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

Written by Cristina Powell, PN1, ME-3, CMS

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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