Salt, Sugar and Fats: How much should we take?

FILIPINOS love to eat. And most of our food is loaded with salt, sugar and fats. The question is: Are these really needed in our body? And if they are, how much should we take each day?

Let’s take a closer look at them:

Salt

Sodium and chloride ions, the two major components of salt, are necessary for the survival of all living creatures, including human beings. It is involved in regulating the water content (fluid balance) of the body. Scientist Claude Bernard made that discovery in the mid-1800s, and he realized the fluid must contain the right amounts of sodium, chloride and potassium to allow our cells to grow, work and survive. 

One hundred years later, researcher Homer Smith theorized that the cell-bathing fluid contains similar to the salty seas that bathed and nourished the earliest one-celled organisms.

Salt is so important that it has been mentioned in the Holy Bible several times. Ancient Greeks found out that eating salty food affected basic body functions, such as digestion and excretion. This led to salt being used medically. The healing methods of Hippocrates (460 BC) especially made frequent use of salt. Hippocrates mentions inhalation of steam from saltwater.

Today, people are taking salt more than they should have. The Geneva-based World Health Organization recommends that adults should only consume less than 2,000 milligrams of sodium, or 5 grams of salt per day. “The average Filipino diet is nowhere near this level,” wrote Dr. Rafael R. Castillo, the health columnist of Philippine Daily Inquirer. “It is around 12-15 grams per day.”

Now, read this. “There is convincing data showing that people who eat salty food excessively have a shorter life span than those who eat salty food less,” wrote Castillo, who cited a study done in Japan.

“In the 1950s the incidence of strokes in Japan reached alarming levels, prompting the government to take urgent action. The salt intake of the Japanese was very high then, and through a concerted multisectoral program, which included a lot of public education, the Japanese reduced their salt intake by half. This reduced the average blood pressure of the population, and the rate of stroke was cut down by 80 percent. The average life span in Japan also increased significantly,” Castillo wrote.

Castillo believed that what the Japanese did could also be done in the Philippines; more than 50,000 lives can be saved annually.

“Limiting salt may be a good idea,” the editors of Super Life, Super Health pointed out.  “It could affect your blood pressure someday, and it may affect other parts of your body, like your bones.  But don’t make a huge effort to cut back to less than the recommended limit unless you have high blood pressure.”

A study conducted in the United States of more than 2,000 people showed that older adults with salty diets may have an increased risk of suffering a stroke. The findings, which were published in the journal Stroke, said those who got well above the recommended sodium intake were nearly three times as likely to suffer a stroke over 10 years as people who met guidelines recommended by the American Heart Association.

“High sodium intake was prevalent and associated with an increased risk of stroke independent of vascular risk factors,” wrote Hannah Gardener, a researcher at the University of Miami School of Medicine, who led the study.

“We usually recommend cutting down on salt used in cooking and to remove the salt shaker on the table,” Castillo said. “But these sources only constitute 20 percent of the salt one usually takes in. The bulk—around 80 percent—of the salt being consumed come from processed food and food we order in restaurants.”

For instance, some soups (and this includes instant noodle soups) contain more than 1,000 milligrams (mg) of sodium per cup. Pizza pies can have 400 mg to 1,200 mg per slice. So if one eats two slices, he or she has already exceeded the recommended daily sodium intake.  Health experts, however, warn that you should not try to cut out salt from your diet completely.  That would be dangerous.

Sugar

Sugar, used to be called as “white gold”, is the generalized name for a class of chemically related sweet-flavored substances, most of which are used as food. They are carbohydrates, composed of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. There are various types of sugar derived from different sources.  Simple sugars are called monosaccharides and include glucose (also known as dextrose), fructose and galactose.

The table or granulated sugar most customarily used as food is sucrose, a disaccharide (in the body, sucrose hydrolyses into fructose and glucose). Other disaccharides include maltose and lactose. Chemically different substances may also have a sweet taste, but are not classified as sugars. Some are used as lower-calorie food substitutes for sugar described as artificial sweeteners.

“Sugar was once a luxury ingredient reserved for special occasions,” wrote Tiffany O’Callaghan, an editor in the Opinion section at New Scientist. “But in recent years it has become a large and growing part of our diets. If you eat processed food of any kind, it probably contains added sugar. You can find it in sliced bread, breakfast cereals, salad dressings, soups, cooking sauces and many other staples. Low-fat products often contain a lot of added sugar.”

Just like salt, eating too much sugar is doing us no good. As a matter of fact, sugar is now being touted as public health enemy No. 1. The Geneva-based United Nations health agency wants people to cut sugar consumption radically.

In his book, The Blood Sugar Solution 10-Day Detox Diet, Dr. Mark Hyman provided an easy, step-to-step plan to get rid of a person’s sugar addiction and reverse his risk of heart attacks.

Dr. Hyman—described as a practicing physician, founder of the Ultra Wellness Center, a six-time New York Times best-selling author and an international leader in the field of Functional Medicine – wrote: “A rigorously done new study shows that those with the highest sugar intake had a four-fold increase in their risk of heart attacks compared to those with the lowest intakes. That’s 400 percent”.

The study of more than 40,000 people, published in the JAMA Internal Medicine, accounted for all other potential risk factors, including total calories, overall diet quality, smoking, cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity and alcohol.

