugar in total the average American consumes each day, which is double the government's recommended amount. In fact, for both sugar and salt Americans swallow well over what is considered healthy. According to a 2009 study by the CDC, the average American consumes over 3,400 mg of sodium a day—three times the recommended amount.

Indulging your cravings for salt and sugar may seem harmless but here's why you should cut back:

Too much salt

  • Can raise blood pressure, which makes heart disease more likely
  • Causes your body to lose calcium faster, which may lead to a loss of bone mass and to osteoporosis
  • Impairs lung function and worsens asthma symptoms
  • Could increase your risk of dying from stroke by 89 percent and from heart disease by 44 percent

Too much sugar

  • Can widen your waistline and lead to obesity, because high-sugar foods are often high in calories. Obese people have a much higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
  • Contributes to cavities. The sugar mixes with the bacteria in your mouth to make acids, which eat away dental enamel and cause tooth decay.

 

Think you're salt and sugar savvy? Take our quiz to find out how much you really know about the condiments on your table.

CLAIM: Most of your salt comes from food you eat at home.
► FALSE. The vast majority—about 77 percent—of the sodium most people consume is in processed foods and restaurant meals.

CLAIM: Honey and brown sugar have fewer calories than white sugar.
► FALSE.  Both white and brown sugar have virtually the same calories per teaspoon. A tablespoon of honey actually has 15 more calories than a tablespoon of white sugar.

CLAIM: Sea salt is healthier than table salt.
► FALSE. Sea salt still has plenty of sodium—in fact sometimes you can end up ingesting more because the granules are bigger.

CLAIM: Sugar is in healthy foods such as fruit and dairy.
► TRUE. But vegetables, fruits and milk, which contain naturally occurring sugars, are also full of good-for-you nutrients.