Sugar and Salt Showdown: Which One is WORSE for you?

Written by Cristina Powell

sugar and salt: which is worse?

Paracelsus once said, “All substances are poisons; there is none which is not a poison. The right dose differentiates a poison from a remedy.”

Rather than playing a deadly game of Russian roulette with your health, I’m about to uncover the truth about sugar and salt and which is the lesser of these two evils.

Entering the ring first is salt.

Best Types of Salt

Sugar and Salt Showdown: Is Salt Worse?

The United States government recommends most adults consume less than 2,300 mg of salt/sodium per day. Furthermore, adults over the age of 51 and/or anyone who is African American or has hypertension, diabetes, and/or chronic kidney disease, which is about half of the American public, should limit their intake to 1,500 mg per day.

Unfortunately, the CDC estimates that the average sodium intake per person in the U.S. is more than 3,400 mg per day. And most of that comes from processed and restaurant foods. As a matter of fact, the FDA breaks down Americans’ sodium intake like this:

  • 77% from packaged and restaurant foods
  • 12% from naturally occurring sources
  • 11% from adding salt during cooking or at the table

Therein lies the key: limiting the intake of processed foods. When we focus on whole, minimally-processed foods prepared in healthful ways at home, we naturally limit our sodium intake.

That being said, sodium in and of itself is not harmful to one’s health. In fact, sodium is necessary for optimal health, well-being, and fitness. It’s an essential nutrient that must be obtained from food, so it’s obviously quite important.

Thus, the issue of sodium/salt has nothing to do with the nutrient itself. Instead, research suggests it lies in the quality of sodium (e.g., sodium used in processed foods versus sodium found in products like Himalayan salt/sea salt), as well as sodium intake relative to total electrolyte and fluid intake. Meaning, the quality of the sodium matters, as does your intake of all electrolytes (e.g., magnesium, potassium, calcium, etc.) and water.

If you drink ample fluids, eat electrolyte-rich foods (e.g., fruits and vegetables), and aim to consume natural salt/sea salt instead of table salt as much as possible, you shouldn’t have to keep a close eye on your sodium intake.

Here’s an excerpt from one of our previous newsletters courtesy of our co-founder Josh Bezoni that may also be helpful:

“Your body needs the outside source of sodium because it can’t produce its own. In fact, The Journal of Human Hypertension concluded that salt actually HELPS your blood pressure by normalizing it to healthy levels…

“And there’s even a good chance that if you do have high blood pressure it’s because you don’t have the right amounts of calcium, magnesium, and potassium that salt provides you…

“In other words, your lack of salt is causing your high blood pressure!

“But there’s one catch…

“You must avoid manmade table salts like the plague. They’ve been stripped of their healthy qualities during the refining process, and they’re basically poison to your body.

“Instead, choose natural sea salt and you could see your blood pressure drop up to 11 points!”

So… now it’s time to bring sugar into the debate of sugar and salt.

Sugar Addiction

Sugar and Salt Showdown: Is Sugar Worse?

No, your eyes aren’t playing tricks on you: sugar and salt are very similar in appearance and texture. However, one crystal on the tip of your tongue clearly identifies which is which—as my aunt unfortunately discovered the first time she made a cake and accidentally grabbed the salt instead of sugar.

According to the CDC, Americans should keep their intake of added sugars to less than 10% of their total daily calories as part of a healthy diet. Based on a 2,000-daily-calorie diet, no more than 200 calories should come from added sugars.

This is significantly higher than the American Heart Association recommendations, which differ based on gender, suggesting men limit their sugar intake to 150 calories per day and women to 100 calories per day.

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The factors which may contribute to the lower recommendations from the AHA may stem from the fact that aside from being a major source of calories that in excess can lead to fat gain, too much sugar can cause accelerated cellular aging and excessive inflammation, both of which can increase your risk for multiple chronic diseases.

All sugars, regardless of how they’re labeled (e.g., white sugar, high fructose corn syrup, cane sugar, evaporated cane sugar, brown sugar) have a similar effect on the body by raising blood sugar levels, causing the production of insulin. Insulin is needed to flush the sugar out of your bloodstream, providing your body with energy. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as energy in and of itself is necessary for our bodies to function. It’s when we overload our systems with too much sugar that it becomes problematic.

You see, as we are forced to produce excess amounts of insulin, this can in turn make our bodies resistant to insulin, causing us to store fat. But this isn’t the only drawback to overconsumption of sugar. This stored fat can lead to diabetes, glaucoma, and possible kidney failure. This being a major factor in heart disease and stroke.