“For years, we’ve been brainwashed into thinking that fat causes heart attacks and raises cholesterol, and that sugar is harmless except as a source of empty calories,” Hyman wrote. “They are not empty calories.” As it turns out, sugar calories are deadly calories.  Sugar does not only cause heart attacks, it also causes obesity, Type 2 diabetes, cancer and dementia. In the US sugar is the leading cause of liver failure.

That’s not all. “The new research syncs with decades of data on how sugar causes insulin resistance, high triglycerides, lower HDL [good] cholesterol and dangerous small LDL [bad] cholesterol. It also triggers the inflammation we now know is at the root of heart disease,” Hyman wrote.

In the US, the American Heart Association recommends that a person’s daily diet contain no more than 5 percent ot 7.5 percent added sugar. Yet, many people are taking more sugar than they should.

“The biggest culprit is sugar-sweetened beverages, including soft drinks, juices, sport drinks, teas and coffees,” Hyman pointed out.  “They are by far the single biggest source of sugar calories in our diet.  In fact, more than 37 percent  of our sugar calories come from soft drinks.”

As early as 1972, Dr. John Yudkin sounded the alarm that sugar—and not fat—was the greatest danger to our health in his book, entitled Pure, White, and Deadly.

“If only a small fraction of what we know about the effects of sugar were to be revealed in relation to any other material used as a food additive,” wrote the British professor of nutrition, “that material would promptly be banned.”

“If God hadn’t meant for us to eat sugar, he wouldn’t have invented dentists,” said Ralph Nader, an American activist and author. But Luc Tappy, a physiologist at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland, disagrees: “You cannot live without essential fats.  You cannot live without protein.

It’s going to be difficult to have enough energy if you don’t have some carbohydrate.  But without sugar, there is no problem.  It’s an entirely dispensable food.”

Fats

There are three main macronutrients: carbohydrate, protein and fat.  Wikipedia gives this bit of information about the latter: “Fats, also known as triglycerides, are esters of three fatty acid chains and the alcohol glycerol. The terms ‘oil’, ‘fat’, and ‘lipid’ are often confused. Oil normally refers to a fat with short or unsaturated fatty acid a chain that is liquid at room temperature, while fat may specifically refer to fats that are solids at room temperature. Lipid is the general term, though a lipid is not necessarily a triglyceride. Fats, like other lipids, are generally hydrophobic, and are soluble in organic solvents and insoluble in water.”

The website, www.eatforhealth.gov.au, said fats are essential part of our diet and important for good health. “There are different types of fats, with some fats being healthier than others. To help make sure you stay healthy, it is important to eat unsaturated fats in small amounts as part of a balanced diet,” it said.

According to the web site, people who eat large amounts of fats, including healthy fats, can contribute to weight gain. “Fat is higher in energy [kilojoules] than any other nutrient and so eating less fat overall is likely to help with weight loss,” the web site pointed out.

“A diet that is low in saturated fats and trans fats, but that also includes moderate amounts of unsaturated fats will help you stay healthy,” it added. And so, here’s what you need to know about those different types of fats.

Saturated fats. Eating greater amounts of this kind of fat is linked with an increased risk of heart disease and high blood cholesterol levels. These types of fats are usually solid at room temperature and are found in: dairy foods (butter, cream, full fat milk and cheese) and meat (fatty cuts of beef, pork and lamb and chicken, processed meats like salami).  They are also found in some plant-derived products like palm oil, coconut milk and cream, and cooking margarine.

Saturated fats also abound in fatty snack foods (such as potato chips), deep-fried and high-fat take away foods (such as hot chips, pizza and hamburgers), cakes and high fat muffins, pastries and pies, and sweet and savory biscuits.

Unsaturated fats.  These are an important part of a healthy diet. “These fats help reduce the risk of heart disease and lower cholesterol levels [among other health benefits] when they replace saturated fats in the diet,” the web site claimed.

There are two main types of unsaturated fats: polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats.  Examples of polyunsaturated fats are omega-3 fats (found in fish, especially oily fish) and omega-6 fats (found in some oils, such as safflower and soybean oil, along with some nuts, including brazil nuts).

Monounsaturated fats are found in olive and canola oil, avocados and some nuts, such as cashews and almonds.

Trans fats.  These are unsaturated fats that have been processed and as a result, behave like saturated fats. “Eating trans fats increases the levels of ‘bad’ cholesterol and decreases the levels of ‘good’ cholesterol in the body, which is a major risk factor for heart disease,” the website said.

To help you stay healthy, be sure to lower the amounts of trans fats you take. The Dietitians Association of Australia gives this information: “Trans fats are found in many packaged foods and also in butter and some margarine. Use food labels to compare foods and choose those with fewer trans fats. It is great for health to replace saturated and trans fats with mono and polyunsaturated fats.”

Trans fats are also associated with hydrogenated oils. “Food companies began using hydrogenated oil to help increase shelf life and save costs,” Kristeen Cherney wrote in article carried by Health Line. “Hydrogenation is a process in which a liquid unsaturated fat is turned into a solid fat by adding hydrogen. During this processing, trans fats are made. While small amounts of trans fats are found naturally in some foods, the majority of trans fats in the diet come from these processed hydrogenated fats.”

The web site www.bewellbuzz.com shares this information: “Partially hydrogenated fats and oils contain trans fats and also are associated with heart disease, breast and colon cancer, atherosclerosis and high cholesterol.”