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What’s Worse: Sugar or Salt?

What’s Worse: Sugar or Salt?

For all healthy eaters, the saying “Everything in moderation” has become a battle these days! In fact many of us just can’t resist themselves when it comes to sugar and salt! Even though both play essential role in our health (sugar is the main source of energy for brain, and salt is needed for muscle contraction), when consumed in excess, they can cause a wide variety of health problems. So let’s investigate which one has a greater impact on our health, and why?

Sugar

• When experts say Sugar, it’s not so much like those found in fruits (naturally-occurring sugars), but mainly it is with refined and added ones.
• For example, 100% fruit juices and milk , contain calories from natural sugars, but they also provide nutrients, such as minerals, vitamins, polyphenols (in juice) and protein (in milk).
• On the other hand, sweetened beverages like sweet tea and sodas and the majority of grab-and-go snack foods, provide calories from added sugar but they don’t provide any nutritional benefits.
• Not surprisingly, the overconsumption of such products can lead to nutritional deficiencies and obesity.
• Sugars have a similar effect on the body regardless of how they are labeled—brown sugar, white sugar, cane sugar, evaporated cane sugar, high fructose corn syrup—they raise blood sugar levels causing the production of insulin (insulin moves sugar into the cells and out of the blood to be used as energy).
• When excess amounts of sugar are consumed, an overproduction in insulin occurs which may lead to insulin resistance.
• Over time, insulin resistance can lead to the development of type 2 diabetes.
• Also, the over consumption of excess refined sugars, can lead to excessive inflammation and changes in the body’s metabolism, which can eventually lead into a variety of chronic diseases.
• High levels of fructose, a certain kinds of sugar molecules only processed by the liver, may increase the risks of high blood pressure, abnormal cholesterol levels, fatty liver disease, and heart disease.

Salt

• Our body requires a moderate quantity of salt to carry electrical charges between cells and control fluids.
• Salt is easily processed for most healthy people, while excess amounts may throw in a long-term health issues.
• Recommendations of the current dietary guidelines are to consume <2,300 mg of sodium daily (one teaspoon), but an average of 3,400 mg is taken by most people.
• It was believed for many years that sodium leads to high blood pressure due to its effect on fluid retention.
• Major health problems can occur due to uncontrolled blood pressure, such as stroke and heart attack, as well as vision problems and kidney failure.
• However, the link between salt and high blood pressure has been under increased observation. Studies have found that the link we assume exists between salt and blood pressure is more complex than once thought and overstated.
• For a regular healthy person, salt isn’t necessarily detrimental when consumed in moderation, however some people are more sensitive to salt such as people who already have HBP (high blood pressure) and people above 50 years.
• A big problem with excess salt, is that the majority of it comes from processed and restaurant foods rather than the salt shaker. These foods are typically also higher in fat and calories, and provide fewer nutrients than fresh foods prepared at home, which can lead to weight gain, among other health issues besides high blood pressure.

So…Which Is Worse?

As long as they’re consumed in moderation, neither are particularly dangerous, but head-to-head, excess sugar has more of a negative impact on your body than salt.

Moreover, it was also found that sugar can increase the negative effects of salt…How? Insulin orders the kidneys to retain sodium, which means the more the body produces insulin, the more sodium and water the kidneys retain. The result? High blood pressure.

Focus on nutritious sources of carbohydrates, such as milk products, fruits, and whole grains, and avoid foods that contain processed ingredients and refined sugars. Case closed!

Christelle Bedrossian
Dietitian-Nutritionist
Beirut, Lebanon

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Dietitian Christelle Bedrossian