Pick up any type of food in the grocery store and it’s likely you’ll find some amounts of sugar or sodium. Even if you aren’t on a restrictive diet, it’s smart to know how much sugar or salt you may be consuming without even realizing it. Eventually too much salt or sugar can lead to health problems.
The FDA has updated nutrition labels for the first time in 20 years to help consumers make healthier food choices.
Too much sodium can lead to high blood pressure and other conditions, such as stroke, heart failure, osteoporosis, stomach cancer and kidney disease. In fact the most recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans: 2015-2010 states there is a link between “poor quality eating patterns and physical inactivity.” The guide notes that about half of the population — 117 million people — have one or more preventable chronic diseases.
Where is the sugar?
Sugar can be naturally present in certain foods, such as fruits and vegetables, or added during preparation or the processing of food. The American Heart Association recommends no more than nine teaspoons, or 37 grams, of sugar from any source per day for men. The recommendations for women is no more than six teaspoons, or 25 grams, of sugar per day. Sheryl Maggipinto, a health coach dietitian at Aetna’s Wellness Works Center, recommends not eating more than 10 grams of sugar per serving of prepared foods.
Over the past three decades, Americans have consumed an increasing amount of added sugars, which contributed to the obesity epidemic, according to the American Heart Association.
“Sugar can be in almost everything that’s not real food. Vegetable-based proteins like seeds and nuts will not have sugar. Animal-based proteins like pork, chicken, fish and beef do not have sugars. Fruits and vegetables may have natural sugar,” Maggipinto said. “Convenience foods and soft drinks are particularly laden with sugar and sweeteners.”
Added sugars contribute to consuming more calories in some foods, according to the American Heart Association. The federal government recommends limiting 10 percent of daily calories from added sugars. To find out how many calories from sugar per serving is in a food or beverage, multiply the sugar content by 4. For example, a 12 oz. can of cola has about 36 grams of sugar, or 144 calories from added sugars.
The federal government’s guidelines for sodium consumption is 2,300 milligrams per day, but the American Heart Association advises no more than 1,500 mg. In either case, most Americans consume about 3,400 mg of sodium a day. On average, men consume 4.2 grams of sodium per day; women consume 2.9 grams of sodium per day.
About 90 percent of that intake comes from sodium chloride, commonly known as table salt. However, most of the salt in American diets is already in prepared or manufactured foods, not sprinkled out of our salt shakers. A single serving of potato chips has several hundred mg of sodium, which may not be surprising, but a serving of salad dressing can have just as much as those chips. For reference, one-quarter teaspoon of salt is about 575 mg of sodium. One teaspoon is equal to 2,300 mg salt.
Most Americans consume about 3,400 milligrams of sodium a day – more than twice the American Heart Association’s recommendation.
What can you do?
Maggipinto suggests when reading labels to try to limit the amount of ingredients to seven ingredients or less. She emphasized the importance of eating fresh, wholesome foods and explained that changing your eating habits takes time, so patience and reasonable adjustments are important.
“The American diet has conditioned a lot of us to crave sugar or salt. But our tongue can actually taste a lot of different flavors other than just sugar and salt,” Maggipinto said. “Mixing it up with different types of flavors such as bitter or savory may reduce your taste bud’s dependence on salt or sugar. It may also help shift your food habits.”