There are two types of natural sugars—fructose, which is found in fruits, and lactose, which is found in milk. Fructose is only processed by the liver. Too much fructose can contribute to abnormal cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, fatty liver disease, metabolic syndrome, and once again—heart disease.

Consuming fruits and vegetables which contain natural sugars are perfectly acceptable and encouraged as part of a well-balanced and healthy diet. In moderation.

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Added sugars include any sugars or artificial sweeteners that are added to foods or beverages during processing. These added sugars and sweeteners can include natural sugars such as white sugar, brown sugar, and honey as well as other sweeteners such as high fructose corn syrup, which is chemically manufactured.

While it may not be as easy to determine how much sugar is actually in your foods when you are purchasing pre-packaged items, the following is helpful at deciphering the various lingo:

  • Sugar-Free – less than 0.5 g of sugar per serving
  • Reduced Sugar or Less Sugar – at least 25 percent less sugars per serving compared to a standard serving size of the traditional variety
  • No Added Sugars or Without Added Sugars – no sugars or sugar-containing ingredient such as juice or dry fruit is added during processing
  • Low Sugar – not defined or allowed as a claim on food labels

Fun Fact: If you are consuming a product which has no fruit or milk products in the ingredients, all of the sugars in the food are from added sugars. If the product contains fruit or milk products, the total sugar per serving listed on the label will include added and naturally occurring sugars.

sugar and salt: which is worse?

Sugar and Salt: The Final Verdict

So which one of these substances should be banned from existence?

Well, I think we can all breathe a sigh of relief because neither is worthy of being completely removed from an otherwise healthy diet.

Yet in my opinion, since salt is necessary for your body to function and sugar is not, and since sugar can increase the negative effects of salt, I would award the title to sugar as being Public Enemy #1.

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More From Cristina Powell

  • Jeff Siemion

    TY good info

  • Coach Stefanie

    I’d have to agree with the verdict that sugar is Public Enemy #1. And, now that we have that established, my next read is obviously going to be Coach Tim’s “The Best Types of Salt”

    • Anna

      Fantastic information !

  • abimanu mathoorasing

    I am very glad you have differentiated between two evils, and the lesser evil,sea salt seems to be appropriate for the well-being; as for sugar I use honey

    Thank you

    • Cristina

      Hi Abimanu. Thank you so much for being receptive to the information I provided. I am thrilled to hear that you found it to be helpful on your quest to achieve optimal health and wellness.

      I personally believe honey is a great alternative. In fact, the sugar content in our Organic Low Carb Protein Bars come primarily from organic honey and organic dates. These natural, unrefined sweet ingredients provide a relative slow and stable release of glucose into the blood stream. For example, both honey and dates are classified as low-glycemic foods.

  • Cristina

    Awesome feedback, Penny. I could not agree more with your suggestion to try and eat healthy, and watch out for heavily processed foods.

    Regarding honey, this is considered a “low glycemic food.” More importantly, honey rates very low on the glycemic load scale, which is a more appropriate indicator of its impact on blood sugar.

    You are on the right track in your choosing local honey, as I always recommend raw and/or local honey. Raw honey, also known as liquid gold, goes through considerably less processing, which confers additional health benefits. It is considered an alkaline food, which is also something that many of us could use more of in our diets. Some folks believe that local honey has the potential to offer some healing powers and may help you build up an immunity to certain allergens.

    Most of the honey sold in stores goes through a considerable amount of processing and exposure to high heats. These techniques destroy many of the enzymes and compounds that make this delicate sweetener so healthy.

  • Jeffery

    This is very usefulness information, as a wellness Coach. Thank you very much

    • Cristina

      WOW, Jeff! I can’t begin to tell you how nice it is to hear words of encouragement, appreciation, and praise. I want you to know we value your patronage and friendship.

      Coming from one wellness coach to another, I welcome your feedback and contributions. We hope to become one of your favorites, so let us know if there are any topics of interest that we can feature in a future article.

  • Cristina

    Hi Robert. First and foremost, I commend you for wanting to learn more about artificial sweetener and general sugar consumption. You must already be familiar with staggering statistics about sugar consumption, like the average American consumes 134 pounds of sugar each year. It’s not just sugar itself, but refined and heavily processed carbohydrates that are contributing to the dramatic health problems and increasing waistlines.

    In addition, we’ve seen a newer trend with folks switching from sugar-laden beverages to sugar-free beverages. While most would assume that’s a good thing, it’s not always the case. From a calorie intake standpoint, there does not appear to be a vast difference in people who consume sugar-containing beverages versus sugar-free beverages from a body composition standpoint. Researchers speculate the body recognizes sugar-free beverages as not satiating, i.e., providing energy—which they don’t—thus, most folks compensate by eating more throughout the day.

    With that said, I do think it’s best to consume naturally-sweetened, low-calorie beverages whenever possible—assuming water doesn’t do the trick. This makes a good case for using low-calorie, natural sweeteners like stevia, monk fruit, and erythritol.

    In terms of aspartame, a proven neurotoxin known to lower the concentration of reduced glutathione in your brain, which is linked to Alzheimer’s disease and others health problems. And it’s been linked to cancer, with researchers noting aspartame “is a multipotential carcinogenic agent, even at a daily dose of 20 mg/kg body weight, much less than the current acceptable daily intake.”

    Researchers have also made connections between artificial sweeteners and weight gain. In one study that recently appeared in the scientific journal Appetite, scientists compared the effects of feeding rats yogurt sweetened with either sucrose (i.e., table sugar) or the artificial sweeteners saccharin (Sweet ‘n Low®) and aspartame (Equal®) on body weight and total caloric intake. The researchers found that, compared to sucrose, the addition of the artificial sweeteners to yogurt resulted in increased weight gain, despite similar total caloric intake among groups.

  • Jann

    Thanks so much for the interesting article. It was extremely useful. And then….the dreaded and despised video. So many of us that read your information are learners and probably have a basic knowledge of nutrition. I will speak for myself here-I don’t have 25 minutes to watch the “short presentation”. Couldn’t we just read about the carb to “never eat?” Honestly, the videos are all way too long, they repeat themselves, and it is too much for the nugget
    of information at the very end. You won’t lose me as a follower…you all do a great job. I just can’t stomach the videos.


    • Ron Muhammed

      Thank you Jann

  • Angie

    Thank you, Cristina! This is a question I’ve been asking myself lately. I think I am going to start buying large containers of Himalayan salt and grinding it myself to put in my salt shakers. 🙂

  • keugene55

    every major food has been demonized then recanted…..the medical assoc. and the manufacturers of alternative foods created a frenzy through gullible americans and its worth billions to both sides…..Medicine in america doesnt want preventive medicine they dont make as much money…….insurance companies pay any fees to doctors medical facilities, etc w/o question….and just raises rates…..pharmacueticals the same… goes round and round…and now the younger generations are sissies when it comes to food …they are picky wasteful eaters and the parents (the yuppies) and there kids raised them on all this “healthy” shit (con job) and they all have weird food allergies,,,illnesses …..sissies………

  • Peter Clifford

    The ONLY sugar you need is GLUCOSE which kick starts your energy levels all the others can rot in a corner I’m very Leery of HFCS and any artificial sweeteners as they tend to make me sick and Stevia makes my nose bleed!

    • Sandy Andina

      Your body converts all sugar intake to glucose.

  • Sandy Andina

    There are also dextrose and glucose. Table sugar–sucrose–contains both fructose and glucose. Sucralose (Splenda) is a reverse sucrose molecule, but since it is lab-created it is artificial. “Natural” non-caloric sweeteners such as stevia, monkfruit (which does have some calories but in negligible amounts in the quantity used for sweetening), and erithrytol all send the “sugar incoming!” signal to the brain, which signals the pancreas to cause the same insulin spike as sugar; but when the digestive system doesn’t get the sugar it expects, the insulin causes temporary hypoglycemia (crankiness, headache, sugar cravings) and promotes fat storage because there’s no sugar available to convert first to glucose and then to glycogen. Moreover, erithrytol is a “sugar alcohol,” which can cause flatulence and diarrhea. (Maltitol is the worst in that regard). Honey, maple syrup and agave nectar are all simple sugar–although honey and maple have some trace minerals and raw honey has bee pollen. Best advice is to retrain your sweet tooth to accustom it to less-sweet foods and get your sugar from small and controlled amounts of fruits, sweet potatoes, winter squash, pumpkin and carrots. (Careful with the tropical fruits & carrots, though).

    As to salt, sea salt is sea salt whatever the country of origin. In fact, even table & kosher salts are produced the same way as sea salts–by evaporation of saltwater, whether naturally from sea water or mined, dissolved and then evaporated. Table salt has added iodine (a holdover from the days when inland-dwellers had no access to saltwater fish or seaweed for dietary iodine and were in danger of developing goiter) and chemicals to keep it from caking in the box or shaker. Kosher salt has NOTHING added–it is used for koshering meats (drawing out the blood) and preferred by chefs because of its purity. It is pure sodium chloride. Some “sea salts” may have subtle differences in taste depending on other minerals naturally present where harvested, but kosher salt is much cheaper than “sea salt” and is healthier than table salt. “Sea salt” should not be wasted on cooking, but instead used sparingly for “finishing” a dish at table or coming out of the restaurant kitchen.